- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

A longtime scorer at the Booz Allen Classic told an interesting story the other day. Seems at last year’s tournament at Congressional, she was assigned to a group that included one of the game’s biggest stars — and was quite excited about it. At one point, the star nearly holed out from the fairway, leaving perhaps a two-foot putt.

“Nice shot!” the scorer told him as they walked down the fairway.

The star turned to her, a smile pasted on his face, and said through his teeth, “Don’t get too close to me.”

“He didn’t want me blocking the TV camera’s view of him,” the scorer said.

I’m not suggesting every professional golfer is so self-absorbed, but the story sums up nicely the PGA Tour’s relationship with the Washington area. It has been more than happy to take our money, to soak up the applause from the large and supportive galleries, but it has never wanted to get too close. The Booz/FBR/Kemper Open was just never important enough.

Most years, it was merely the place guys like Grant Waite went to earn enough money to pay the bills. Unless it was scheduled for the weekend before the U.S. Open, a rarity, it seldom attracted the big names, the kind of players who would tell a veteran scorer, “Don’t get too close to me.” It was what it was, just another stop on golf’s gravy train; and after it left Congressional and moved next door to Avenel in 1987, it even lost its old-course charm. It became the FedEx St. Jude Classic, the Las Vegas Invitational — the latest monument to stadium golf.

And now it’s officially on hiatus — to return in some other Tim Finchem-conceived form. Maybe it’ll come back as an event on the Tour’s new Fall Series — a Barnumesque invention featuring hordes of fringe players pursuing their “Quest for the Card.” Maybe it’ll be restored as a spring stop (so as not to be overshadowed during football season by Redskins mania). Then again, maybe it won’t be able to find another sucker/sponsor and will fade into history.

Finchem has vowed to spend $18 million-to-$20 million making over Avenel — most of it, presumably, on explosives. But the course’s biggest problem isn’t likely to go away, the problem of being surrounded by better courses (Congressional, Robert Trent Jones).

Oh, well, we’ll always have the Presidents Cup.

Or will we?

Fact is, the Tour’s Washington stop will probably never be a Tournament of Consequence. About the only thing that could lift it to that level is if a certifiably great golfer decided to attach his name to it — as Jack Nicklaus has at the Memorial, Arnold Palmer has at Bay Hill and Byron Nelson has at, well, the Byron Nelson.

Memo to D.C. Mothers: Get working on the next Tiger Woods. This tournament needs him desperately. The Takoma Park Terror, Freddie Funk, is a swell fellow, but he hasn’t got quite enough candlepower.

Let the record show that the Last Booz outdid itself in every respect. There was rain (as there almost always is). There was mud (ditto). There was spotty TV coverage (which signed off just as the leader was making the turn yesterday). And there was the dreaded Suspension of Play at 6:30 (meaning the winner won’t be determined until today, if then). Only at Avenel.

Barring a meltdown of Van de Veldian proportions, the crystal figures to be kissed by Ben Curtis, a classic Booz/FBR/Kemper champ who has done little of note since his stunning victory in the British Open three years ago. Curtis was on cruise control when the horn blew — 4 under through 11 holes, 23 under for the tournament (which would be a record) and eight strokes better than his nearest competition, Paddy Harrington.

In other words, in addition to the usual hiccups, the event has been utterly devoid of drama. Curtis took the lead with an opening 62 and has added to his cushion each day. Harrington, Steve Stricker and a handful of others are basically playing for second money now. Indeed, the biggest question is: Can Ben win by a double-digit margin? You don’t see that very often. (And it would be a shame if he were denied the opportunity because the rains persisted and the tournament was rolled back to 54 holes.)

The weather, thin field and lame-duck status of the tournament all helped keep the crowds down this year. Thus, the Booz, a member of our sports community since 1980, is dying a quiet death. Here’s hoping it resurfaces as more than just an afterthought. We’ve already been there, done that.

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