|(FILE/ED ZURGA/ASSOCIATED PRESS)|
For bettors, it's gotten worse
Friendly practice-round wagering was once a hallowed tradition among PGA players, but today's generation is anything but 'all in'
Tens of thousands of patrons inside the Augusta National Golf Club gates couldn't have had any idea what was at stake as they watched practice rounds involving Phil Mickelson, John Huston, and John Daly before the 1999 Masters.
Sure, the players were prepping for a run at the vaunted green jacket. But they were doing so with their own inimitable styles guiding their actions.
There was money on the line. Serious, serious money, and there wasn't a whiff of concern about policies against gambling on the PGA Tour.
"Consider the personalities involved," said a player who confirmed details of a four-ball match in which Daly lost $60,000 to the Mickelson-Huston team. "They love action, and golf gives them that vehicle."
In many ways, Mickelson, Huston, Daly and the two partners he chose to back for those money games, Tim Herron and David Duval, were carrying on with a flavor that has been part of the golf culture since before Old Tom Morris could tip a pint at the Links Hotel. But in many ways, they were pulling down the curtain on a sideshow that had been a staple on the PGA Tour.
Money games seem to have gone the way of the niblick and stymie.
"It's different out here. It's way too serious," said Brett Quigley, who isn't against tossing down his own money to back his game, except his colleagues seem to prefer the company of swing coaches, sports psychol ogists, and agents as they walk the fairways in practice rounds. A spirited Nassau? Not enough of his peers seem to go for that sort of thing anymore, "at least, not like when I was watching Dana grow up."
That would be his uncle, Dana Quigley, who at 60 is old enough to remember when money games during practice rounds were standard.
"I'm sure guys would still want to do it, but the fact is, they're all in their private planes, going home between tournaments, so they don't travel together," said Dana Quigley. "It's too bad, but there's no one around to have money games with."
Certainly not like the days when players such as Doug Ford and Bob Goalby were part of the traveling PGA Tour show.
"We had to play the money games," said Ford, a two-time major champion. "We made our money in the practice rounds."
To illustrate his contention, Ford recalled a practice round at the 1957 Masters when a colleague challenged him. Accepting the game and the stakes, Ford pocketed a sum of money that nearly matched what he made later in the week when he captured the coveted green jacket ($8,750).
OK, that pales in comparison to the gaudy sums that Mickelson and Huston took from Daly, but Goalby offers reminders of inflation and perspective.
"You'd probably have to play a $100 Nassau to match the $5 and $10 Nassaus we played for," said Goalby. "The only difference is, we didn't have the sort of money that these fellows do today, so the pressure was probably greater back then, because we couldn't afford to lose what little money we had."
Still, Goalby doesn't begrudge today's players for their treasures.
"They're so much better than we were, it's unbelievable," said the 1968 Masters champ. "They drive the ball better, they putt it better, they practice more."
But Goalby offers a disclaimer.
"But I think we had a better time playing golf in our day," he said. "We definitely had better times in our practice rounds. I'm sure of that."
Faxon concedes, however, that he's part of a dying breed. Today's players don't seem to care much for playing money games, whether it be a Nassau, Skins, or even Bingo-Bango-Bongo.
"I'd rather just go around and hit extra balls and stuff like that, rather than worrying about things on Tuesday," said David Toms.
"I can't be bothered," said Jerry Kelly. "I put an awful lot into my game. I really have to focus hard on [practice days]."
Jeff Sluman has never gone for money games, but he said it's part of his personality.
"Money," he said, "was always too hard to come by. I just didn't have any interest in that sort of thing. I'd rather buy a nice bottle of wine than blow it when some guy makes a 40-footer on the 18th with six presses."
Yet that's exactly the sort of action that gets some players' hearts pumping on Tuesday, and it serves them well come Thursday. At least that's how Faxon looks at it.
"My earliest memories of golf were $2 Nassaus," he said. "Everyone played them."
One of his fondest recollections involves a practice round at the 1994 British Open at Turnberry. He got into a money game called No Bogey that had been introduced to him by Andy North and Tom Watson. Each player in the foursome puts up a good sum (in this case $1,000), and whoever plays 18 holes without a bogey takes the loot. A simple concept, but a difficult task, and there was Faxon that day alongside Davis Love, Ben Crenshaw, and Corey Pavin.
"I think Davis bogeyed the second hole, Ben the fourth, and Corey the ninth," said Faxon. "I made 13 pars in a row and they all got mad at me."
When his bogey-free round reached the 18th, "I felt as much pressure as I ever did in golf," said Faxon. And when he played it with a rock-solid par, Faxon had a $3,000 windfall, "the most I ever won playing for money."
A 24-year veteran, Faxon is sensitive to PGA Tour rules that prohibit gambling on tournaments. But he realizes that money games played in practice rounds are part of the game's fabric. Consider what the US Golf Association writes about gambling in its Rules of Golf:
"There is no objection to informal gambling or wagering among individual golfers or teams of golfers when it is incidental to the game . . . informal gambling or wagering is acceptable, provided the primary purpose is the playing of the game for enjoyment, not for financial gain."
Faxon insists that having some sort of wager in his practice round makes him concentrate better, and you'll find plenty of players who agree. Just don't think they have to play for Daly-like stakes. To some, 25 cents is all that is needed.
That's right, a quarter. It's what PGA Tour rookie Michael Boyd suggested his practice-round matches with fellow Hooters Tour member Codie Mudd be played for several years ago. Mudd laughed, but he took the bet, and nearly every Tuesday that season they went at it for quarters.
"It was an ego thing," said Boyd, who at 31 has made it onto the PGA Tour. "I knew I wasn't going to get rich from it, but you just don't want to lose anything. You don't want to even hand over a quarter."
His is not a philosophy widely shared.
"To a lot of today's players, they'd rather come out and do 15 different drills and hit 10,000 balls," said Boyd. "I don't mind practice. I actually like to practice, but . . ."
What he likes to do better is go down to a local muni in Tulsa, where he lives, slap down his $15 and get into a Skins game.
In his formative PGA Tour years, Arnold Palmer was always in Tuesday money games, often with Dow Finsterwald, and not far away, Ford and Goalby had their money on the line. So, too, did Ben Hogan, Gene Littler, Fred Hawkins, Julius Boros, and a long line of other players, none more prominent than the legendary Sam Snead.
"He'd play for anything, but the truth is, most of the guys didn't want to play him. He was too good," said Goalby. "So he'd play them for small amounts, too. To Sam, it wasn't so much how much money was on the line. He just needed to have a game."
Any talk that involves gambling and golf has to include Snead, whose legend is bigger than life. There is the story of the reported $100,000 he won in a match in Havana in the 1930s.
"I tried to quit gambling once," Snead famously said. "But it was about as much use as kicking a hog barefoot."
Goalby laughs, but he knows the Snead legend was followed by others so fiercely proud of their skills that they would put up their own money any time, anywhere, against anyone. To this day, whether he's at his Bay Hill Club in Orlando, Fla., or his beloved Latrobe CC in Pennsylvania, Palmer always has something on the line when he plays.
Goalby said Ford was a great money player, and that can also be said for Lee Trevino and Raymond Floyd. They were followed onto the PGA Tour by Lanny Wadkins, who was renowned for his passion for money games. He never had to look far for a game in the 1970s and 1980s. And it seems the bigger the name, the bigger the game. Nick Price never turned down the chance to play for cash, and neither did Greg Norman, even in 2000 when he was beyond his prime.
"Faxon got me into a money match at the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach," said Brett Quigley, who was making his major golf championship debut. "I was skeptical, but I agreed, even at $1,000. I was almost afraid to say no. Then he told me they'd be playing No Bogey, and here comes Greg Norman to the tee, then they got Woody Austin involved."
Thinking he had been taken by two far more experienced players, Quigley laughed when both Norman and Faxon bogeyed the first hole. But no money changed hands that day, because Quigley bogeyed No. 2, Austin the 11th.
Players can get $10,000 or more by playing in a Monday outing. Equipment and corporate deals are far more lucrative than ever. Travel being easier than in decades past, players can get home Sunday night from one tournament and not fly to the next one until Tuesday. One practice round? That's fine with them.
Then there's the matter of the purse, which is $7 million this week. With that kind of cash, who needs a Nassau, even for $100?
Call it the end to the Legend of John Huston.
"When I came on Tour, Mickelson told me that if we had to put our money up each week, no one would beat Huston," said one player.
It was Huston's reputation as a guy who loved the action that attracted Mickelson, and the two of them were more than willing to take on Daly's challenge. Players caught wind of the match and a buzz circulated, though patrons knew nothing of its serious nature. Being a practice round, it's more than likely they didn't even pay attention to the brilliant play.
Automatic presses were part of the game that Tuesday. Some players speculate that they could have been playing "hammer," too. That's a high-stakes wrinkle in which a competitor can yell out "hammer," even as his foe's shot is in mid-flight. It means that the bet is doubled and if you refuse the "hammer," you automatically lose the hole. If you're thinking that this isn't for the skittish, you're correct.
Daly has been called a lot of things, but skittish isn't one of them. So it's easy to see how he could have stood $6,000 down to both Huston and Mickelson at the 18th hole that day and it's not a surprise that he doubled the bet. That both Daly and Herron -- who reportedly didn't have nearly as much money involved in the match as his partner -- were both within a couple of feet for birdie at the closing hole boded well for their chances.
Until, that is, Huston holed an 8-iron for an eagle-2, and increased the profits for him and Mickelson to what players suggest was $12,000 each.
Players said Daly was stunned, but in no mood to quit. He asked for a rematch the next morning, but because the course must be cleared early the week of the Masters, they would have to go out at 8. Daly agreed. Huston and Mickelson were at the tee the next morning, but Daly wasn't on time. The assumption was that he had had second thoughts. But at 8:05, Daly walked out of the clubhouse with Duval, four times a winner in eight starts to that point.
Hotter than the equator? Indeed, Duval was, but you cannot play defense in golf. Daly and Duval had no way to combat Huston and Mickelson. Players report varying accounts -- some say Huston made a handful of birdies on the back, while Mickelson eagled both the par-5s, 13 and 15; others claim Huston made 10 birdies, while the pair shot 28 on the back -- but everyone agrees it was a resounding victory for both of them. Later that day, Daly offered envelopes to both players, each stuffed with what is believed to be $30,000.
No one would confirm the amount, but in a Golf World article in 2000, Huston talked of his passion for money games. "I think it's the best preparation. It's definitely better than hitting it out of the bunker 100 times."
But in his 20th year on the PGA Tour, Huston is resigned to how the landscape is changed. It's hard to find a game anymore.
Oh, Vijay Singh is known as a guy who will gladly take you along in his practice round -- so long as you put up some cash. Tom Pernice Jr., Paul Azinger, and Pat Perez will get involved. Charley Hoffman is another, especially when he hooks up with his onetime teammate at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Adam Scott.
"For me," said Hoffman, "sometimes it's a way just to keep my interest up."
A majority of his colleagues seem to disagree.
"I don't care how much money you're playing for among friends," said Kelly. "It's not going to give me the same amount of adrenaline [as trying to win the tournament] gives me. I'm playing for titles. I don't have many of them, but that's what keeps my adrenaline up all the time. I'd much rather make my money on the all-time money list than the unreported income."
That sound you hear is the collective cringe of PGA Tour members from eras gone by.