At the Turn: How Two Electrifying Years Changed Golf Foreverby Steve Eubanks
In two-and-a-half astonishing years, professional golf was reborn. Formerly dismissed as an elite, white, middle-aged, rich man's game, golf has rocketed into the mainstream to become a multicultural, multibillion-dollar sport, with young, hotshot athletes to rival those in the NBA and demographics to win the hearts of networks and merchandisers everywhere.
From the U.S. team's devastating loss at the 1997 Ryder Cup to their come-from-behind triumph at the 1999 Cup through the recordsetting summer of 2000, Steve Eubanks tells the story of the new boys, the bad boys, and the good old boys who changed the way America -- and the world -- think about golf. With detailed coverage of the rise of David Duval, Sergio Garcia, and, of course, Tiger Woods, as well as the backbiting and chaos at the British Open, the backstage power struggles at the PGA, and the tragic death of Payne Stewart, At the Turn is a must-read for any fan of the sport -- and any fan of sports in general.
This is the true story of a game's seemingly miraculous transformation -- a no-holds-barred, reporter's-eye view of pro golf, written by a true insider who rivals John Feinstein at his best.
- Random House, Incorporated
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- First Edition
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Read an Excerpt
A Question of Life and Death
The late October air was crisp, not cold, even though the first snowfall was less than a month away and residents of Geneva were hurriedly preparing for the winter ski season. Rain and fog had draped the city in gray for most of the day, but skies cleared by late afternoon and a few remaining clouds bumped lightly against the snow-capped Alps as dusk settled. Flickering lights from a ferry bound for Montrose shimmered against Lake Leman providing the perfect backdrop for a quiet dinner.
A small battery of patrons littered the restaurant: bankers mostly, dressed in dark suits and French-cuffed Egyptian-cotton shirts with all the accoutrements required for status in the Swiss financier community. It was somewhat prejudiced to assume every professionally dressed man or woman in Geneva was a banker, but with only 180,000 residents, and over 450 banks, it was also a pretty safe bet. Locals could always pick out the bankers, distinguishing them with relative ease from the government emissaries, artists, importers, and International Red Cross executives who worked and lived in the city. Of course tourists remained the easiest group to spot. Late October was a transition period for tourism as the weather had become a bit too nippy for waterskiing and day trips to the botanical gardens, but skiers wouldn't arrive for another month or so. It was also a Monday, which meant the Parisians who had been in town for the weekend had returned home, and the cathedral of Saint Pierre, a sprawling structure showcasing architectural and artistic history from Roman rule through the Reformation, was closed. All that remained (in this populardining establishment at least) were a handful of casually dressed visitors seated silently at two tables in the corner. The bankers were relatively subdued as well. All in all, it was a peaceful night for dining out, exactly the kind of relaxing experience Jean Van de Velde and his wife Brigitte needed.
To the rest of the diners they were a mystery couple: obviously local from their demeanor and familiarity with the restaurant staff, but not a pair you could neatly place in the rigidly enforced Geneva hierarchy. Jean was certainly not a banker; the tan and weathered skin said tourist. The Rolex hinted that he might be an investor from Monaco, but his clothes and demeanor didn't fit that mold. He was young (33 to be exact) and strikingly handsome. With his thick black hair combed back he bore an uncanny resemblance to a young Gregory Peck. He certainly could have passed as France's latest film export, or fashion model. Even when reading a menu or prattling on about the relative virtues of tonight's roast pheasant special his eyes sparkled and his expressions showed an unaffected air of self-assurance and joie de vivre. Several of the patrons stared a moment too long assuming he must be someone they should recognize, but no one did.
Brigitte, on the other hand, was a strawberry blonde with just enough tiny wrinkles to confirm she was about his age. Were it not politically incorrect, she would have been described as cutenot ravishing or striking, but attractive in a deeper sense, with high cheekbones, soft skin, a pixie smile, and an engaging stare that confirmed her complete adoration for her husband. She had known Jean since they were 5-year-old children attending grade school in Mont-de-Marsan, a town of 40,000 in the southwest corner of France where the Van de Veldes were well-known industrialists. Jean's father, Jean Marcel Van de Velde, owned one of the largest commercial engine factories in the region, but Jean, the slightly awkward youngest of five brothers, wasn't cut out to sell combine engines to French farmers. Brigitte recognized his spark, and the two became steady sweethearts at age 15. "He's a good person to spend time with," she would say to anyone who asked, quite an admission after spending most of her childhood and all her adult life with only one man. "He never complains, never gets too demanding. He's very good company."
He was also quite popular these days. While no one in the restaurant recognized him (and in Geneva, where privacy is a sacred right, they would have left him alone even if they had) Jean Van de Velde was a professional, a golfer who, after 11 journeyman years on the European PGA Tour where he had posted only one victory and 31 top-ten finishes in 292 tournaments, had been thrust into semi-stardom in late July of 1999. It wasn't the kind of attention Jean or Brigitte wanted, and certainly they wished the circumstances surrounding their newfound fame had been different. But in typical que será, será fashion, they accepted their fate and fortune with smiling equanimity.
"So many more people want to know me, want my time, but that's exciting, you know," Jean openly admitted. There was a genuineness to his speech, as if no question was too inane, no subject taboo for him. His English, while good, was laced with a silky French accent, enough to confirm his status as a marketable celebritya "hunk" as they would say in the trashy tabloids, or a candidate for "Sexiest Man Alive" in some of the more sensational glossy weeklies.
"It's nice to have people wanting to know what you think and who you are," he continued. "But by the same time it's a bit heavy on your shoulders. There are a certain number of hours in the day, and when the demand is very big you need to sometimes sound like a bad guy and say you can't do that thing someone wants."
It obviously wounded him to be thought of as a bad guy, even by those who were so brash as to make unreasonable requests of his time. He had always been open and available, willing to answer questions anyone might have or sign autographs anyone might want. He even poked fun at his own accent, mimicking Peter Sellers's Inspector Clouseau perfectly. "Does your dog bite?" he would say, cocking an eyebrow just so. Even though he oozed savoir faire, there had never been an overwhelming demand for his impressionistic comedy, or his signature, or his time, during his decade on the European PGA Tour. There were the standard occasions when a voice would shout, "May I have your autograph?" followed by a cap or a folded program being thrust in his direction. "Sure," Jean would always answer, scrawling his name across the item with a black Sharpie. Then the inevitable question would come: "By the way, who are you?" Politely and without hesitation he would answer, "I am Jean Van de Velde." That was usually followed by an "Oh, well, thanks," and off the fan would go in search of Montgomerie or Westwood or any one of the many other players with more name recognition than Jean What's His Name.
But all that had changed. "The last half of the  season I haven't practiced as much as maybe I should have, but that's the way it is, you know," Jean said with only a slight hint of guilt in his voice. "Since the Open it has been very hectic."
"The Open" Monsieur Van de Velde spoke of was the 1999 Open Championship, or the British Open, as it's referred to in America. The third of golf's four major championships played each year, the Open was the only world golf championship that existed in 1860, so there was no reason for the Brits to qualify it as the British Open. According to many imperialist Anglophiles "British Open" remains redundant today, since in many minds there is no other golf event worthy of comparison with the one, true, Open Championship. The U.S. Open, the only other major to qualify as an "open" contest, where anyone with an entry fee and a dream can conceivably work his way into the field, is a mere babe by comparison. First contested in 1895, the U.S. Open was a second-tier event dominated by British players until 1913, and even after it gained momentum and prominence it never fully penetrated the fabric of American culture the way the Open Championship did in Britain. Schoolchildren in Sussex know the Open champion by name as surely as they know their Queen. Unless he wore his trademark knickers, American kids wouldn't have known Payne Stewart (the 1999 U.S. Open Champion) if he stood in front of their classroom and gave an hour-long clinic.
British golf fans are some of the most knowledgeable and avid in the world. Even though the Open Championship is staged in July, the weather at some of the courses can range from testy to downright miserable. St. Andrews, located on the eastern coast of Scotland and considered the birthplace of golf, is on the same latitude as Siberia, and while the weather isn't quite arctic, it can be windy, wet, and frighteningly cold. But the fans come anyway, usually between 30,000 and 40,000 a day braving the elements to watch the world's greatest golfers test their mettle on golf courses that wouldn't fetch a five-dollar greens fee in America.
They are called "links" courses because they sit on land that supposedly links the inland to the sea, and they are unlike any other courses in the world. Some of the oldest and most storied courses in America are links; places like Shinnecock and National Golf Links on Long Island are considered American masterpieces. But as wonderful as those golf courses are, they don't come close to capturing the essence of links golf. For that you have to visit places like St. Andrews, Turnberry, and Muirfield in Scotland; Portmarnock, Ballybunion, and Royal County Down in Ireland; and Birkdale near Liverpool in England. God was the chief architect of these courses, with rising and receding tides routing the holes and centuries of relentless winds shaping the features.
Trees are a rarity on links layouts while blind shots, bad bounces, and hidden bunkers are all common. "It's different," Tiger Woods said of the links game, one of his more understated appraisals. Links golf is nothing like the golf played by most players in America. Whereas players in the United States spend years learning to hit the ball high with lots of spin, links courses require low shots that bore into the wind, then bounce and run along the undulating terrain. Downwind five-iron shots that travel 270 yards are common, while well-struck drivers into the wind often carry no farther than 160 yards.
"I hated it," five-time British Open champion Tom Watson said of his early experiences with links golf. "I said, 'This isn't golf.' It wasn't until I had been over here several times that it occurred to me that this was golf, not what we played. This was the way the game was meant to be played."
And the Open Championship was the ultimate test of the way the game was supposed to be played. The first 12 Opens were contested at a links course called Prestwick on the coast of Scotland. Eight of those times two men named Tom Morris won; Tom Morris, Sr., known as "Old Tom" long before he reached today's Social Security age, won four times and had two runner-up finishes between 1860 and 1867. His son, Tom Morris, Jr., nicknamed "Young Tom" by those creative Scots, won the Open four times in a row between 1867 and 1872. In 1873 the members at Prestwick ran into a little financial trouble, so the Royal and Ancient golfers of St. Andrews stepped in and joined the party, hosting the Open at the Old Course that year, and at Musselburgh the next. That began the tradition of an "Open rotation," whereby the tournament was rotated among links courses. St. Andrews, Musselburgh, and Prestwick ran the rota for 20 years until 1892, when Muirfield was added.
By the 1890s the U.S. Open was getting on its feet, and the game had become a bit more popular both in the states and in Great Britain, so the Open Championship was extended from a 54-hole to a 72-hole contest. Rather than run the event into the weekend, the championship committee decided it should still begin on Wednesday and end with 36 holes on Friday so golf pros could be back in their shops selling featheries, repairing cleeks, and steppin' and fetchin' to their members' needs come Saturday morning. Old traditions die hard, and even though the role of professional golfers changed over the years, the traditions of the Open did not. It wasn't until 1980, when Mark McCormackArnold Palmer's longtime agent and founder of the world's largest sports management company, International Management Groupbroke out his pocket calculator and showed executives at the Royal and Ancient how much money they were losing in weekend U.S. television fees that the event was finally moved to the standard Thursday through Sunday format professional golfers and golf fans have grown to expect. By then Palmer had won the Open twice, Nicklaus had won it three times, Lee Trevino had won it two times in a row (1971 and 1972), and Watson was in the process of picking up the third of his five victories.
That is not to say that Americans had taken over the Open. A fair number of players over the years have chosen not to make the trip across the pond for various reasons ranging from weather to scheduling conflicts to a genuine dislike for links golf. Sam Snead made his first trip to the Open in 1946, the first contest after a six-year hiatus while the Allies beat back fascism and freed the world from Hitler. Snead won handily, beating Bobby Locke and Johnny Bulla by four shots at St. Andrews, but when the first-place prize money didn't cover Snead's travel and lodging expenses he vowed never to return. "They asked me if I was going to go back, and I said, 'Are you kidding?'" Snead said.
Ben Hogan also made only one trip to the Open. In 1953, after winning the Masters and U.S. Open, Hogan traveled by ship to Scotland where he spent two weeks traipsing around Carnoustie, a small village of 10,000 residents, one marmalade and chocolate factory, and 54 holes of golf, 18 of which were considered the toughest in Britain. Hogan didn't socialize much during his stay. In fact he checked out of the Bruce Hotel (the only one in town at the time) and moved into a rented house 10 miles away in Dundee after the first night. Hogan needed to soak his legs regularly in warm water after a 1949 auto accident, and the only hotel in the town hosting the Open Championship didn't have tubs.
Every day Hogan would take a chauffeur-driven car to the golf course, where he mapped out every nook and cranny of the Medal Course in preparation for his only Open appearance and only Open win. This was during the time when the final 36 was played on Friday (so all those pros could get back to work behind the counters of their shops) and many wondered if Hogan's legs would hold up. They did, and despite a few distractions, like the small band of squealers who discovered Frank Sinatra in his gallery, Hogan shot 70-68 on Friday and won by four. According to former CBS commentator and author Ben Wright, who was also in the gallery that day, "To see this perfectly tailored gentleman in his perfectly pressed pants and sparkling shoes was eminently impressive and equally breathtaking. Hogan looked like he was King." He also never returned to the Open.
Meet the Author
Steve Eubanks is a former PGA golf professional, a contributing writer at Golf World magazine and CBS SportsLine, and a contributor to Golf Digest. He is the author of Augusta: Home of the Masters Tournament and coauthor of Laura Baugh's memoir, Out of the Rough.
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