SAN FRANCISCO – The fame factor at these international team matches isn’t confined to the Q-rated contestants. Golf is transcendent. The scene on the first tee of the Presidents Cup wasn’t just about jittery opening drives. It was also about see-and-be-seen.
So it was that the wife of Herb Kohler, the plumbing magnate and Wisconsin golf visionary, said to Jerry West, “Do you know President Bush?” With that introduction, the man whose image appears on the NBA logo met Bush the elder, a.ka. No. 41.
Conspicous by his absence on the first tee was U.S. assistant captain Michael Jordan, perhaps because of his stated goal of trying not to steal anyone’s light. Thing is, had MJ been there with other big shots, he wouldn’t even have been the best shooter in the vicinity.
Give The Logo a slight edge on the jumper, say 1 up in 19 holes in the golf vernacular.
Bush, meanwhile, joined other dignataries and VIPs in the commissioner’s hospitality stands a few yards from the No. 1 tee. Nearby sat controversial home run king Barry Bonds, the San Francisco Giant who rendered the number 755 an afterthought.
The Bay Area slugger, his head noticeably smaller than when he swatted 73 homers, was accompanied by his publicist, an Asian woman who visually could pass for Michelle Wie’s older sister. Bonds, wearing a cross earring dangling from his left lobe, and the publicist walked inside the ropes and witnessed the Tiger Woods-Steve Stricker 6-and-4 victory over Geoff Ogilvy-Ryo Ishikawa.
Interestingly, Bonds and the Wie lookalike passed by, of all people, galleryites B.J. and Beau Wie, Michelle’s parents, on the sixth hole. I thought about making an introduction, just in case there was no relation, but, hey, there actually was golf to watch.
Bonds, it should be noted, was treated nicely by the large galleries, like a local son rather than someone suspected of using steroids while hammering past Hank Aaron’s record. Fans called out to him every few steps, and often he acknowledged with a smile or gesture.
The home run king’s presence was not lost on golf’s focused No. 1.
“It’s good for the game of golf when these great sports figures come out and support golf,” Woods said.
Phil Mickelson concurred.
“It’s cool,” said the lefthander, who teamed with Anthony Kim to score the first point in a 3-and-2 comeback victory over Mike Weir and Tim Clark that ended with four consecutive U.S. birdies. “It’s cool having Michael Jordan represent the team. He brings a lot to the table. All this shows golf’s reach has gotten bigger.”
All this shows, too, that we live in a People Magazine society, where fame seems to matter more than ever, for better or worse, with your correspondent doing his part right here.
The Thursday scene was such that the two captains, Greg Norman and Fred Couples, the game’s two biggest needle-movers in the early 1990s, blended in. Though it was hard to miss the two logos on Norman’s custom-made sling.
“The first tee was nerve-wracking,” Couples said after the action ended with the U.S. ahead, 3 1/2 – 2 1/2. “President Bush was there, Barry Bonds was there, Jerry West was there. So I’m like, OK, they hit, I’m going to go take another picture with Greg.”
Speaking of pictures, probably no one was photographed more than Japanese teen sensation Ryo Ishikawa. Ishikawa, 18, wore hip silver shoes but had to settle for the silver medal in his match. He also has had to deal with myriad pronunciations of his first name. This week alone, I’ve heard his teammates pronounce Ryo as Ro, Yo, Ree-o and Rye-o.
Sometime soon, probably when he gets more famous outside of Japan, we’ll have the answer.
Thursday, he and Ogilvy had no answers for Woods-Stricker. The Americans made 10- and 18-footers on the first two holes and then went 2 up on No. 3 when Ogilvy missed a 12-foot par putt after a bizarre incident.
Ogilvy backed away from the putt three times because a marshal’s cell phone rang several times. Then, right before he putted, a fan yelled something. One eyewitness said the spectator screamed, “Noonan,” a Caddyshack reference.
“The cell phone went off seven times,” Stricker said. “Every time he went to putt the thing went off. Then the guy yelled and that was unfortunate.”
Woods was put off as well.
“The only thing that was intentional was the guy yelling out,” Woods said. “We all felt bad for Geoff.”
The Americans also felt for Justin Leonard. The U.S. was set to take a 2-point cushion at 4-2, but Leonard shoved a 3-foot birdie putt off the right lip on the last hole of the last match. Instead of winning, Leonard and Jim Furyk halved Retief Goosen and Y.E. Yang after losing the final two holes.
The Leonard incident also was bizarre. Goosen zoned out for a minute, thinking the match was over and taking his cap off.
“I didn’t know if he was giving us the putt,” Leonard said. “I knew going in I had to make it. Unfortunately, I missed it.”
Stricker watched from the side of the green and admitted to being confused.
“It looked like (Goosen) was giving the putt,” Stricker said.
But that didn’t happen. According to Norman, there was no ill intent. Later, Goosen visited Leonard and smoothed things over.
“He just thought the match was over,” the Shark said. “It was a legitimate mistake. It was just the intensity of the game.”
Which, of course, started amid all the electricity on the first tee. A day that began with fame ended with misfortune.