Boom, Boom, Out Go The Lights at the 2002 Par-3 Shootout
GAYLORD, MI - At the 2001 Par-3 Shootout at Treetops Resort, Lee Trevino made the single richest golf shot in history, pocketing $1.09 million for a hole-in-one on the 7th hole. That shot proved thrilling not only to Trevino and the 2,000 or so spectators present, but also to St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis - to which Trevino donated $500,000 of the $1 million he received for the ace - and to ESPN, which broadcasts the annual event.
The big question this year, of course, was whether Lee's feat could be topped.
The answer, it turned out, was both YES and NO.
While it is true there were no million-dollar aces this year, the event drew four of the biggest-name players in the world, and garnered some prime-time, same-day coverage on ESPN, along with some much-deserved publicity for Gaylord and the Gaylord Golf Mecca, which encompasses 24 golf courses within a 45-minute drive.
Last year's hero Trevino was joined by perennial favorite and sole four-time participant Phil Mickelson, and fan favorite Fred "Boom Boom" Couples. And there was another gentleman involved as well whom you may have heard of Arnold Palmer.
The joke this year among the media and Treetops staff went something like this:
Q: "Who's playing in the Shootout this year?" A: "Lee, Phil, Freddie, and Mr. Palmer."
The names proved to be so big that the event, played on the Threetops Par 3 Course at Treetops Resort, sold out more quickly than ever before, according to Treetops Marketing Manager Joe LaForest. The names, along with the drama of last year's event, also propelled Monday's ESPN coverage of the Shootout into prime time. But just in case you missed the coverage, here are some of the most memorable stories and anecdotes from both in front of and behind the cameras, as observed by the only media representatives who follow the players on every hole in both the event itself and the morning Pro-Am rounds.
The atmosphere prior to the Pro-Am round each day (when selected lucky sponsors find themselves teeing it up with legends) is always relaxed at the Shootout. A handful of spectators savvy enough to get there early sit literally no more than an easy lob wedge away from the pros as they warm up on the practice tee.
Lee Trevino's nine-year old son Daniel - who also caddied for his dad for the first time during the event and gave out few autographs himself - wowed the small crowd by belting a few 170-yard drives with a club longer than he was tall. According to Lee, he won't let Daniel on a real course until he's twelve; for now, it's all about working on the fundamentals. "I never played a real course until I was fifteen," Lee laughed, "and I shot a 77."
Phil Mickelson also made the event into a family trip. He brought his brother (another pro golfer and college golf coach) and father along this year. The threesome played 45 holes on the Sunday before the Shootout, and the elder Mr. Mickelson walked the course with the crowd both days of the event - an admirable feat for anyone half his age.
When The King, Arnold Palmer, walked onto the range, a reverential hush fell over not only the spectators, but the other pros as well. Mr. Palmer had arrived.
Watching the pros interact with their Pro-Am partners is always enlightening. Phil Mickelson once again demonstrated that he is one of the true nice guys of the game, offering a ride in his cart throughout the Pro-Am to the son of one of his playing partners. Talk about the thrill of a lifetime for that kid!
Arnold Palmer, not only the consummate gentleman, but also a shrewd businessman, compared business notes with his partners, relating how he had once owned upwards of 200 car dealerships around the nation. A bit closer to golf, he proudly sported his newly legal Calloway ERC driver, finally vindicated by the USGA and R&A's recent agreement on the issue of "hot drivers."
Fred Couples is like the cool frat guy everyone wants to be buddies with. He joked around a good bit, but was also concentrating on his game and the course (shrewd move, it turns out). When he asked his caddie Joe, who had caddied during the U.S. Open, to compare the rough at Threetops to Bethpage, his caddie simply replied: "This is worse."
And Lee? We'd need an entire website dedicated to his quotable quotes and wicked one-liners. As he joked in the media tent: "I can't wait to wake up every day to hear what I'll say next!" His presence at this year's "Battle of Bighorn" (paired with Sergio Garcia against Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus) promises to make that usually stale event A LOT more entertaining. According to his manager David Enenbach, Lee's been preparing for that showdown as if it were a major: "He doesn't just want to have fun. He wants to win."
The gallery response was fantastic as always, and the atmosphere in anticipation of another hole-in-one was electric, even in the stifling humidity of the Gaylord summer. Each hole was worth $20,000, with an additional $10,000 on each hole for closest to the pin and the $1 million payoff for each and every ace always a possibility.
Phil Mickelson's awesome short game secured him 5 out of 9 "closest-to-the-pins." Trevino grabbed three of these, and Couples one. The big story though was Couples's par on No. 7 to win $140,000. However, the format of this event requires players to "validate" their winnings on the following hole. In order for Fred to keep the $140,000, he had to at least tie on No. 8.
As it turned out, all Fred had to do to validate was par No. 8. Remember, Threetops is the world's best par-3 course, and not even four of the greatest golfers in history find birdies easy to come by. Fred's 3-foot par putt zoomed past the hole, however, and the money all eventually carried over to Day 2.
When asked about that putt, Couples was honest: "I was very edgy and nervous on the putt. I haven't had too many putts for anything lately, and a lot goes through your mind. I tried to hit it firm, and flinched it."
Day 1 ended with Couples stewing over that missed putt, and Arnold Palmer beating balls out on the range. The King was sorely disappointed with his play, and actually had one of the few lessons in his life from teaching guru and organizer of the event Rick Smith.
Arnie felt better on Day 2, and grabbed $20,000 in closest-to-the-pin money. Every time he stepped up to the tee, you could hear the gallery whispering, "Come on, Arnie!" And as one of the marshalls said, "If a crowd could make something happen, you know he'd put one in." Arnie did in fact give the hole a scare on No. 7, but it was ultimately not to be.
Would Couples redeem himself for the goosed putt the day before? You know he had something to prove, after seeing the miss on ESPN Monday night. "I didn't sleep too well last night," he reported on Day 2.
On the 14th hole, Fred had his shot at redemption, when he ran in a 15-footer from the fringe for a birdie and the skin. On 15, where he needed to validate to retain the money, he lagged beautifully from 12 feet, and tapped in for a par to tie the hole and keep $280,000 in accumulated skins from No. 14.
On No. 16, Couples hit a monster wedge 15 yards past the bunker behind the green. Trevino, hysterical as always quipped: "Your wallet's so big now, you don't give a damn where the ball goes!" Arnold actually won the 16th, but on No. 17 where he had to validate to retain the $40,000, he came up only two inches short on a 25-foot birdie putt from the collar. Couples had a 4-foot birdie putt to steal the money from The King, which he sank along with Arnie's only chance at the big money.
Later Fred reported that he asked his caddie if he should miss the putt so Arnie could keep the skins, but his caddie said, "Do you know how disappointed Arnie would be if he knew you did that?"
On No. 18, Couples ran in the best putt of the event, a 21-footer that did a complete 360-degree spin around the cup before dropping. With it, Boom Boom slammed the door on the other three. Final winnings: Couples $410,000, Mickelson $60,000, Trevino $50,000, and Palmer $20,000.
"I thought they'd feel sorry for me missing that putt," Fred commented in the media tent. "But I saw highlights last night and heard those three guys tossing barbs and chuckling. That actually made me a little mad - so I don't feel too bad winning it all."
Arnold couldn't say enough about the atmosphere, fans, and venue, all of which he called "fantastic." "I wish I had played better," he frowned, "but at least I won enough to get back home on." And his wrinkled visage bent back into that trademark grin.
Without exception, the players raved about the event and about Treetops. And the second-biggest story of the week ensures that The Par-3 Shootout will continue for years to come: Rick Smith, teaching guru and course architect, announced his purchase of Treetops Resort, along with a small group of investors, including the Melling family, who currently owns the resort.
The sale has been lauded by both the Melling family and the Gaylord Golf Mecca at large. Smith has the type of big name that will serve to solidify the Treetops and Gaylord reputation as, in the words of Phil Mickelson, "A great golf vacation spot." And he has the vision to develop the 4,000-acre property into a true family vacation destination.
So stay tuned for the 2003 Par-3 Shootout, as well as the new things to come at Treetops.
3962 Wilkinson Road
Gaylord, MI 49735
July 20, 2002