Teed-off golfers set to tee off at PGA

Md. qualifier opens play as Ryder debate fumes

August 12, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

MEDINAH, Ill. -- A 41-year-old club pro from Baltimore will do his best to end all the controversy and debate leading up to the 81st PGA Championship by performing the most basic of tasks early this morning at Medinah Country Club.

Wayne DeFrancesco will tee off.

DeFrancesco, teaching pro at Pikesville's Woodholme Country Club, is scheduled to be the first of 156 players to take on the par-72, 7,401-yard course, longest ever played at sea level for a major championship.

When his ball leaves the tee about 6: 40 a.m., the focus will be back on who's going to win the season's final major rather than on the play-for-pay issue at next month's Ryder Cup.

The discussions have been going on for months, and Tuesday's meeting involving 16 PGA Tour players, commissioner Tim Finchem and Jim Awtrey, the PGA of America's chief executive, did not resolve the matter.

Awtrey said yesterday that his organization will come up by year's end a plan "that will satisfy all the objectives that we discussed with the players." Asked repeatedly if any changes would be in place for this year, Awtrey was evasive.

"I don't know what that final plan's look is," he said.

Several prominent players have complained that they should be given money to play in the Ryder Cup, even if they donate it to charity. The biennial event will generate a reported $63 million, and the nonprofit PGA of America could make up to $17.5 million.

"I never intended to say -- nor did I say that I believe -- David Duval should get paid to play in the Ryder Cup," Duval said here Tuesday. "I simply said that as a player who's on [the team], we should get money to take back to our community. And if people see a problem with that, I'm sorry."

Said Tiger Woods: "What I would like to see, whether it's $200, $300, $400 or $500,000 -- whatever the amount is -- I think we should be able to keep the money and do whatever we see fit. For me, I would donate it to charity."

Reigning Open champion Payne Stewart said yesterday that he would hate to see the Ryder Cup turn into what the Davis Cup has become in tennis, with players such as Woods and Duval choosing not to play for the American team.

"The potential is there," said Stewart.

U.S. team captain Ben Crenshaw broke with the party line that "everyone is on the same page" by pointing his finger at some of the game's biggest names.

"I'm personally disappointed in a couple of players in that meeting," said Crenshaw. "I mean that. And they know who they are. And whether some players like it or not, there are some players who came before them that meant a lot to this game. It burns me [up] to listen to some of their viewpoints."

The focus of this week's tournament will continue to be on American players on the bubble for qualifying automatically for one of the 10 Ryder team spots.

The questions regarding the Ryder Cup are not of concern to DeFrancesco. This is a world he visits only occasionally, when he plays in the Kemper Open or, as is the case here, his second PGA Championship.

But DeFrancesco, who shot an opening-round 69 in the 1995 PGA, where he finished tied for 71st, already has a memory from this year's tournament to last the rest of his professional career.

It came yesterday morning.

After talking with former college contemporary Mark O'Meara about playing a practice round together, DeFrancesco arrived about 6: 30 a.m. to find the first tee a bit crowded.

Aside from O'Meara, Duval and John Cook, Mark Calcavecchia was also there. Learning of O'Meara's promise, Calcavecchia teed off by himself.

Then things got interesting when Woods, who normally practices with O'Meara and Cook, showed up.

"Tiger heard what was going on and said, `Why don't I go ahead of you?' " said DeFrancesco, thus finding himself subbing, in effect, for Woods and paired with Duval.

Was he nervous playing a $10 Nassau with Duval, the world's top-ranked player?

"I'm almost 42, and I'm beyond the intimidation factor," said DeFrancesco, who played at Wake Forest when Cook was at Ohio State and O'Meara was at Long Beach State. "I hit the ball great. I had a lot of fun."

On the 388-yard par-4 opening hole, DeFrancesco drove the ball in the middle of the fairway with a 3-wood and hit his 9-iron approach stiff. DeFrancesco birdied the first hole. Duval birdied eight of the first 12, but their team wound up losing 1-up.

"Hank Haney [O'Meara's teacher] was following us around and said to me, `You've got a nice swing,' and John said, `You still hit it pretty good,' " said DeFrancesco. "Duval must have said `nice shot' to me 15 times. It certainly gives me some confidence."

DeFrancesco will need all the courage he can muster on the first tee this morning.

It's the first time he has teed it up first in a tournament, let alone a major championship.

"Hopefully," he said, "it will be in the fairway."

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