Life on this Riviera not for rich, famous


PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Here we are in Hollywood, our nation's capital of hair transplants, wrinkle removal, tummy tucks and other uplifting experiences for the body.

But they can't grow grass. Like a lot of the natives, putting surfaces at Riviera Country Club, where they are holding this 77th PGA championship, are more style than substance. Greg Norman calls them "minefields." A few roots, mostly sand, easily spiked.

Jack Nicklaus says he had a two-footer during yesterday's first round and thought about chipping the ball over trouble instead of putting through it.

Why, even Chip Beck allowed that the greens for this tournament are scraggly. And you know Beck. He's golf's patron saint of optimism. If he heard that half of Chicago was wiped out by a tornado, he would say, well, there's still a half left.

"Could get worse, too," said Beck, really turning on the gloom. "If the greens dry out, they'll really be difficult."

Yes, that's the story after Round One of the season's last major tournament. The greens are terrible. And it's just as well, or the world's best players would really be abusing Riviera.

Spike this. Michael Bradley shot an eight-under par 63 to take the 18-hole lead, but it's not much of one. Two other players, Mark O'Meara and Jim Gallagher, are at 64. John Adams, who shot 29 on the front nine and looked like he was going to make history, slumped to a lousy 65.

Bradley's 63 not only equals the best score ever registered in this major, it's the best score anybody's ever shot in a Masters, U.S. Open or British Open, too. Just 15 players have done it, none more obscure than Bradley, a 29-year-old who joined the American Tour in 1993 after slugging it out in Canada.

"I did shoot 59 at a pro-am in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan once," said Bradley from behind his purple shades. "But this was something else. These greens are really receptive."

Say what? Greg Norman and Jack Nicklaus are blasting the greens, and Michael Bradley likes them?

Actually, it's fairly simple. Simpler than growing grass, apparently. These new putting surfaces are soft, but so is a pillow, and you wouldn't want to putt on that. If the humidity subsides and the sea breezes combine with sunny conditions, the thin layer of vegetation could be parboiled in a jiffy. Then you'll see some bounces and hear some screams.

As it is, players can attack from the tee, because the fairways are also moist. Balls are less likely to stray into the kikuyu rough. From there, it's fire away at the flagsticks. Putts will encounter spike marks, but there again, a soft impediment is better than a dry one.

"If the greens get firm," said Norman, "so will the spike marks. It'll be like putting through nails. I don't see how it's going to improve. They sodded these greens last fall, instead of seeding them. They aren't going to start filling in now."

The problem with spike marks is that they are an irreparable part of life. It says here in the Official Rules of Golf, Rule 16-1c, that a player cannot fix any damage to a putting surface other than that which is caused by impact of the ball. To tap down a spike mark constitutes improving one's lie and therefore is punishable by a two stroke penalty.

What a player can do, however, is flatten whatever needs flattening after he or she is finished putting. In other words, tap a few spike marks for the next group, and maybe the golf gods will reward you.

"But you can't tap them all down," said Fuzzy Zoeller, who didn't have to bother putting on No. 14, a par 3 that he aced. "Or you'll get fined for slow play."

Then there's John Daly, who probably shot his way out of Ryder Cup consideration with a grotesque 76.

"Look, I grew up in Arkansas," he said. "The tee boxes here got more grass than the greens there, so I can't complain about no spike marks."

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