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THE INSIDE TRACK | T.J. SIMERS

Thanks to ABC, a Long Night of Golf Got Longer

July 31, 2001|T.J. SIMERS

The beauty of watching women play golf on prime time TV, of course, is knowing little girls everywhere are watching and will want to learn the game.

You think about the impact Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton had on the growth of gymnastics, Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill on figure skating, the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders on football, and now Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam on women's golf and all the little girls in the world.

For the rest of us, this means instead of being stuck behind a foursome of women, there is a good chance of day turning to night, summer becoming winter, while parked behind three or four groups of women waiting to play each hole.

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I APPRECIATE his humility, and R.D. Hubbard, the owner of Bighorn Golf Club in Palm Desert, not wanting to take credit for putting more women on golf courses everywhere. But he's the one who convinced the best men in the world to double date and play golf in temperatures above 100 degrees on Monday night TV with the idea of appealing to a wide-ranging audience.

As ABC's Al Michaels noted at the start of the LPGA's coming-out party, "More people are going to watch women golfers tonight than any time in history." Try and find a store that still has pink golf balls after today.

As an aside, I watched Michaels playing golf not too long ago and was surprised when his partners chided him for hitting the ball "like a girl," when it was obvious the consummate broadcasting professional was just trying to get a feel for the women's game.

In fact, when Webb putted from 15 feet on the second hole and ran the ball 40 feet past the hole, I'd seen Michaels do the very same thing--several times. And when the women teed off for the first time, Webb hitting the ball 212 yards and Sorenstam 213 yards, well, I never saw Michaels hit his pink ball that far.

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I'M NOT sure it would qualify as a blind date, but David Duval and Webb had never met before this made-for-TV affair. In describing Duval to Webb, I'm guessing no one told her, "he's got a great personality," but both golfers are single, and stranger things have happened. You see the impact mixed doubles had on Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi.

Fifty minutes into the telecast, one of the women cried. In a prepackaged story, ABC brought us Webb lovingly discussing her late grandfather. And as she choked back the tears, I could imagine Plaschke doing the same, wondering how he could have missed such a sob story.

After seven holes with Duval and the Duffer down by two, I'm pretty sure parents everywhere were telling their little girls, "You could do just as good as that lady," and I would have added, "even better, kid."

But remember, this is the year of the sports conspiracy--Dale Earnhart Jr. winning on the same track where his dad had been killed, Chan Ho Park grooving an All-Star pitch to Cal Ripken, and Darren Dreifort getting hurt to give the Dodgers a chance to win the division title.

So surprise, surprise, three of the next four holes went to Duval and the Duffer because Woods and Sorenstam were obviously under an ABC directive--Woods even hitting the ball left-handed on No. 10 and Sorenstam left-handed on No. 11--to keep it interesting until the lights came on.

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ABOUT THIS time the LPGA's new commercial promoting women's golf came on with someone singing, "Thank Heaven for Little Girls." What did you expect: "The Lady is a Tramp?"

A lot of people were probably watching the LPGA promo, too. The last two years, TV audiences have embraced these exhibitions--Woods besting Duval in the "Showdown at Sherwood," and Sergio Garcia topping Woods in last year's "Battle at Bighorn." Going against reruns of "King of Queens" helps.

There was thought earlier this year of including Jack Nicklaus as Woods' partner against Lee Trevino & Garcia or Gary Player & Ernie Els. But then Senior PGA Tour player Jim Colbert, who makes his home at Bighorn, as does Sorenstam, talked to her about joining Tiger and taking on two men.

That idea was nixed in favor of Webb, and as Michaels noted late into the sluggish match, the previous two shows had ended under the allotted three hours, but with the women playing, everything was running late. Send those liberating e-mails, please, to almichaels@abctv.com

As for winners and losers, event organizers should have allowed the spectators to stand in the fairway--to avoid getting plunked in the head. The way these golfers were hitting the ball, you could have teamed Michaels with Phil Mickelson, which would have given Mickelson his first major-TV win.

By the time the women teed off on No. 18--Webb into a bunker and Sorenstam into the gallery--it was after midnight in the East and little girls were asleep--dreaming of becoming bowlers and leaving the pink golf balls for the rest of us.

I feel guilty having to borrow Michaels' all the time.

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THERE WAS a deal on the verge of being completed over a month ago to buy 97 acres at Hollywood Park to build a football stadium with the hope of securing an NFL franchise.

The deal fell through and while Hubbard protects the potential buyer's identity, he says, "It is over and done with--there will be no football stadium at Hollywood Park. We're negotiating with 24 different groups to purchase the land. It will be residential and commercially developed."

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I WOULD like to point out to The Times that when it comes to putting together the appropriate raise package with added perks for the Page 2 columnist, the 5,227-square-foot home overlooking the 13th fairway on The Canyons Course is available for $4,750,000. I'd also expect The Times to include the extra $200,000 to become a playing member at Bighorn.

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TODAY'S LAST word comes in an e-mail from Kevin:

"The real Dodger fans, the ones who stick with the team through thick and thin, don't want you to join us. A group is only as strong as its weakest link, and you are the weakest link. Goodby."

Do your friends call you Dodger Boy?

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com

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