Hate to be Rude: West aligns stars in L.A.

NBA Hall Of Famer and tournament executive director Jerry West, right, and basketball entrepreneur Dana Pump cruise the course during the 2010 Northern Trust Open at Riviera.

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The 2010 Northern Trust Open drew only an estimated 30,000 for the whole week. In golfspeak, that’s basically a bad Friday morning at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, frost delay or no.

The Los Angeles event bombed at the turnstiles because of high ticket prices ($50 at the gate), bad weather, a final round on Super Bowl Sunday and, for the fourth year in a row, no Tiger Woods.

And so NBA great Jerry West, in his second year as the tournament’s executive director, is making a guarantee. It’s not a long, Joe Namath-like ledge he’s walking out on, but nonetheless he’s promising.

“We’re positive we’re going to have more people,” West said.

West holds out hope Woods will return to the Feb. 17-20 tournament in his native Southern California. This year’s final round is the same day the NBA All-Star Game is in Los Angeles, at the Staples Center.

“I suggested to him that if he wants to go, I might be able to get him a couple of courtside seats,” West said.

What’s more, the former Lakers superstar has secured two suites at Staples for Tour players who want to go to the game after the final round at Riviera Country Club. He’s using that and his personal Lakers tickets to help recruit players.

“I think we’ll have one of the best fields we’ve ever had,” said West, who has received commitments from the likes of Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler.

West has made numerous public appearances to drum up interest in an effort to achieve the primary goal: Increase attendance and thus charitable contributions. He said corporate sales have more than doubled over last year.

Crowd sizes figure to swell because tickets are more affordable. Last year’s $50 gate charge was 20 bucks more than the year before. This year, it’s $35 at the gate, $30 in advance. Also, admission for seniors and college students is $20, and youth and military will be admitted free.

Now all West needs on board are the guy who estimates attendances in Phoenix and the marketing genius behind that desert party.

Speaking of Phoenix, one estimate had 2 million beers being sold at last week’s tournament.

By the time Mark Wilson won on Monday, the aptly named Waste Management event was no longer in party mode. It was in the hangover stage.

The winner should receive a stein instead of a trophy.

When I asked Vijay Singh two weeks ago about falling out of the world top 100 for the first time since 1989, the big Fijian smiled and said quickly, “I’ll be back.”

Apparently, he meant quickly. Singh climbed to 81st after tying for third in Phoenix.

Trivia question: Who are the four players with more AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am victories than this week’s two-time defending champion, Dustin Johnson? (Answer below.)

For years we wondered about whom would be the Next Nicklaus. Well, in the over-50 league, we don’t have to wonder about the Next Hale Irwin.

He’s already here.

As the 2011 Champions Tour this week trots out its first full-field event (Allianz Championship in Boca Raton, Fla.), Bernhard Langer seeks to achieve something no one has done: Win a fourth consecutive Player of the Year title.

No one has won four, period, much less in a row. Irwin won three, in 1997, ’98 and ’02. Lee Trevino also won three (1990, ’92 and ’94).

If you’ve seen Langer lately, you’ll partly understand why. He’s 53 but looks like he has the body of 35. Then he goes out and plays like a robot.

Speaking of the old guys, you don’t need a media guide to keep up with them. You need a hospital report.

Several players return this week from 2010 injuries. Doctor, doctor, give us the news:

Mark McNulty (May) and Lonnie Nielsen (July) underwent right knee replacement surgeries and missed the rest of the season. David Eger missed two months after suffering a broken right ankle in a June fall, then shut down for good in early October because of ankle issues. Craig Stadler had left-hip-replacement surgery Sept. 15. D.A. Weibring had October surgery to remove a bone spur.

In other words, you can’t spell Champions without M*ASH.

Trivia answer: Mark O’Meara with five and Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller and Phil Mickelson with three apiece.

Over the years when I’ve seen lists of soon-to-be Champions Tour players, this question arises: How’d these guys get so old so fast?

I mean, the likes of Bobby Clampett, Willie Wood and Ian Baker-Finch became senior-eligible last year.

This year serves up Jim Gallagher Jr. (March 24), Mark Brooks (March 25), Steve Pate (May 26), John Huston (June 1), Jim Carter (June 24), Brad Faxon (Aug. 1) and Chris Perry (Sept. 27).

Next year, we get Kirk Triplett, Andrew Magee, Brandel Chamblee and Duffy Waldorf. The 2013 class includes Steve Elkington, Rocco Mediate, Vijay Singh and Bart Bryant.

Next thing you know, Rickie Fowler will be riding a cart.

• • •

Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.

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