Sports Watch

Bill Kwon

By Bill Kwon

Saturday, October 24, 1998

Maui is the place to be
for big-time golf

AANAPALI, Maui --The subject is . . . golf. What else?

With most of the leading Senior PGA Tour professionals here for the EMC Kaanapali Classic, it's the topic of conversation on the Valley Island.

The "Maui Miracle" isn't a gubernatorial campaign slogan. It's the real thing -- live and in the flesh -- with guys such as Hale Irwin, who has won more money playing golf than anyone else, durable Gary Player, colorful Doug Sanders and tall George Archer, all glad-handing the gallery at the Kaanapali North Course.

The only guys who would have made it complete -- but aren't here -- are Chi Chi Rodriguez, who recently had angioplasty, and Lee Trevino. Oh well, maybe next year.

Jay Sigel is threatening to make a runaway of it, shooting a record 10-under-par 61 in the first round yesterday. It's the best round on the Senior Tour this year and only one stroke off the tour-record 60 posted by Isao Aoki last year. A-OK's also here, by the way.

Irwin, the defending champion, finds himself pretty much out of it, trailing by 12 strokes with only 36 holes left to play. But he is still "The Man" on the Senior Tour, having already posted his second consecutive $2 million-plus season.

IRWIN, of course, represents the Kapalua Resort just up the road from here. Kapalua will be the site of two more golf miracles on Maui in the next several months.

Foremost will be the Mercedes Championship, which will launch the 1999 PGA Tour season next January. But more immediately, Kapalua will host the Lincoln-Mercury Challenge in two weeks (Nov. 6-8). The par-73 Plantation Course will be the venue for both events.

Kapalua secured both tournaments through the efforts of Mark Rolfing, a live wire when it comes to promoting golf. When the PGA Tour wanted to move the Mercedes -- its annual tournament of champions -- it initially considered holding it at Waialae Country Club, site of the Hawaiian Open.

When United Airlines bowed out as a sponsor, Sony took over. Clearly, Waialae was better suited than Kapalua, in terms of logistics, for a full-field event. And so the sites were switched.

It meant the demise of the Lincoln-Mercury Kapalua International, an unofficial PGA event but a popular golf party for the pros. To the credit of the auto company, it hated to see the party end, so it decided to foot the entire purse for the Lincoln-Mercury Challenge. And believe me, it's nothing to sneeze at.

It'll be a $500,000 event, with the winner after 54 holes getting $75,000. In addition, the professional winning the team competition with his amateur partner on the final day will pocket $50,000.

All that and Kapalua's amenities, too.

NO wonder Rolfing had no problem lining up 18 PGA Tour pros for the event, including former Hawaiian Open champions Paul Stankowski and John Cook, as well as 1998 Tour winners Scott Simpson, Fred Funk, Steve Pate, and Brandel Chamblee.

The biggest name in the field, though, won't be a PGA Tour player. It's an amateur -- Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roger Clemens.

Rolfing is excited Clemens will be at Kapalua that week.

"I suspect he will be getting his fifth Cy Young Award that week," Rolfing said.

Deja vu all over again.

Clemens played in the Kapalua International in November and was spending a couple of extra days vacationing at the resort when he learned he had won the award as the American League's top pitcher for a fourth time.

Talk about a public relations coup for Kapalua -- and the island of Maui -- if during that week, Clemens becomes the first to win the Cy Young Award five times.

Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

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