Little-known Beck, Green, and Sindelar on fringe of golf stardom
Beck, Sindelar, and Green. Who are these guys? Nominees to the Bush cabinet? Dentists sharing office space? An HBO comedy act?
No, they are the relatively little-known professional golfers who finished second, third, and fourth behind Curtis Strange on the money list for 1988. Next year one or more of them could well win major championships and/or become dominant players.
Chip Beck, Joey Sindelar, and Ken Green haven't won majors yet, but they've improved dramatically in the 10 years or so they've been playing the tour. All three are also exciting, aggressive competitors who will shoot at a flag even if it's hidden in the clubhouse.
This season they all jelled into steady players, who could win anytime, on any course. Each won twice and finished well several other times. Together they collected over $2.5 million in prize money.
Followers of golfing high finance are well aware that Curtis Strange is now the first player to make $1 million in official money on the PGA Tour in one year. Never mind that he did it by prevailing in a year-end event that offered a bloated purse to a small field. He's the million dollar man.
Strange won the US Open and solidified his position as America's best player. But he's keeping a wary eye behind him for the likes of Beck, Sindelar, and Green.
``They're a lot like me,'' Strange says. ``They've been out here grinding for a long time, learning and getting tougher. They know what they can do and what they can't. They may appear to be overnight success stories, but believe me they aren't. They've earned it.''
The ever-smiling Beck found it hardest to win. Until this year he was known as the tour's Mr. Close. Seven times he finished second.
He finally broke through in the Los Angeles Open at storied Riviera Country Club, his 285th tournament as a pro. A late run of four birdies in five holes put an end to his dubious reputation as a man destined forever to be a runner-up.
``I'm glad it took me so long to win,'' Beck says now. ``I'm a better player because of it. I kept developing my talent and moving forward, and that's what sport is all about.''
He won the Vardon Trophy with an average of 69.46 strokes per round - lowest on the tour except for Greg Norman, who did not play in enough tournaments to qualify for the award.
Beck was born and raised in Fayetteville, N.C., where he still resides, and attended the University of Georgia as a journalism major. Naturally, Chip is a splendid chipper, but the rest of his game is also strong and well rounded, with no serious weaknesses.
``A big difference now is that I am able to fix my own game when it goes off,'' he says. ``The good players know how to be their own best teachers.''
Sindelar's best teacher has always been his father, who started him playing at age 6 in the golfing hotbed of Horseheads, N.Y. His wife, Sue, a chiropractor, has also influenced his career.
``This year the two of them convinced me to lighten up and not work quite so hard at the game,'' Sindelar says. ``My style is to play more tournaments than anybody else and hit a million range balls. I finally decided my swing is good enough to win with, even if it isn't perfect. I concentrated more on playing the course instead of making picture swings.''
Sindelar, who may have the fastest hands on the tour, is primarily a power hitter who usually ranks with the game's longest drivers. This year he throttled back somewhat and was not found in the top 10 for distance.
``I worked more on my short game and scored better,'' he says.
Ken Green didn't throttle back a bit. He blasted away virtually without inhibition, and led the tour in eagles with 21.
A streak player, Green made sure his streaks were more frequent and more devastating in '88. His big win was the Canadian Open, a neo-major, in which he putted like a magician.
If Sindelar is the rare tour pro from upstate New York, Green is the rare tour pro from Connecticut. He was born in Danbury and plays out of Watertown - and until three summers ago his most prestigious victory was in the Connecticut Open.
For a long while he was best known on the tour for having his sister caddie for him.
Twice Green lost his tour card and had to requalify. His late-blooming career is a testimonial above all to perseverence.
``I've had the dream of playing on the tour since I was a kid,'' he says. ``I just wasn't very good for a long time.''
Beck, Sindelar, and Green suddenly are very, very good - and planning to be even better in 1989.