Handling the truth

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – I was sitting under a palo verde tree at Mission Hills Country Club, pretending I can play half as well as Lorena Ochoa, when I realized it was the last day of March – time for the Shake and Bake, Call It An Earthquake, Achenbach Quarterly Truth Report.

Highlights from the first quarter of 2007:

• Despite what you may have heard or read from some cynics, the women’s Kraft Nabisco is indeed a major championship. It is a wonderful event and, yes, should be compared to the men’s Masters.

• The Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club is a fabulous golf course that rarely receives the credit it deserves. Forget about the politics of national course ratings; this is one of very best golf courses in the United States.

Golf course architect Desmond Muirhead, now deceased, was a complex and contrary man who exercised his brilliance on this layout. He created a masterpiece in the desert, although it doesn’t look or play like a desert course. There is no target golf here.

The first women’s major has been played at Mission Hills on the Muirhead course for 36 years. The name of entertainer Dinah Shore was part of the tournament until 2000, and local fans still call it “The Dinah.”

• Shore, who died in 1994, did more for women’s golf than Bob Hope, the longtime host of a PGA Tour event here in the California desert, did for men’s golf. Both, of course, should be celebrated for their promotion of the game.

• LPGA courses are getting longer. Excluding the World Cup of Golf, the Kraft Nabisco is the fifth event of 2007, and the shortest course has been the 6,519-yard Ko Olina Golf Club in Kapolei, Hawaii, site of the Fields Open.

• Oh, by the way, women’s golf is more fun to watch than men’s golf.

The reason? These women play a style of golf that is very similar to that played by ordinary men. Their length off the tee is comparable, and they face the same kind of challenges.

The men of the PGA Tour are freaks. They come from another planet. They hit the ball farther than most humans, and they have achieved a remarkable level of precision.

There is much to be learned from watching an LPGA tournament and much less to be learned from gawking at PGA Tour gladiators.

• Annika Sorenstam will never catch Kathy Whitworth in career victories.

Whitworth has 88, Sorenstam 69. Sorenstam is pursuing a jam-packed business and personal life, and it is affecting her golf game. Furthermore, she will turn 37 this year.

Sorenstam’s quest is not impossible, but clearly it is doubtful. Whitworth won 12 times after turning 37.

• Paula Creamer is a popular, perky, polite, enthusiastic, smart, determined young golfer. Unfortunately she has two deficiencies – lack of length and lack of a high trajectory.

I say Creamer will not rise to the top in major championships, where the examination is always tougher and the pressure is always greater. I say she will not win this year’s Kraft Nabisco.

The truth: I hope I’m wrong.

• The rules interpretation that allows caddies to line up their players on all shots – from drives to putts – remains the worst decision among all the rules in competitive golf.

It looks goofy. Golf is the ultimate game of self-reliance, and here we have players who are aimed like toy soldiers by their caddies.

Sure, the caddie is part of golf’s history. But this automatic line-up should not be allowed. Golf fans are laughing at the USGA and R&A for condoning this silly routine.

• Mike Ritz, the Golf Channel’s guy at the Kraft Nabisco, is a knowledgeable, believable, no-nonsense announcer. He knows what he is talking about and deserves more time on the air.

• The LPGA Hall of Fame is a joke when a player with the credentials of Hollis Stacy is not a member.

Stacy won three U.S. Junior Amateurs, three U.S. Women’s Opens and 18 LPGA events. Think about it – three U.S. Open victories, and she isn’t a member of the Hall of Fame. Shame, shame.

• Lorena Ochoa, having squandered the opportunity to win previous majors, kicked away another one with a quadruple bogey on the 17th hole of Saturday’s round. In one hole, she went from one stroke behind to five back.

As television commentators like to say, it’s gut check time for Ochoa. I hope she shoots 66 and wins the tournament.

The truth: With Ochoa faltering and Sorenstam out of contention, the first major of 2007 is wide open heading into the final round. This is a true international showdown, with the leaders coming from South Korea, Norway, Sweden, Scotland, New York, California and Florida.

Does anybody know how to spell Suzann Pettersen?

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