SPORTS

A quiet success

Richard Zokol pursues his national title

JAMES DEACON September 14 1992
SPORTS

A quiet success

Richard Zokol pursues his national title

JAMES DEACON September 14 1992

A quiet success

Richard Zokol pursues his national title

SPORTS

The leading Canadian golfer on the PGA Tour in 1992 is not expected to win the Canadian Open this week in Oakville, Ont. Richard Zokol, 34, of Richmond, B.C., goes into Canada’s national championship ranked well behind American stars Fred Couples and Davis Love III, the top two money winners on the 1992 PGA Tour, and defending champion Nick Price of Zimbabwe, who is fifth after his victory last month at the PGA Championship. But Zokol, an 11-year Tour

veteran who going into last week’s Greater Milwaukee Open stood 96th on the 1992 money list, has nevertheless built a successful career in the unpredictable world of pro golf. At the Open, for instance, he will wear the brand logos of four corporate sponsors: Taylor Made, a club manufacturer, Acura, the Japanese car manufacturer, Evian mineral water and Bell Cellular. At first, he said, he wondered “if I’ll have too many logos on me,” but decided that he can serve the companies’ interests as well as his own. “I’ve got three children who are getting ready to go to school,” Zokol said, “so I need something that will take care of business even when I’m not winning much on the Tour.”

The fact that Zokol is able to attract sponsor-

ship testifies to the wealth of opportunities in golf, but as well to the character of Zokol himself. He came closest to becoming a household name in 1983 when sportswriters dubbed him “Disco Dick” for wearing a portable stereo headset during tournaments to block out distractions on the course. In his best season on the Tour, he finished 83rd on the money list. This season, however, Zokol’s determination has begun to pay off. He recorded his first-ever Tour victory—an accomplishment that was

overshadowed by Couples’s victory at the Masters on the same April weekend. But that, and his performance at the prestigious U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Calif., in June—he was in contention until early in the final round— boosted his appeal to sponsors. Now, things are gradually falling into place. Said Zokol: “In everything I’ve done, I’ve always been the tortoise in the race. But I get there in the end.” That slow-but-certain approach applies equally to another Canadian golf surprise, the Canadian Tour. The cross-country series of tournaments, which attracts Canadian and foreign pros who aspire to the PGA Tour, now stages 12 tournaments offering $1.4 million in total prize money. This year’s Tour began in May with the Payless Open in Victoria and

concluded last week at the King’s County Classic in Montague, P.E.I. Canadian Tour alumni such as American Billy Ray Brown and Australian Craig Parry have graduated to the PGA Tour, while others, such as Vancouver’s Brent Franklin and Rick Gibson of Victoria, have become stars on the Japanese and Asian tours. Franklin, in fact, has won more than $1 million since leaving the Canadian Tour for the Far East. The Canadian loop expects to develop further when Richard Grimm, the influential tournament director of the Canadian Open, takes over as Canadian Tour commissioner next year.

As for the Open itself, the rumors of its demise appear to have been greatly exaggerated. In recent years, critics have charged that the organizers, the Royal Canadian Golf Association and du Marnier Ltd., had squandered the Open’s former prominence by staying at Glen Abbey rather than moving to different courses (as other national championships do) and by losing its prime summer date along with major U.S. network coverage. If all that is true, the players do not seem to have noticed. Joining Couples, Love and Price this week will be Americans Craig Stadler, Curtis Strange, John Daly and John Cook, and Australian Greg Norman, making the 1992 field among the best of any event outside the four “majors”—the Masters, the PGA Championship, and the U.S. and British opens. Price said that there was great prestige in winning the Canadian Open, adding: “As national championships go, this one probably ranks third (after the U.S. and British opens).” The event will be broadcast in the United States on ESPN, the sports cable network, and in Canada on CTV. The course, a 7,112-yard, par-72 layout designed by Jack Nicklaus, remains popular among most touring pros, especially the long-hitters. But according to Stephen Ross, executive director of the RCGA, the 1992 event is only at the Abbey because the Royal Montreal Golf Club turned down an offer to play host. Furthermore, he said the RCGA is already considering alternative sites for the 1994 or 1995 Open.

I While the Open has enjoyed popular winners 1 such as Arnold Palmer, Strange and Norman, it 5 has failed to produce a Canadian victor since I Pat Fletcher of Saskatoon in 1954. Zokol and Q fellow British Columbians Dave Barr and Ray Stewart have challenged in recent years, only to fade on the treacherous valley holes on the Abbey’s back nine. Zokol attributes the absence of recent Canadian victors to the quality of the competition, rather than to the pressure of winning their country’s biggest tournament. “I think we have already faced that pressure,” he says. “It’s nothing new—it’s what goes with being Canadian at the Canadian Open.” As for his own fortunes, Zokol is philosophical. “It is the nature of the game that as soon as you think you’re on top, you fall flat on your face,” he says. But, ever the optimist, he adds, “It’s a great way to make a living.” For Zokol, it seems, professional success has come from learning to temper golf’s emotional rollercoaster.

JAMES DEACON