Magazine article Insight on the News

1998: The Year of the Putt

Magazine article Insight on the News

1998: The Year of the Putt

Article excerpt

Se Ri Pak became the youngest woman to win two major golf tournaments, though her more celebrated male counterparts fare less well. Still, 1998 was a good year on the greens.

With the four majors concluded and autumn here, it's time to savor the last few weeks of golf-worthy weather and reflect on the season past. After five months of intriguing competition and bizarre circumstances, here are the players and developments that defined the year in golf, our back nine for 1998.

No. 1: Mark O'Meara. Nobody can quite explain the reasons for the awakening of the 41-year-old tour veteran, least of all O'Meara himself. But after an 0-for-56 run in the majors through 17 years of rank-and-file anonymity, O'Meara exploded with dramatic victories at the Masters and British Open to stem the talk of twentysomething dominance and post the Professional Golfers Association, or PGA, Tour's top Grand Slam season.

Perhaps O'Meara's emergence can be attributed to the putting-centric venues chosen for tins year's championships. Nobody wields a more potent blade than O'Meara, and between Augusta National's nasty set of bentgrass nightmares and three par-70 layouts at the other majors, this season favored putting prowess.

Whatever the reason, O'Meara became the oldest man to win two majors in one season when he collected the Claret Jug at Royal Birkdale. Aside from reserving him a place in history, that accomplishment surely will earn him runaway player-of-the years honors.

No. 2: Amateur Uprising. Not since Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam in 1930 has golf seen such a remarkable season of amateur exploits.

Georgia Tech's Matt Kuchar kept a smile on his face and his name on the leader board at both the Masters (tied for 21st) and U.S. Open (tied for 14th), and then made us all grin by passing up huge endorsement dollars for one more year as a Yellow Jacket.

Next came 20-year-old Jenny Chuasiriporn of Timonium, Md., who gracefully sparred with Se Ri Pak for 92 holes before falling to the Korean professional in the longest U.S. Women's Open in history. Chuasiriporn's awestruck reaction to the 35-footer she sank on the 72nd hole of regulation to force a playoff stands as the season's ultimate image of innocence.

Then followed 17-year-old English phenom Justin Rose, who withstood the intense scrutiny of the British press and the unyielding pressure of a major championship to enchant the locals at the British Open and tie for fourth in his first Grand Slam start.

Finally, both Spain's Sergio Garcia and Southern Methodist University senior Hank Kuehne dominated headlines at last week's U.S. Amateur Championship. The 18-year-old Garcia, who carries the lowest handicap in Europe (+5.6), knocked off defending champion Kuchar in the event's marquee match, but the 22-year-old Kuehne claimed the title in cathartic fashion after a three-year battle with alcoholism.

No. 3: Appleby's Tragedy. When Renay Appleby was killed July 23 in an illogical auto accident outside London's Waterloo Station, one of the game's top young players lost the love of his life, the Tour lost a friend and the remainder of the season lost its inflated sense of self-importance. Perspective is never worth such a price, but when Stuart Appleby walked into the interview room at the PGA Championship bleary-eyed and unshaven to discuss the tragedy, golf was finally a game again. …

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