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Working on THE LONG GAME

Players Do Whatever It Takes to Keep Up With Woods and Make Birdies by the Bulk

April 09, 1998|RANDY HARVEY

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Size matters.

We are talking, of course, about professional golfers and their abs, pecs and quads.

Golfers have always had muscles. The difference this year is that they can be identified as such.

I'm not saying golfers suddenly look more at home at Muscle Beach than Pebble Beach. But it's possible the PGA Tour soon will include walruses on its list of endangered species.

Golfers saw the future at last year's Masters. With an average drive of 323.13 yards, Tiger Woods only once in 72 holes had to use a club longer than a seven-iron for an approach to the green.

"It was like a driving range," Woods said of the venerated Augusta National after finishing a record 18 under par and winning by 12 strokes. "Bombs away on the driving."

Woods' competitors realized that if they were going to beat him, they'd have to join him 300 yards down the fairway.

Golfers in recent years have increased length through space-age technology, employing titanium club heads and graphite shafts. Now the equipment they use also includes dumbbells and universal gyms as some players spend more time in the PGA's on-course fitness centers than on the practice tees.

The Tenent Player Fitness Centers report that about 40% of the tour players take advantage of the facilities, enough of an increase that a third therapist has been added this year.

Another reason players are frequenting the fitness centers is to prolong their careers. Woods wasn't the only player who had a record-breaking year in 1997. Noticing that Hale Irwin earned more than $2 million on the Senior PGA Tour while looking trim enough to fit into his old Colorado Buffalo hip pads, players want to make sure they're still players when they're 50.

But even more compelling than the quest for extra years is the one for extra yards.

"Guys are looking to increase their strength and flexibility," therapist Jeff Booher said. "It's become much more of a power game."

One player you won't find there is John Daly, who has gained about 40 pounds during his ongoing recovery from alcoholism. He said recently that if he had time for additional therapy, he'd spend it at Overeaters Anonymous.

Daly, however, doesn't have to seek more power, only occasionally taking an 18 on a hole because he can't clear a lake with his three-wood.

Justin Leonard, on the other hand, has been considered short off the tee. As evidenced by his British Open victory last year, his game otherwise has been superb, earning him wee ice mon comparisons to fabled fellow Texan Ben Hogan.

Nothing, though, was wee about Leonard's game in winning the Players Championship two weeks ago, when he consistently drove the ball more than 290 yards.

He might not be hitting seven-irons on all of his approach shots in the Masters, but a five-iron in his hands is equally deadly. His new length, combined with his exceptional putting, should allow him to stay well within 12 strokes of Woods.

Another category of players who have been long but are getting longer includes Ernie Els, Davis Love III, Mark Calcavecchia and David Duval--all threats to Woods here.

They not only rip, they ripple.

Who thought anyone would say that about Calcavecchia, a beanbag chair before he married a former aerobics instructor? Or Duval before he shed 35 pounds and his Penguin nickname, gaining an endorsement deal with Tommy Hilfiger? He could be one of the models.

Of course, some of these players began transforming themselves and their games even before Woods joined the tour. It might come as a revelation to the sport's legion of new fans, but there was golf before Tiger.

At one point in the 19th century, Old Tom Morris no doubt sought means of extending his drives to match those of Young Tom Morris. More than two decades before Tiger tamed Augusta, Masters officials altered the course to combat Jack Nicklaus' length. It can be argued that Daly, even more than Woods, ushered in a generation of Xtreme golfers. All of them want to bomb away.

But Daly, before he found Ben Crenshaw's putting stroke and Betty Ford, didn't have the all-around game or discipline that threatened to dominate the tour.

It wasn't until Woods turned pro, proving almost as clever in his short game as he was powerful off the tee, that other players realized they would have to either increase their distance or play for second place. To their credit, few have surrendered.

Now they're hitting the ball too long for some courses. If Woods or anyone else comes close to his record of last year, we'll know Augusta National is one of them and that officials here will have to do more in the future than re-contour a few greens.

What should be done?

Ban Big Bertha?

Shorten shafts?

Nicklaus suggests further regulating the official ball so that it travels 10 to 20 yards less.

Famed course designer Pete Dye suggests Lawrence of Arabia style bunkers at 300 yards.

Can steroid testing be far behind?


PGA Driving Leaders

Average on two measured holes per round:


1. John Daly: 302.0 yards

2. Tiger Woods: 294.8

3. Bill Glasson: 287.5

4. Davis Love III: 285.8

5. Phil Mickelson: 284.1 (tie)

5. Chip Sullivan: 284.1

7. Scott McCarron: 283.8

8. Fred Couples: 283.5

9. John Adams: 280.9 (tie)

9. Vijay Singh: 280.9

1998 (through April 5)

1. John Daly: 301.3 yards

2. Tiger Woods: 294.1

3. Fred Couples: 286.6

4. Harrison Frazar: 286.1

5. David Duval: 284.3 (tie)

5. Scott McCarron: 284.3

7. Tim Herron: 283.3

8. Barry Cheesman: 282.4

9. Kelly Gibson: 281.3

10. Richard Coughlan: 280.9

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