Spokane Country Club, in all its scenic splendor, turned its nose up at some of the greatest golfers on the planet Monday and, in so doing, robbed the 8th Junior League of Spokane Golf Exhibition of some of its much-anticipated excitement.
Not that there was anything to criticize about the condition of the immaculately manicured 6,679-yard layout. But it certainly didn’t yield much in the way of memorable shots or marvelous scores to a foursome that included Tom Lehman, Annika Sorenstam, Peter Jacobsen and Dan Forsman.
Lehman, the 1996 PGA Tour Player of the Year, managed only a 2-under-par 70 - provided you factor in a mythical par on the 18th hole, which was played primarily by the junior golfers who caddied for the pros. Earlier the caddies showed their stuff driving on the 8th hole.
But that was as good as it got.
Jacobsen, coming off a third-place finish in last weekend’s CVS Charity Classic in Sutton, Mass., was a modest 1-under heading into 18, and Sorenstam and Forsman, a last-minute replacement for Tom Weiskopf, were both sitting a stroke over.
The four players made as many bogeys (12) as birdies, prompting one spectator - who had paid $75 to stroll among the other 2,000-plus gallery members - to remark, “These guys are making me feel better about the way I play.”
For the sake of drama, Sorenstam and Jacobsen were matched against Lehman and Forsman in a friendly best-ball competition, which was won by Sorenstam and Jacobsen 3 and 2.
Jacobsen, after using his well-known impersonations of several other famous golfers to delight a crowd of nearly 800 at a clinic that preceded the exhibition, pounded the ball long and straight off the tee most of the day, but could never get his putter to cooperate.
Sorenstam, a two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion and four-time winner on the LPGA Tour this year, had never played a round of golf with any of the male members of the foursome and showed some early jitters while bogeying the first two holes. But she settled down after making par on the 501-yard, par-5 third hole, missed only two fairways the rest of the way and had her score down to 1-under before making back-to-back bogeys at 16 and 17.
Sorenstam made the best shot of the day when she nearly holed out a lob wedge from 60 yards on the 554-yard, par-5 12th.
Forsman, a four-time career winner on the PGA Tour, birdied two of the first three holes and had emcee Jack Sheehan conjuring up memories of the course-record 61 Tom Watson shot in the 1986 exhibition. Forsman’s driver turned unruly shortly thereafter, however, and he soon became Dan Forsgotten-man, bogeying No. 4 and No. 5 from the trees.
Lehman was the only player consistently on his game. He birdied three holes, including the tough 215-yard, par-3 11th with a 28-foot putt, and suffered his only hiccup at No. 9, where his 4-foot putt for par lipped out.
Despite their struggles, the players all had praise for the condition of the golf course - especially the greens.
“I didn’t make a lot of putts, but that was bad putting - not bad greens,” Lehman said. “The greens were flawless.”
Sorenstam said the greens were among the best she has played on this year and Jacobsen said that because of the tricky breaks on the greens the course “is not as easy as everyone says it is.”
The exhibition was played in chilly winds, but the showers that were forecast never materialized. And there were several light-hearted moments under the scattered sun breaks.
Sheehan dug relentlessly at all four golfers and showed no mercy when Forsman started driving his ball into the trees.
“Dan’s a bird watcher,” Sheehan said through his cordless microphone, “and he’s trying to knock (his ball) over where he can find an unusual species on every hole.”
The golfers added a nice touch when they let their caddies get involved for the first time. The caddies drove on the 8th hole and then the pros played those tee shots. Sorenstam’s caddy, Josh Sicilia, drew the biggest laugh when he marched up and hit from the white tees, which Sorenstam used instead of the blues.
But not everyone was enamored with the development - especially one oldtimer who had camped out alongside the 8th tee box, hoping to save himself a few steps and get at least one unobstructed close-up look at the pros.
“I’ve been standing here for an hour,” he lamented, “and all I get to see is the caddies hit.”
Proceeds from this year’s event will once again be used for charitable causes. The first seven exhibitions raised more than $1 million, but gallery-only ticket sales for this year’s event fell short of the goal of 3,300.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo