HOT BUTTON GENDER WARS
Sooner or later, Augusta National will admit a female member. Women belong there, but they don't yet belong on the PGA Tour. Suzy Whaley won't break eighty at the Greater Hartford Open in July. Annika Sorenstam has never faced competition or pressure half as fierce as what she'll encounter this month at the Colonial. (For more, see Mike Lupica's "All About Annika" on page 40.) I am a Sorenstam fan, but if Annika makes the cut, I'll play eighteen holes in a dress.
HOT DRIVER TITLEIST 983
Ernie Els switched drivers and hit a few 400-yarders. "It's the hottest club I've ever hit," he said. Phil Mickelson switched and started blowing it past Tiger—as he bragged to the annoyance of the alpha predator. At the Phoenix Open, Mickelson led the tournament with an average pop of 322.8 yards after averaging 288.8 last year. Even forty-six-year-old Mark O'Meara flipped for the driver of the year. "The golf ball absolutely screams off the face," he said.
The cannon in question is Titleist's 983K, with a 365-cubic-centimeter clubhead and a two-piece, plasma-welded titanium face for what Titleist calls "an ideal initial trajectory and high but flat downrange ball flight." At the Mercedes Championships, Els averaged 323.4 yards off the tee, up from the 281.4 he averaged in 2002 with a TaylorMade driver. Then Davis Love III, longer than ever after switching to a 350 cc 983E driver, won the AT&T (reaching the eighteenth at Pebble Beach with a 316-yard drive and a four-iron) and the Players Championship.
With the 983s now reaching pro shops, Titleist has another distance mark to shoot for—longest line of golfers waiting to pay $500 for a driver.
HOT SCOT DAVID McLAY KIDD
Bandon Dunes made the architect's reputation. Now Kidd, 35, is working on a pair of courses that could make the kid of a Gleneagles greenskeeper a front-rank force in course design. The two projects couldn't be more different. On the Big Island of Hawaii, Kidd just finished Nanea Golf Club, a lush layout built on bare volcanic rock. The site called for work more similar to mining than to landscaping: Kidd tore or blasted black boulders from the ground, used crushed cinder from volcanic vents as topsoil and imported 25,000 tons of sand. The result is sure to please developers Charles Schwab and George Roberts (whom Kidd calls a "mad-keen golfer"), but Kidd's latest gig is closer to his heart. He will design the seventh course at St. Andrews, its first in ten years.
"I pinch myself thinking of the men who built courses on this land: Old Tom Morris, Harry Colt, Alister MacKenzie," he says. He'll have 220 acres to work with just south of the old town; six or seven holes will offer sweeping views of St. Andrews Bay. Kidd, who cherishes his Scottish heritage and looks killer in a kilt, swears to give his all to making the course worthy of its setting. "To get this job away from me," he says, "you'd have to pry it from my lifeless hands."
ROOKIE CALIENTE LORENA OCHOA
In the history of women's golf, 2003 will be remembered as Lorena Ochoa's rookie year. Already a national heroine in Mexico, the twenty-one-year-old Ochoa was champion of her Guadalajara tennis club at age nine. As a teen she beat grown men at triathlons. Now she climbs mountains. "You get so tired, it is hard to keep going. Climbing mountains is a fight with your mind," she says. "Good training for golf."
The best female college player ever, Ochoa entered twenty tournaments for the Arizona Wildcats. She won a dozen of them and never finished more than three shots off the lead. Last fall, she quickly won three more titles on the minor-league Futures Tour, earning a ticket to the big time. You'll see her out there with the LPGA stars this spring—she's the one with the mismatched club covers: an "A" for "Arizona" on her five-wood, a wildcat on her three-wood and a Superman logo on her driver. That driver cover, a gift from friends who call her "SuperOchoa," was mothballed when Ochoa went to college. Now it's back for the start of a super career.
Ochoa spent the winter in Guadalajara, honing excess motion from her backswing and eliminating a down-and-right move of her head at impact. Having played against boys since she was eleven, she wants to take on the big boys someday. "I play with Mexican pros— guys—and I play from the blue tees with them. So I would love a chance to play the men on the PGA Tour. To compete—I love it!"
One thing she doesn't love is hearing Americans put that ugly hard "X" in "Mexico." So give a girl a break and say "May-hee-co." Then watch Ochoa, who might lock up the LPGA Rookie of the Year award by Cinco de Mayo, win a major this year—she finished third in the first one. ¡Arriba Lorena!