Let’s do it right this time. Let’s make the Washington stop on the PGA Tour the Studio 54 of golf, the party everybody wants to get into. I mean, consider all the tournament has going for it:
We’ve got the world’s greatest golfer, Tiger Woods, as the Name Above The Title, arm-twisting top players into coming to D.C. We’ve got Congressional Country Club, site of the 2011 Open, as at least a temporary venue. We’ve got great playing dates, which make the AT&T National a natural stopover on the way to the British Open.
What more could anyone want?
OK, maybe some signature prize for the winner, something along the lines of the Masters’ green jacket. How about unlimited nighttime calling — for the rest of your life?
Washington, as we all know, is a big-time golf area. Has been ever since Jim Barnes ran away with the ‘21 Open at Columbia. Heck, you could walk from Congressional to Bethesda Country Club, site of several LPGA Championships in the ‘90s. (Notice I said you could walk. I didn’t say John Daly could walk. It’s a mostly uphill trek, and there are no Hooters en route.)
Anyway, it’s been hard the past 25-odd years for this big-time golf area to have such a small-time tournament. Everything about the event was wrong — the location (usually Avenel, a totally nondescript TPC course), the timing (usually following a string of invitationals, thereby guaranteeing a thin field) and especially the name.
No offense to Kemper, the insurance company that sponsored the tournament until 2003, but to many folks, “Kemper” evokes images of carpeting not $200 deductibles. You say “Kemper,” and I say, “Let’s take a look at our first showcase on ‘The Price Is Right’!”
A carpet is something you walk all over, something you wipe your feet on. That described the Kemper Open perfectly. The Tour didn’t care about it, and the players cared even less. Ben Brundred is a prince of a fellow and did a swell job running the event, but you can’t make chicken salad out of Phil Tataurangi.
Frankly, Washington deserved better, especially because the crowds at the Kemper/Booz Allen/Your Name Here Open were among the biggest on the Tour. They put up with more than their share of inconveniences, too, including last year’s Tuesday finish and the all-too-frequent mudslides in the parking lots. But except when the tournament was slotted the week before the U.S. Open, the marquee names stayed away in droves. (Except for Greg Norman, who made six appearances at Avenel — even though he was firmly convinced the ninth hole should be dynamited.)
Tiger Woods was entered in the Kemper in ‘97, fresh off his first Masters win, but something cropped up. Back spasms, if memory serves. He also stayed away in ‘05, the year the Booz made a nostalgic return to Congressional, its first home in Potomac. Here’s what it took to finally get him to play in a regular Tour event here: We had to give him custody of the tournament.
It’s gotta be one of the greatest deals in U.S. history. In fact, my updated top three are:
1. Swapping $24 worth of cubic zirconium for Manhattan Island.
2. Marrying an 89-year-old billionaire, like Anna Nicole Smith did, on the condition that you don’t have to live with him.
Having Michael Jordan in town for three seasons was swell, but he was only a rental. Tiger could be hosting the AT&T for the next 50 years. That’s right, in 2057, Tiger could be sitting on the clubhouse porch on Sunday — a la Byron Nelson — watching the action on the ninth green.
Unless, of course, he’s the 54-hole leader. With Tiger, you can never rule these things out. Besides, by then, Nike will probably have developed a combination walking stick/utility club.
Already the tournament’s luck has changed. Tiger’s accommodating wife, Elin, gave birth to their first child, Sam Alexis, on the day after the U.S. Open, making it possible — barring complications — for him to play in the inaugural AT&T. That’s a bonus. A lot of us figured we’d be seeing him this week only via satellite from some undisclosed maternity ward.
And now, wonder of wonders, Phil Mickelson says he’s flying in, his ailing left wrist having made a miraculous recovery. Who’s next, the ghost of Bobby Jones? Rannulph Junuh and his trusty caddy, Bagger Vance?
So, welcome to Washington, Tiger. For the next seven days, we busy-busy Washingtonians promise to make the ultimate sacrifice. We solemnly swear not to honk our horns — no matter the provocation — on River Road or any other thoroughfare bordering on Congressional. We know how much you golfers hate that.