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NEW ORLEANS HAS SEEN ITS SHARE OF GOLF HISTORY

Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / April 1, 1998

Just about anybody who has ever stepped up on a tee box has dreamed of walking down the 18th fairway in a professional event, hearing the appreciative applause of the crowd that they know is for them alone in this solitary sport.

Golf fans in the New Orleans area can be a part of this dream as the PGA Tour makes it annual stop at English Turn Golf and Country Club in New Orleans East. The Freeport-McDermott Classic, the 11th-oldest PGA Tourevent, will be celebrating its tournament at English Turn.

Golf is riding a crest of popularity thanks in part to the influx of a number of new golfers including Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard and Ernie Els. Sure, the PGA Tour has had to overcome a number of obstaclesthis year, such as the effects of El Nino on its West Coast swing and the Casey Martin controversy, but the play on the course has made overcoming them much easier.

Three of the tournaments played so far this year – the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, the Buick Invitational and the Nissan Open – have gone into sudden death. And the winners have been a mix of older golfers – Fred Couples andScott Simpson- and of the new breed – Mickelson, Jesper Parnevik and David Duval.

The Freeport-McDermott is coming right between two of the PGA Tour’s signature events – the Tour Players Championship and the Masters.

Yet, the organizers have still managed to attract a pretty impressive field and should be commended. Davis Love III, the 1997 PGA champion will bethere as will the 1996 British Open champion, Tom Lehman.

The field also features Brad Faxon, Scott McCarron, Ben Crenshaw, Mike Standly, Chip Beck, Ian Woosnam, Tim Simpson and Seve Ballesteros, all past winners of the New Orleans stop.

The tournament has had its share of memories over the years. There wasDavid Frost chipping out of the bunker on the 18th hole to defeat Greg Norman by one shot in 1990.

There was Love defeating Mike Heinen on the second playoff hole in 1995, giving him a spot in the Masters in his last chance to qualify. Love wouldgo on to finish second to Crenshaw in Augusta. And there was McCarronpicking up his first tour victory two years ago at English Turn.

I remember going to the first tournament held at English Turn in 1989.

Jack Nicklaus was in the field that year and I remember hearing the sound of drive going down the fairway.

I went back two years ago on a Friday, a day when the crowds are not as large. The threesome I followed included first-round leader Jim Furyk,Louisiana native Hal Sutton and Tom Lehman.

Lehman had come close to winning two majors prior to 1996 and would win the British Open and Vardon Trophy later that year. But my memory ofhim is his sinking of a long putt that had a sharp break on the back nine.

Lehman would finish the tournament tied for 10th, but I can still see that putt breaking into the cup and realizing the skill that these players possess.

Golf can be the hardest of games at times, but any golfer will tell you that a shot like Lehman’s can make it all worthwhile. And it is those kind ofshots that are waiting to be experienced in New Orleans this week.

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