Published 12:00 am Friday, April 10, 1998

Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / April 10, 1998

This past weekend, two friends and I went to the Freeport-McDermott Classic at English Turn. With all three of us being avid golfers, we wanted to get a first-hand look at the game on a professional level.

It was not long before we saw the difference between our game and that of those who play for a living. We got to the course early and got a chance to see a number of the golfers who had early tee times warm up on the driving range.

One of those was Bob Tway, a former United States Open champion. Tway was hitting wedge after wedge onto a green down the range, every single one of them appeared to be straight as could be. There were a few he appeared to be disappointed in, but even those were better than anything I could dream of doing (and in my dreams, I am a pretty good golfer.)

We followed the group of Jose Marie Olazabal, Bobby Wadkins and Brian Henninger. After all three had teed off and as we were walking down to watch their second shots, one of my friends, the longest driver of our bunch, commented that was the furtherest he had ever had to walk after a tee shot. I was calculating that it would take three or four of my best shots just to come close to their drives.

Olazabal, who had started the day two under par, started hot with three birdies on the first four holes. His putter was especially on as he had a total of four putts through the first four holes, or what I usually average on two holes on my best days. Wadkins and Henninger, on the other hand, were struggling mostly because of their putting, showing once again that the shortest shots in the sports are often the most important. Wadkins did nearly hole in from the fairway on the fourth hole, dropping the ball to within three feet of the pin.

As we were walking around the course, we couldn’t help but comment on how well it was maintained. The fairways were better than any greens we had played. We had often wondered what we would shoot on a course like English Turn and realized Sunday it probably would not be as bad as we would think. The course does not penalize good shots unlike some courses I have played where I have actually lost balls on the fairway.

During the week, there were negative comments from some of the golfers about the condition of the greens. Those golfers should be forced to play on a public course just to remind them how good they have it.

We followed Olazabal, Wadkins and Henninger to the 15th hole where we were able to catch up to the group in front of them. Included in that group was Len Mattiace, who a week before had lost a chance to win the Players Championship when he put two balls in the water on the 17th.

The 15th is a 542-yard, par-5 with an island green that most golfers elect to lay up their second shots on. But despite troubles the week before and despite putting the ball in the water on the hole the day before, Mattiace went for the green on his second shot and landed in a green-side bunker.

From there he had one of the shots of the day, holing in his chip shot for an eagle.

After following our group and a couple of groups after them on the 16th, we went back to the 15th to catch the leader, Lee Westwood. Westwood was coming off a bogey on 14 when he double hit his putt from the fringe, dropping his lead to four shots.

For many golfers, that freakish event would have caused frustration that could have caused trouble. But Westwood shook it off to hit his drive on the fairway. Holding a four-shot lead with four holes to play, most golfers would have played it safe and laid up.

But Westwood elected not to take the easy route out, going for the pin and knocking the ball onto the green. Although he missed his putt for eagle, his birdie effectively wrapped up the tournament and his gutsy play to go for it proved he was a deserving champion.

Changes are being planned for the future of the tournament. Next year, the tournament will have a new sponsor (Entergy) and a new date (May), in the hopes of drawing more big names.

The big names like Woods, Leonard and Els might not have played this weekend, but the there certainly was not a shortage of good players in the field. For four days, they gave the fans of New Orleans a show they will not soon forget.

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