Amateur an amateur competition again
A very telling thing happened in the year since Tiger Woods left the amateur ranks to join the PGA Tour.
About 1,300 more people submitted entries to play in the 1997 U.S. Amateur than last year, when Woods won the event for the third time in a row.
A spokesman for the U.S. Golf Association said the biggest reason for the record 6,600 applications received this year was the quality of the golf courses being used for the tournament.
Common sense, though, says something else is at work. A lot of people believe that with Woods out of the picture, the most prestigious national title this side of the U.S. Open was up for grabs once more.
Steve Scott could certainly be excused for thinking so. A year ago, Scott, a 20-year-old junior at the University of Florida, was playing against Woods in the final match on the final day.
Instead of an entourage, he had an aunt and uncle in the gallery and his girlfriend, Kristy Hummel, carrying his bag. He was 5-up with 16 holes to play, and 2-up with only three to go. He compared it at the time to ``trying to stop history.″
Scott played tough and courageously, but by day’s end, he was no more successful than anybody else has been. As always, there was a certain inevitability to Woods’ victory. Woods made five birdies and an eagle and shot 65 for his second 18 holes of the day. The birdies he made at Nos. 16 and 17 enabled him to pull even before going on to win on the second playoff hole.
Scott thought he was over that defeat about the time he qualified for the 312-man field that on Monday began the stroke-play portion of the Amateur at Cog Hill Golf and Country Club in suburban Chicago. He was not so sure Tuesday, after his two-day total of 150 failed to get him into the 64-man field that began match play today.
``It was in the back of my mind. I knew I had to put that aside. I thought I did,″ Scott said. ``Maybe I didn’t.″
Some of the victims Woods made famous in previous Amateurs fared better, some fared just as bad.
D.A. Points and Joel Kribel, beaten by Tiger in the quarterfinals and semifinals in 1996, made it easily. So did Buddy Marucci, a Pennsylvania auto dealer who clung like a terrier to Woods’ pant leg before being brushed off the in the 1995 final. Trip Kuehne, who lost to Woods in the 1994 final, followed Scott out of town after shooting 149.
But a trail of sparring partners was hardly the only thing Woods left behind.
Last year’s Amateur, played at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon, brought out 15,000 fans to the final, paying $25 each.
This year, at least 10 hours of live national coverage will be on NBC or ESPN, and attendance is free, as the owners of Cog Hill try to convince the USGA to bring the U.S. Open to their course some day. Woods even taped a radio commercial to promote the event _ ``Come out ot Cog Hill to see who will take my place as the U.S. Amateur champion.″
Still, nobody expects the Amateur to draw anything like it did in the years that Woods was building the franchise. The 1983 final, which pitted a future Senior Tour player, Jay Sigel, against a future regular PGA Tour player, Chris Parry, drew only about 150 people.
Not many more fans were at Cog Hill on Tuesday. When Scott putted out at the final hole, he turned to his girlfriend, still carrying his bag, and the handful of relatives who accompanied him. And when he said, ``The hole was too small, the ball was too big,″ the place was quiet enough that his remarks carried a long way away.
Even so, it must have seemed less painful than a year ago, when Scott could have screamed those words and not been heard. Woods may have taken the galleries with him to the pros, but his absence left something more important behind: the sense that the Amateur is really an amateur competition once more.
That will bring even more golfers out of their easy chairs. In 1931, Bobby Jones, the dominant golfer of his time, announced he was leaving amateur golf. The number of applicants in 1932 increased nearly fourfold.