2006: Without Tiger and Phil, it’s still a Bohn voyage

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Kapalua, Hawaii

Jason Bohn spent an entire week in Hawaii with a cavernous grin plastered across his face, and it wasn’t just because he spent a good part of his afternoons walking head-on into 30 mph tradewinds.

Bohn, a bounding ball of amplified energy who was appearing in his first Mercedes Championships, would return to his room at Kapalua each night with the excitement of a 6-year-old sneaking a peek beneath the tree before anyone else was awake on Christmas.

Each day ended with Bohn wondering what new trinkets might greet him. He got a couple of silk Hawaiian shirts. Some nifty sandals and T-shirts. Gift certificates to various high-end eateries on Maui. There were fresh, juicy pineapples to carve. His wife, Tewana, received a beautiful key chain from Tiffany’s one night. Each bauble was accompanied by a note: Thanks for coming, and congrats on a great year.

And the givers weren’t limited to the Kapalua/Mercedes crew. The folks from Wachovia, hoping to lure Bohn and others in the winners-only field to their tournament in May, left him a bottle of expensive champagne. Not to be outdone, tournament director Tom Baxter from the 84 Lumber Classic left cigars, and extended an invitation to Bohn to become an honorary member at the posh Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.

“That’s worth like $85,000,” the Pennsylvania-born Bohn leaned in and whispered, trying hard not to gush.

For a young guy on Tour not too far removed from his mini-tour days and still thrilled by simple things such as free range balls and shuttle rides, Bohn was overwhelmed. That’s an awful lot of freebies for a guy who pocketed nearly $1.9 million a year ago, but that’s how our society works. Welcome to the PGA (Pampered Golf Association) Tour. Hey, at least Bohn appreciates it.

“It’s an honor to be here,” said Bohn, who earned his ticket by winning last summer’s B.C. Open, an event played opposite the British Open. “You should feel honored that they invite you to such a tournament. We’re guaranteed a paycheck this week (last place paid $70,000) people would work their entire year to get. . . . I’m overwhelmed by all of this. I really am.”

A voice of reason in the deep dark woods that is the PGA Tour? Thank heavens. Obviously, not everybody on Tour is as wide-eyed and green (and refreshing) as Bohn.

Here’s the reality: There are those who wouldn’t miss this tournament for the world, and those who already have the world and can afford to miss it.

Unfortunately, last week’s season-opening event was reduced to Mercedes Lite. For a variety of reasons, only three of the top 13 players in the world were on hand. Tiger Woods, who chased a golf ball all over the world during his “offseason” in November-December, decided he needed an offseason. Go figure. And Phil Mickelson now hasn’t shown up to Kapalua for five years, stating in the past that the high winds set his game back for weeks. (Note to Lefty: Golf is an outdoor game. Sometimes the wind blows.)

It’s kind of humorous that an idea was advanced that the Tour should one day be run like a business, with its “CEO,” Tim Finchem, giving players an assigned list of 20 mandatory events to play each season. Funny because it’s an idea (not a bad one at that) lobbed out by Mickelson, who skipped both the Tour Championship in November (to trick or treat with the kids) and now the Mercedes Championships.

“If he’s so worried about that, or somebody else is so worried about that, then why wouldn’t you come here (to the Mercedes) and play?” questioned Justin Leonard.

Because the Tour Championship (top 30) and Mercedes Championships (this year, 32 Tour winners) are smaller, limited-field events, both need heightened support from top players if sponsors paying beaucoup bucks are going to receive their money’s worth. (Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington also were qualified to play Mercedes, but did not attend. As foreign players who make considerable sacrifices during the year to make their minimum 15 Tour starts, they can make a case for the pass.)

A shortened Tour season in 2007 should help the situation. But this year’s toned-down field sure represented tough timing for the suits back at Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach. As the Tour tries to finalize a new TV deal and lure Mercedes back into the fold for the next four to six years, two top players (Woods and Mickelson) skipped the premier event and a third (Vijay Singh) showed up but proved as congenial with the print media as Greta Garbo in her heyday. After his runner-up finish, he shunned the traditional runner-up news conference. Too bad. His closing 66, five clear of any other player, and maybe the best round ever shot at the Plantation considering the elements, certainly was a round worth talking about.

Players didn’t quite know what to make about the absences of Tiger and Phil.

“Obviously, money is not an issue,” said Mark Calcavecchia, a friend of both players who made his first start at Mercedes since 2002. “They don’t need the money, which is nice to be in that position. But it’s just golf, you know? It’s not a marathon. It’s not the Ironman out here, swim 26 miles or something. It’s just golf. Take next month off.”

In fairness to Woods, his Mercedes miss was a rare one. Usually when it comes to Tour matters, he does the right thing, and he’s the real reason why 28 others got to cut up a $5.4 million pie last week. Still, Calcavecchia made sure to put a little needle into his buddy. When he heard Woods wasn’t making it to Maui, he text-messaged him:

No Hawaii for you, more cash for me. Calc.

Mercedes tournament director extraordinaire Gary Planos said weeks ago he planned to stage a golf tournament, not a funeral, and true to his word, the show did go on. This is no ordinary luau, mind you, and the players who came – especially the 11 here at Kapalua for the first time – will do everything in their power over the next 10 months to get back.

Especially Bohn. For a guaranteed check, he said he’d happily slap the ball around in a 50 mph gale. Last seen, he was smiling, bouncing back in the direction of his hotel room, probably to be greeted by a couple of wheelbarrows filled with chocolate-covered macadamia nuts.

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