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Schuller out chasing rainbow's end

Posted: Friday, August 17, 2001

Every club pro dreams of leaving the cash register and whimpering members behind for one week, grabbing his own sticks and setting off to find out where the rainbow ends.

Rick Schuller did, and the first and only time television caught up with him, Schuller was standing over a 3-foot par putt. He was a Cinderella-boy story in the making.

For the 51 other weeks of the year, Schuller makes his living behind a counter in the pro shop or out on the lesson tee at Willow Oaks Country Club in Richmond, Va. But here he was Thursday, three holes from the end of the first round of the PGA Championship, tied for the lead.

''Just before that putt, I had a weird thought,'' Schuller recalled. ''They had just taken somebody else's name off the leaderboard to put mine up and I remember thinking, 'It would be a shame if they had to take it right back down again.'''

Fate really is fickle. He missed, and they did.

''It was a little wiggler,'' Schuller said, ''and all these spike marks between my ball and the hole. I didn't want to kill it. The greens were too fast to risk that."

A moment later, though, he added, ''I know we're not supposed to talk about spike marks, but the tournaments we play in, you have to wear soft spikes.''

The PGA Championship once belonged to club pros. It was their major. In 1916, when pros weren't allowed inside the clubhouses at courses where they worked, a department store tycoon named Rodman Wanamaker saw merchandising possibilities. He convinced a handful of struggling pros the way to improve their standing among the country club set was establishing a tournament as prestigious as the U.S. Amateur and Open were at the time.

Nearly a century later, only 25 club pros are allowed into the field of 150, alongside their better-known touring brethren. No club pro has won the Wanamaker Trophy in the modern era, and none will.

Schuller knew that when he teed off at 9:25 a.m. But starting out down the fairway with wife Wendy and sons Sam and Lee in his sparse gallery, he didn't care. By then, everything was gravy.

Monday, he played a practice round with Lanny Wadkins. Tuesday, it was Scott Dunlap. He exchanged glances on the driving range with Tiger Woods and David Duval. He hit the jackpot Wednesday, when Paul Azinger, John Huston and Olin Browne invited him to tag along. Remembering where he came from, Schuller was more worried about not making a nuisance of himself than preparing for the biggest day of his life.

''Obviously, the club pros respect their games, and they're in a tax bracket which most of us aren't familiar with,'' he said. ''But I'd like to think they respect how we play the game, too.''

Thursday, the touring pros had no choice. On a day when Woods struggled to a 73, Schuller shot 68 and playing partner Bruce Zabriski, who's qualified for the PGA enough times to be considered the patron saint of club pros, shot 69.

Both considered themselves lucky to play with each other and another club pro, Craig Stevens.

''That way,'' Schuller said, ''we didn't get caught up in the hoopla. Tiger and David were playing four groups in front of us, but you could see the commotion. I don't know how they do it.''

Listen to Schuller's preparation and you'd wonder how he did it, too. A normal work week consists of 30-35 hours in the pro shop, 20 more on the lesson tee. He cleared his lesson book for three days before leaving town, but didn't get much done.

''Everybody,'' he said, ''was calling or coming by to talk about this.''

There was a time when making the PGA Championship was a goal for Schuller, not a dream. He turned pro in 1986, and he hit the ball a long way. He qualified for two U.S. Opens in his first three years out of college. But as far as making a splash, that was pretty much it.

Schuller clung to his dream tightly enough to try PGA Tour qualifying school six times. He never made it out. Last year, he played a few times on the Buy.com Tour, then found himself between jobs. He was 38, with a family to look after.

''What I went through last year I wouldn't wish on anybody,'' he said. He got his insurance license -- ''the hardest test I've ever taken'' -- but realized he missed being around the game too much. He went back to playing sectional tournaments -- the club pros' tour -- and let the notion of playing on the real tour fade into the background.

''I guess it's not in the cards or things aren't there yet,'' he said. ''Azinger told me, 'You've got plenty of game. You could easily be out here.'''

Schuller does not daydream much, but when he does, you can imagine it looking very much like what happened to him Thursday -- minus the bogeys -- at the PGA.

And the best thing about it? Nobody had to pinch him.

Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org

HEAD:Schuller out chasing rainbow's end

HEAD:New Zealander takes lead at PGA; Woods tied for 100th

HEAD:Long Waite ahead of Tiger

CREDIT:AP Photo/Dave Martin

CAPTION:New Zealand's Grant Waite celebrates after putting in for a 6-under-par 64 to lead the opening round of the 83rd PGA Championship Thursday.

BYLINE1:By DOUG FERGUSON

BYLINE2:AP Golf Writer

DULUTH, Ga. -- Tiger Woods says he's not that far off. Try telling that to the 99 players in front of him after one round of the PGA Championship.

The list starts with Grant Waite of New Zealand, who rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 6-under 64 and a two-stroke lead over nine players, a group that includes British Open champion David Duval and Phil Mickelson.

Ernie Els led a dozen others at 67. In fact, the 55 players who broke par was the highest number in six years at the PGA Championship.

Three of those guys were club professionals.

And then there was Woods.

His summer swoon continued Thursday on a day when just about everyone else took advantage of the soft, spongy greens that allowed for an incredible scoring assault in a major championship.

Woods had two double bogeys, two three-putt bogeys and not nearly enough solid shots to join the mix. Instead, he signed for a 73 and wound up nine strokes back, matching his largest first-round deficit in a major since he turned pro five years ago.

He also was nine back at the 1997 U.S. Open.

''I'm not that far off,'' said Woods, who failed to break par for the sixth time in his last nine rounds at a major. He previously broke par 13 straight times, a streak that ended at the Masters with his unprecedented sweep of the majors.

''If I play a good round tomorrow, I should be able to get myself back in the tournament,'' Woods said. ''That's the good thing about majors. If you play well, you're going to be rewarded by moving up the leaderboard.''

He'll have to navigate more traffic than he ever saw growing up in southern California.

If the scoring was surprising, so was the leader.

Waite had never made the cut in four previous PGAs. He had never even had a round in the 60s. The last time he was in contention anywhere, Woods hit a 6-iron from 218 yards out of a fairway bunker, over the water and right at the flag, to birdie the last hole and beat Waite by one stroke at the Canadian Open last September.

''I've never been close to any position like this before,'' Waite said. ''This is an adventure. I want to look back at the end of the week and say I enjoyed it.''

There's a lot of golf left, and a whole lot of players in contention.

The most daunting prospect is Duval, who played as if he just got off a plane from Royal Lytham & St. Annes without losing a step from his British Open victory.

Duval started with three straight birdies, all inside 6 feet, and hit perhaps the most impressive shot of the day with a 5-iron from 198 yards -- over the water, right at the flag -- to 4 feet on the 490-yard 18th, the longest par 4 in PGA Championship history.

''I haven't felt this good about my golf or as confident in my abilities in a long, long time,'' Duval said.

Mickelson is as confident as ever, despite having never won a major. His strategy this week is not to win, but to win by a margin he won't disclose.

''I don't want to come down the stretch and have one shot here or there be critical,'' he said. ''I want to have a comfort zone.''

Others at 66 were British Open runner-up Niclas Fasth of Sweden; Stuart Appleby, Dudley Hart, K.J. Choi and short-but-straight Fred Funk.

Els was in the lead at 5 under in the morning until hitting his approach in the water on No. 18 and taking double bogey. He slipped to 67, along with Hal Sutton, Thomas Bjorn and even Nick Faldo.

The group at 68 includes Sergio Garcia, and Senior tour player Larry Nelson, who won the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club in 1981. Woods was just starting first grade that year.

When the final group walked off the Highlands Course, Woods was tied for 100th, in desperate need of a solid round to avoid missing the cut for the first time in a major -- and only second time overall -- since he turned pro.

The PGA Championship traditionally groups the year's three major champions, and Woods looked like the one who didn't belong. U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen had 69.

It was the first time Duval and Woods played together in a major championship since the final round of last year's British Open. After six holes, Duval already was six shots ahead.

The directions they are going was evident on two occasions.

On the par-5 12th, Duval badly hooked a 3-iron that rattled around the pines and then spit out right to the front collar of the green. He bumped a chip to 3 feet for birdie.

''Those were the breaks that in the year-and-a-half before Lytham, it would have kicked left,'' Duval said. ''Those things made a huge difference in a round of golf. Breaks are huge, and I got a good one there.''

Then came No. 3, where Woods and Duval both missed the green to the left in a large swale. Both managed only to loft the pitch to the top, still in the first cut. Duval chipped it in, the ball swirling 360 degrees around the cup, coming all the way out and falling for par.

Woods smiled at him, then left his chip 4 feet short and missed the putt. It was his second double bogey of the day, the first time he has done that in a major since taking triple bogey and double bogey three holes apart in the Masters last year.

The other double bogey came on the par-3 15th, where his 3-iron soared into the gallery, across a cart path and into a lie so deep that Woods thought his ball was imbedded. His next shot came out hot, landed 6 feet past the flag and trickled into the water.

''I just didn't think this was the kind of course where Tiger could run away,'' Scott Dunlap said after his 69. ''More guys are going to have a chance.''

Some of the more likely candidates are right there.

''You can't win the tournament on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, but you can put yourself in position to win, and that's the goal,'' Mickelson said.

He achieved it Thursday. And he wasn't the only one.



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