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Probelms of a different nature at Phoenix & Pebble Beach

Golf Notes February 9

Probelms of a different nature at Phoenix & Pebble Beach

Before Tiger Woods and his foursome could hit their approach shots on the 18th at Poppy Hills, they had to wait for comedian Tommy Smothers to finish his yo-yo tricks and get off the green.

No wonder it took six hours to complete 18 holes in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. And that was without weather delays.

U.S. Ryder Cup star Hal Sutton had to wait for the jeers to subside before he could hit his tee shot on the par-3 16th in the Phoenix Open. A chorus of boos resounded even louder when he hit into a bunker.

Why? Because of his assessment a day earlier that the "fans" didn't like.

"I think there's a pretty damn good party going on here, and there's a golf tournament lost somewhere in the middle of it," Sutton said.

That's true on both accounts. From Phoenix to Pebble, the last two weeks have been one big party on the PGA Tour, only not everyone was pleased to be there.

Unmerciful heckling nearly caused David Duval to withdraw from Phoenix after the third round. Another rain delay in the first round at Pebble Beach made Lee Janzen wonder why he came back for the first time since 1996.

For those who have a problem with Phoenix, Rocco Mediate offered a piece of advice.

"If you don't like it, don't come," he sniffed.

For those who are weary of the weather, the amateur distractions and the marathon rounds at Pebble Beach, Duval had a similar answer.

"The people that don't come, don't come," said Duval, who hasn't missed Pebble in seven years. "The players who enjoy being here keeping coming."

So why is Pebble Beach so celebrated, and Phoenix such an embarrassment?

One tournament has Hollywood stars, All-Star athletes, and Fortune 500 CEOs. The other has refugees from the WWF. Pebble represents an important chapter in tour history. Phoenix represents everything golf is not.

The Phoenix Open is notorious for its mammoth galleries on the TPC at Scottsdale, along with its mammoth beer sales at the 24,000-square-foot Bird's Nest tent across the street. It's almost as though fans have a reputation to live up to when they walk through the gates.

Remember, this is the same crew that cheered Justin Leonard's poor shots when he lost in a playoff to hometown hero Phil Mickelson four years ago. And this is the same tournament where a drunk following Tiger Woods last year was found with a gun in his fanny pack.

Woods didn't return this time. Duval won't next year.

Care to guess why?

"That's the kind of thing that's over the top," said Phoenix winner Tom Lehman, who tried to hush the crowd when it booed Sutton. "It's only a small percentage, but it's enough to hurt what is otherwise a great event."

That small percentage had just enough common sense to razz Duval for choosing to play it safe off the tee on the short par-4 17th, and to boo him a day later when he three-putted. Casey Martin caught the most ruthless barb of all after an errant shot on the 16th.

"Walk it off," some genius shouted.

Suddenly, watching (Everybody Loves) Raymond Romano try to hit a ball off the beach doesn't seem so bad.

That doesn't make Pebble Beach perfect. Bill Murray took the year off, meaning old ladies could stand next to bunkers without fear, but Smothers' routine wore thin. And what has happened to all the celebrities? Instead of Jack Lemmon and James Garner, we now get the CEOs from IBM and AT&T.

As for the weather, no one ever said golf had to be played in sunshine. Keep in mind that the '62 Crosby Clambake had one round postponed because of snow. Jimmy Demaret rolled out of his bed in the Lodge, looked at the 18th green and said, "I know I had a lot to drink last night ... but how did I end up in Sun Valley?"

Pebble helped made golf popular before Arnold Palmer took over, and has long been an integral part of tour history.

There are distractions. There are delays. But somehow, that "small percentage" from Phoenix has never found its way to the Monterey Peninsula.

Why bother going to Pebble?

"This combines all the elements we're looking for when it comes to the PGA Tour -- corporate involvement, amateur involvement, celebrity involvement and fan interaction," Peter Jacobsen said. "It's a combination of good fun and good golf, but the respect of the fans and the players is still there.

"In Phoenix," he said, "those lines are blurred."

Why bother going to Phoenix?

Good question.

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