Allen writes his own Canterbury Tale
By BILL HUFFMAN
Playing golf for a living can be like reading a great novel, with lots of twists and turns and, eventually, a touch of irony.
Michael Allen could have been a John Gresham character considering his roller-coaster career through the European, Nationwide, PGA, and Champions tours, as well as his numerous appearances at PGA Tour qualifying school. Since 1984, the year he turned professional, it’s been up and down, in and out, and round and round for the unsinkable Allen.
Take the latest chapter, where he comes from out of the blue to win the Senior PGA Championship in his very first start on the 50-and-over circuit. Hey, it almost didn’t happen, which is par for the course when it comes to “Champagne Michael.’’
The longtime Scottsdale resident, who grew up in San Francisco and played his college golf at Nevada-Reno, turned 50 in January but had no status to speak of on the Champions Tour. That happens when you make 334 starts on the regular tour and never taste victory even if you did earn over $5 million along the way.
So imagine how surprised Allen was in March, when he received an invitation/exemption from the PGA of America to play in its first major senior championship of the year at Canterbury Country Club outside Cleveland.
“My wife (Cynthia) told me I got a letter from the PGA, and I thought I probably had to pay some dues or something,’’ Allen said of his initial reaction. “I’ve never had an invitation or an exemption for anything.’’
But Allen had a conflict, as he was hoping to play in the HP Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas that same week. However, since “the PGA had been so nice about it,’’ Allen decided to accept and attempt to outshoot the Over-the-Hill Gang.
It looked like he might have made the wrong decision when he opened with a 4-over-par 74. But the following day he fired a tournament-best 66 to ignite his Canterbury Tale. Taking a one-shot lead into Sunday’s final round, Allen held off the more heralded Larry Mize to win by two strokes with his second straight 67 on the weekend.
“About frickin’ time,’’ Allen mugged for the NBC cameras as he cruised up the final hole, punctuating his “W’’ with a birdie from 10 feet.
The shocking conclusion moved Allen into some storied company, as he became only the second person to win the Senior PGA Championship in his Champions debut. That the other person was Arnold Palmer in 1980 was not lost on Allen, who celebrated his biggest win to date by buying champagne for all of the media at Canterbury, perhaps one of the few such gestures in professional golf since “Champagne Tony’’ Lema initiated the practice at the 1964 British Open.
“If you refer to me and Arnie in the same sentence, the only thing we had in common before was we liked to have a drink of wine or something,’’ said the easygoing Allen of his first win since the 1998 Greater Austin Open on the Nationwide Tour. “To be on that same trophy (with Palmer) is a phenomenal thing.’’
And to think it almost didn’t happen, much like Allen’s career, in general, which has been a never-ending struggle since his initial victory 20 years ago on the European Tour, when he captured the 1989 Scottish Open.
In fact, Allen actually left the game for three years (1996-98) to pursue other avenues.
Those days away from the game included a job as an assistant pro at Winged Foot, unsuccessful stints as a stockbroker and medical sales rep, followed by yet another dead end as a contractor building homes at Troon North.
“Even in that (boom) housing market (in Arizona) in the late ’90s, I was able to lose money,’’ Allen said of his personal conflict to fit into the everyday world.
“So I got me a cell phone and figured everybody would start calling me (offering jobs) and needing me. But I was wrong.’’
Allen can say that with a chuckle today, primarily because his life keeps getting better as he gets older. Sort of like the fine wine Allen has been collecting and sharing with friends for years.
“After awhile you just kind of realize that it’s hard to go out in the real world and make a hundred thousand dollars a year,’’ he said. “There was a lot of frustration, a lot of good times, a lot of tough times . . . but I had my kids (daughters Christy, 16, Michelle, 12) and my wife and I was determined to take care of my family.’’
So Allen returned to the working world he had left behind, and fortunately he was an excellent student when it came to Q-School. That he made it through successfully a record nine times in 13 tries also earned him the nickname “King of Q-School.’’
“Luckily, I was good at it, because I was back there like every year,’’ Allen noted with a laugh. “So even though it’s been a struggle, it’s a struggle that I enjoy every day.’’
Actually, it hasn’t been THAT enjoyable, Cynthia Allen countered.
“This means a lot more to Michael than he’s been able to convey to you,’’ Cynthia told reporters covering the event at Canterbury. “He’d been staring at the wall for a long time.
“But I never questioned his ability to play. I knew he’d eventually get the monkey off his back.’’
Turned out it was a gorilla the size of King Kong that Allen was able to shake. But despite getting a one-year exemption on the Champions Tour as well as a five-year exemption into all of its majors, Allen, who earned $360,000 for the big win, said he still plans to stick with the PGA Tour. And it has nothing to do with the fact that the money is roughly three to four times greater on the regular tour, Allen said.
Asked if he’d sooner win a major on the Champions Tour or a regular event on the PGA Tour, Allen backed off nicely.
“It’s one of those things I’m trying not to get into, because I don’t want to offend anyone,’’ said Allen, who has earned a mere $196,246 in 12 PGA Tour starts this season.
“But if you said that (PGA Tour) event was the Phoenix Open, yes, I’d sooner win the Phoenix Open (than a major on the Champions Tour). The way I look at it, when you’re out on the main tour you’re playing against the best players in the world, and when you’re out on the older tour, you’re playing against the best players in the world 20 years ago.
“So I still want to play against Tiger Woods and Henrik Stenson and Jim Furyk, and those types of guys for as long as I can. Money has nothing to do with it.’’
Besides, Allen is hoping to become the first player in the history to pull off one of the most unlikely back-to-back wins of all-time.
“This just gives me the exact scenario I wanted,’’ said Allen, who leaped all the way to No. 2 on the Charles Schwab Cup points list behind Bernard Langer.
“I’m going to be the first guy ever to win this tournament, win a senior tournament, before he wins a PGA Tour event. . . . Well, it sounds good any way.’’
This week, Allen is chilling out in the 100-degree heat of Scottsdale and riding his equally hot Harley-Davidson, as well as hanging with the family and friends, who tossed a party for him Monday night. He also took the time Tuesday to buy his long-time caddie, Mike Maroney of Denver, a Harley of his own.
"I always told him that when I win, I’d buy him one, too, so I’m just keeping my promise,” Allen said. "I was hoping that when I did that the first prize would be like a million bucks . . . but I won, and I bought it for him.”
Allen also was hoping that he would be invited to play this week in the Colonial Invitational in Fort Worth, Texas. But as we all know by now, the unsung journeyman seldom gets those types of invites even if his stock has gone up significantly in the past few days.
So Allen sticks to his philosophy of making the most out of life as the PGA Tour tugs him from one way and the Champions from another. He seems totally comfortable with the great debate about where he’ll tee it up next, which certainly beats the alternative.
“I just got my AARP card, so I guess you can’t fight it,’’ quipped Allen, who splits his golf in the Valley these days between his old hang, Mesa Country Club, and his new sponsor, Troon Country Club.
“Yeah, I’m getting a little gray (on top), but I’m not going to go for the Grecian Formula (hair dye). My wife got me to try it once, and I thought, ‘This is bad.’ ’’
No, with the exception of the Senior British Open in England come late July at Sunningdale, Allen probably will be sticking to the PGA Tour for the next year or two even if it means he’ll eventually lose the Champions Tour exemption he just acquired.
“Playing in the Senior British is more of a nostalgia deal, as I used to live right there (Englefield Green, England) when I played the European Tour back in the late ’80s,’’ Allen said. “I’d like to go back and see some of my old buddies at my favorite pub, the Armstrong Gun, and share a pint or two and catch up on old times.’’
Obviously, camaraderie means a lot to Allen, who certainly has learned who his friends are through the turbulent years. That’s why you have to believe him when he says that turning 50 with a bang is not going to change his life dramatically.
“Some people fight getting older, but I’m very comfortable with it,’’ Allen said. “I’m actually quite proud of the fact that I’ve made it this far.’’
Considering all the twists and turns Champagne Michael’s career has taken over the past 25 years, we’ve got to toast to his tenacity.
Nicolette proves he can still play at 52
By BILL HUFFMAN
Local qualifying in Arizona for the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black is finally complete and 17 players from two sites in the Phoenix area and one in Tucson are on their way to the next hurdle — sectional qualifying — around the country.
It’s not surprising, really, that proven players like Ryan Dillon (Tucson Country Club), Boyd Summerhays (Encanterra in Queen Creek) and Brian Cooper (Golf Club Scottsdale) emerged as medalists. Or that talented guys like Charlie Beljan, Chris Kamin and Jin Song also are on their way.
The real beauty of the national championship is that anybody can catch the wave, which this year included a record 9,086 entrants. Especially when you see a name from the past — someone you might think has no business hanging with the young and the restless — also advancing to the second stage.
We’re speaking of Mike Nicolette, the senior product designer for PING who once played — and won! — on the PGA Tour. This time the 52-year-old Nicolette seemingly came out of nowhere – well, he did have the last tee time of the day at the Golf Club Scottsdale – to rekindle his competitive fire.
Asked if he could still be a force to be reckoned with, the good-natured Nicolette, who has a subtle sense of humor, just laughed.
“I’m trying to be,’’ Nicolette said after shooting a 3-under-par 69 that secured the last spot and, to Nicolette’s surprise, avoided a playoff.
“I still have the desire to compete, but not enough to pull me away from PING. I love my job, the people I work with, and the clubs we are creating. We’re all very close, we’re all good players, and we all have that drive – that synergy — to make PING the No. 1 (equipment company) in golf.’’
This will be Nicolette’s 20th year working for PING, an anniversary he plans to celebrate in September. But already it’s been a memorable year at the plant in northwest Phoenix, especially for Nicolette, who is considered “the wedge expert’’ after creating PING’s Tour-W series, including the new Tour-W TS (thin sole).
“When Angel Cabrera won the Masters, there was pure pandemonium around here,’’ Nicolette said of the burly Argentine who now has won two major championships while playing PING clubs including the 2007 U.S. Open.
“Any time one of our players wins a major it’s such a big deal. We all take pride in the fact we helped build his or her clubs. And I take great pride, personally, in our new wedges.’’
According to Pete Samuels, who heads up PING’s marketing department, Cabrera got Nicolette’s latest, greatest wedge – the Tour-W TS 60-degree — the week before the Masters when he was playing at the Shell Houston Open.
“It didn’t really come out in the media, but when Angel got the new wedge he told our reps (on the PGA Tour), ‘This is it!’ ’’Samuels reported. “Then at the Masters during Saturday’s third round at the 15th hole, Angel used it to flop his third short from an impossible lie that led to an improbable birdie.
“Later, he was talking to our reps and said that the shot at the 15th was “the shot of the tournament.’ I’m sure that meant a lot to Mike.’’
Nicolette concurred, but in his usual humble style.
“My name’s not out there with (Bob) Vokey and (Roger) Cleveland,’’ he said of the more well-known wedge creators. “But I’m sneaking up on them!’’
Nicolette also snuck up the leaderboard on Monday, when he drew the last tee time of the day in the local qualifier. It was a gut check for Nicolette, who faced 104-degree heat most of the five hours he was on the course as well as some nasty winds that kicked up later in the afternoon.
“It turned out to be a real struggle, especially the walking part,’’ said Nicolette, who hasn’t played professionally since 1988 even though he did win the 2000 Arizona Open.
“I guess I’m just really out of shape. But I was lucky in that my wife, Denise, caddied for me and she’s in good shape. She’s the best, and kept the cold towels coming along with the Gatorade. She told me right after the very first hole, ‘C’mon, you can do it but you’ve got to keep up.’ ’’
As it turned out, Nicolette managed to do just enough to punch his ticket to the second stage. But before that happened, the former champ of the 1983 Bay Hill Classic thought he had to birdie the last hole to have any chance.
“I hit a great second shot in there (at No. 18) to about 15 feet from the cup, and then rolled what I thought was a perfect putt,’’ said Nicolette, who just happened to beat Greg Norman in a one-hole playoff at Bay Hill for his one and only title in nine years on Tour.
“But the ball went in and then lipped right out. So I walked to the clubhouse expecting a playoff and end up making it right on the number. It was like, ‘Thank you, Lord!’ ’’
Despite the 69, which placed him three shots behind Cooper, Nicolette said he has no intentions of seeking out a career on the Champions Tour. That conclusion, however, was based more on last year’s results rather than this year’s brief, one-day stint in Open qualifying.
“I tried to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open last year at the Broadmoor, but I couldn’t do any better than being an alternate,’’ Nicolette noted. “I did shoot 65 in a Monday (Champions Tour) qualifier for the Greater Hickory in North Carolina, which got me in there.
“But once I got into the Greater Hickory, I forgot how to putt. Tee to green, I couldn’t have hit it better, but I putted my way out of a top 10, and I think I ended up something like even par. I also tried to qualify later in the year for Houston, but shot 73 and it took 69. So the reality is, it’s pretty hard to get out there and stay out there.’’
So what the heck is Nicolette doing trying to qualify for the U.S. Open? Has he lost his mind trying to compete against the flat bellies?
“Don’t you remember when you were 10 years old, and every putt you tried to make you pretended it was to win the U.S. Open?’’ he mused. “Hey, I still want to play even if I can’t play as much as I used to play.’’
But give Nicolette credit, as the one thing he plans to do – U.S. Open or no U.S. Open — is get in shape. And that mission starts now.
“My game is still good. I just need to get on the treadmill and take a few hikes in the mountains, and maybe go up to Flagstaff and get in a little golf in the next three weeks so I can handle (the elevation) when I get to Colorado,’’ he said of his next stop at Columbine Country Club near Denver. “You know I’m not really pudgy, but you can be skinny and out of shape, too.
“The reality is I’ve been spending a lot of time in the office lately. You could say that I’m really good with the (computer) mouse, if that means anything.’’
If you get the feeling he misses the competition, you’re probably right. In fact, he almost said as much when prodded to put the Mike Rexford Nicolette story into perspective.
“I guess I might get a little more satisfaction out of life if I could still win out there,’’ Nicolette said. “At the same time, it would be even more gratifying if those clubs I got the ‘W’ with were the ones I’ve helped make over the years at PING.’’
Phoenix cop takes dead aim at Bethpage Black
By BILL HUFFMAN
Arizona already boasts “America’s Toughest Sheriff” in Joe Arpaio. Soon we’ll also be known for Larry Giebelhausen, “America’s Top Cop in Golf.’’
Giebelhausen, a lieutenant at Desert Horizon Precinct in the Phoenix Police Department – the city’s largest precinct – recently was announced as the winner of the U.S. Open Golf Challenge sponsored by Golf Digest. That means that Giebelhausen will get a golden opportunity to break 100 at Bethpage Black Golf Course in June just prior to the U.S. Open.
As the winner of the Challenge, Giebelhausen will be “the average guy’’ in a celebrity foursome that includes NBA legend Michael Jordan, NFL quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and pop rocker Justin Timberlake. AND their much-ballyhooed match at Bethpage Black on June 13 will be recorded and televised on NBC-TV on June 21 just prior to Sunday’s final-round coverage of the national championship (9-10:30 Arizona time).
“I’ll be the first to admit that (winning the contest) was a bit of a fluke,’’ said Giebelhausen, who has a lot to celebrate this Wednesday (May 13) when he turns 59.
“The premise (of the contest) was to write a six-word essay on why I could break 100 at the U.S. Open, and I just thought, ‘I can come up with six words. Why not me?’
“I came up with: ‘I’m a cop. I’ll shoot low.’ The rest, it seems, has just been a whimsical adventure. In every way, I’m living a dream.’’
The U.S. Open Challenge actually started last year when the initial contest winner, John Atkinson of Omaha, Neb., shot 114 at Torrey Pines, site of the 2008 U.S. Open. But in reality it was born the year before at the U.S. Open at Oakmont, when Tiger Woods laid down the challenge that “the average 10 handicap couldn’t break 100’’ on a U.S. Open layout. Golf Digest took the ball and ran with it.
This year, after being interviewed in Phoenix by representatives from the magazine in late February, Giebelhausen was selected among the top 25 candidates out of 73,581 who had entered the contest. Two weeks later, he flew to Florida where 10 finalists gathered for pictures, interviews and a little golf.
“I guess they wanted to gauge our golf games, and find out if we were ‘true hacks’ or ‘closet professionals,’ ’’ Giebelhausen said. “About 10 days later they called me and the other three guys, and the final four (contestants) went public March 19.’’
Besides Giebelhausen, the final four included two physicians and a fire chief. Six weeks later after some intense on-line voting, Giebelhausen was announced as the winner on May 3. He had garnered 32,830 out of 109,712 votes (29.2 percent) to slip past one of the doctors by a slim 1,306 votes.
“They told me the voting was nip and tuck up until the last week, and then I surged ahead of Dr. Phillipe (de Kerillis) right at the end,’’ Giebelhausen said. “I had campaigned like a politician, handing out cards and putting up posters, as well as meeting and greeting people wherever I went.
“I guess you could say I promoted by butt off, I really did. So had I lost it would have been a huge disappointment.’’
Instead Giebehausen, a cop for six years in his home town of Chicago (1973-79) and 20 years in Phoenix, is headed for “the thrill of a lifetime.’’ To that end, he thanks his fiancée Lynn Gruenig, his family and friends, and all the golfers in the Valley for voting for him, particularly those who play at Terravita, where his brother Bob is an assistant pro, and those at his “home course,’’ the Westin Kierland.
“I’ve already had my 15 minutes of fame and more,’’ conceded Giebelhausen, who seems to sport a never-ending smile these days. “And all the support has just been wonderful. Off the charts!’’
Of course, it helps when you come from a big family, and Giebelhausen’s included five brothers, a sister and his 92-year-old mother, Annette.
“My mother, bless her heart, she prayed for me,’’ Giebelhausen said of his No. 1 supporter.
Asked if he thought being a cop helped him or hurt him, Giebelhause gave a thoughtful answer that revealed the depth of his character.
“I definitely think it helped,’’ he said with no hesitation. “From being in law enforcement for all these years, I think we as police officers often get lumped together in bad situations and sometimes that means a black eye.
“We’ve got a hard job, and I think people realize that and they respect the job we do. I can tell you that cops are good people. . . . And maybe by me winning this (contest) it will help people see us more in that light.’’
Even at his job in the Desert Horizon Precinct, Giebelhausen looks like a golfer, decked out in a sleek navy blue golf shirt and sharp gray slacks while his brethren hustle about him in standard uniforms complete with bullet-resistant vests. His calming personality and articulate way of speaking also make him stand out.
“I don’t chase the bad guys much any more — I’m too old for that! — but I do like working the street and representing the department,’’ Giebelhausen explained as he sat in his small office at the precinct amid memorabilia that included a hat from Bethpage Black and a poster of him and the other contestants from the U.S. Open Golf Challenge all dressed in their working attire.
“(The reaction) from my co-workers to all of this has been so supportive, and the Chief of Police, Jack Harris, sent me a memo the other day congratulating me and saying how my selection was very positive for the department. I even got a letter from our councilwoman, Peggy Neely, saying that they were so proud of me.’’
Among the well-wishers was Giebelhausen’s boss, Commander Geary Barase, who had some nice things to say about his golf-happy “Looey.’’
“Obviously, what’s happened to Larry the past couple of weeks has just been amazing, a tremendous thing for all of us,’’ Barase said. “The word has spread extremely fast throughout the department and the city. In fact it’s been so fast it has taken me by surprise.’’
To that end, Barase and his officers held a barbecue in Giebelhausen’s honor, and also had an in-house poster created by a police department artist that showed Giebelhausen playing golf with Jordan, and MJ telling him, “Nice shot, Larry!’’
“It’s just a real good (public relations) thing for us here at the precinct, and we’re so happy for Larry, we really are,’’ Barase added. “With all the challenges we have day in and day out with police work, it’s energized all of us — especially Larry.’’
Pretty cool for a guy who grew up on the North side of Chicago in the shadow of Wrigley Field, where Giebelhausen attended “thousands of Cubs games.’’ And just as remarkable for a guy who took up golf at mid-life and ended up a 3.8 handicap and the urging of a former Arizona golf leader.
“My dad was German and my mom Swedish, and growing up in Chicago was very special for me,’’ Giebelhausen recalled. “So if I could beat Michael Jordan (at Bethpage Black), oh, yeah, that would be very special, too.’’
Of course, the competition really isn’t among the four contestants, but rather with the brutal test that will be administered by Bethpage Black.
“Can I break 100 on a U.S. Open course? I’d like to think I can break 90, but you never know what’s going to happen because it’s golf,’’ Giebelhausen reasoned. “I’m about a 4 (handicap), but I’m playing more like a 6 or an 8, and then you’ve got a U.S. Open course to boot, which takes the index higher.
“So I’m practicing every day, and while I’m hitting it well and putting OK, my only real bugaboo is my short game. In that regard, I’ve got a great coach and teacher in Mike LaBauve over at Kierland, who is a Golf Digest (contributing instructor) and also will be my caddie at Bethpage Black.’’
LaBauve is well-known in the magazine as well as on the Arizona scene, where he is an award-winning teacher along with his wife, Sandy.
"I think Larry’s chances of breaking 100 are pretty good,” reported LaBauve. "He has a natural swing, hits a nice little draw, and hits a lot of good shots.”
But the first time LaBauve witnessed Giebelhausen’s short game, he shuddered.
"It was a disaster, as he hit some shots fat, skulled others over the green, and even shanked a couple,” LaBauve explained. "He has a tendency to come in with a closed face on his wedge, and we’re working hard to correct that. . . .
"So that’s what we’ve been working on — 50 yards and in. That will be the difference if he does (break 100) or not.”
LaBauve also talked his superintendent at Kierland into growing a patch of thick, deep rough, something not really typical of Arizona golf but very standard at a U.S. Open. According to LaBauve, the first time Giebelhausen experienced the rough stuff he left his ball in his divot.
"Larry’s looking around to see where the ball went, and I’m like, ‘Larry, uhmm, it’s still there in the same spot,’ ” LaBauve said with a chuckle. "But that’s what he needs to conquer, that and knowing how to get out of some big, deep bunkers, the kind you don’t see around here.”
Like LaBauve said, breaking 100 at Bethpage Black in U.S. Open conditions will not be a walk in the park.
"But if we can get some feel with what I’m trying to teach him, get a feel for the simulated rough and how to get out of deep bunkers, he’ll have a lot better chance, that’s for sure,” LaBauve said.
Giebelhausen owes his start in the game to his long-time friend Kathy Wilkes, the former executive director of the Southwest Section of the PGA who now works for the PGA of America.
“When I first moved out here in 1979 I took a part-time job as a bartender at McCormick Ranch, and Kathy just happened to be the assistant food and beverage manager over there,’’ recalled Giebelhausen, who once played semi-pro baseball.
“I was getting older and was looking for a sport to play here outdoors. Kathy got me into golf, and we have remained good friends ever since. When she heard about me being in the contest she was the one who suggested I hook up with Mike LaBauve.’’
That was two months ago, before Giebelhausen knew he was “in.’’ Now that he is “da man’’ his sessions with Labauve have become a little bit more serious.
So much so that every Friday, Saturday and Sunday – Giebelhausen’s three days off as he works a four-day week at the precinct – are spent at the Westin Kierland with LaBauve “whenever Mike is available.’’
“Even when he’s not, I practice all the time. Constantly,’’ Giebelhausen said. “I just know if I work real hard, I might have a chance.’’
Giebelhausen said that, as a rule, he doesn’t get to play much golf because his job is so demanding. Maybe three or four times a month “if I’m lucky.’’
“Still, my thinking is, if I take the time to practice, work hard, and I keep it in the short grass, I really do believe I can accomplish my goal,’’ he countered. "Even if it’s getting hot outside, I’m going to keep at it. Nothing’s going to stop me.”
Obviously, the pressure will grow like a 800-pound gorilla by the time June 13 rolls around. Besides the cameras and fan scrutiny, PGA Tour players Fred Couples and Rocco Mediate will caddie for Jordan and Roethlisberger, respectively, and noted instructor Butch Harmon will loop for Timberlake, who is the only returning player from last year’s contest.
The whole scenario has gotten to be such a media circus that a couple of weeks ago the Chicago Sun-Times ran a picture of Jordan at the Kentucky Derby with a story about Giebelhausen directly underneath the photo and a headline that cried out: “Cop Has an Alibi: He’s a Cubs Fan.’’
But Giebelhausen has no intention of choking like the Cubs, and forget about any curses. He said if anything he’s reveling in the limelight as he looks forward to his day in the sun.
“They made the announcement that I’d won the contest during the TV coverage for the Kentucky Derby,” Giebelhausen said of the hoopla. "Now I’ve done about a dozen radio and TV interviews, several stories with the Arizona Republic, and next week I’m going to be on ESPN. . . . And it was especially nice to get that story in the Chicago paper.”
In the past, Giebelhausen has earned a medal for saving a life, and several medals of merit, as well as distinguished awards and honors. He’s also been on TV a few times for police-related incidents, where he was a spokesperson for the department.
“But, seriously, I’ve never experienced anything like what’s happened to me lately,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. "It’s been a wonderful, wonderful ride . . . and I’m not even to Bethpage Black yet.’’
Win, lose, draw or get beaten up badly, Giebelhausen said he’s never been treated better in his life. And in that regard, he has one small request.
“If you could mention just one little thing for me in that article, could you just say something about how everybody from Golf Digest has been absolutely first-class through the entire process, and how they have treated me like a king,’’ he said, sounding anything like a rough-tough cop.
“It’s not often you find people who are so nice and kind and gracious.’’
Words that also describe “America’s Top Cop in Golf’’ to a tee.
Big Break\‘s pretty woman: Blair O\‘Neal
By BILL HUFFMAN
Every Monday night is party time for friends and family of Blair O’Neal, the former Arizona State standout and sexy cast member of the current Big Break XI: Prince Edward Island.
O’Neal, a 27-year-old model and mini-tour player from Scottsdale, has made it successfully through the first three episodes of the 12-part reality series that is airing on The Golf Channel every Monday night at 6:00 o’clock. If she can keep from being eliminated in the next nine weeks – one contestant among the six men and six women is ousted each week — O’Neal will win $100,000 for her efforts.
Just don’t ask her to divulge the outcome early. If she did that, according to her contract, she couldn’t collect the 100 grand.
“I can’t say too much about the show, and I certainly can’t talk about the winner,’’ said O’Neal, a former Arizona high school champion when she attended Corona del Sol in Tempe.
“Since we filmed it last September, and since I’ve never seen the final version, only a preview, I’m looking forward to watching what happens each week just like everyone else out there in TV-land. Yes, I know (who wins), but it’s interesting to see how (The Golf Channel) portrays all of us.
“It was a very unique group of characters in a very unique competition – guys vs. girls – and there might even have been some sexual tension during the filming. All I can tell you: There are a few twists and turns along the way.’’
So far, Blair is looking pretty. Or as one male member of the Big Break cast describes her during a “teaser’’ for the show (and before he was eliminated): “She’s hot. She’s very, very pretty.’’
Even better, O’Neal can play. Like in episode three, where Blair hits the best shot among the 10 players left during an elimination contest, and rival Brenda McLarnon quips: “Wow! Blair is not just another pretty face.’’
But being attractive is nothing new for O’Neal, who has been a runway/sports model ever since she graduated from ASU in 2003. Among her many exploits along those lines, she was honored as “One of the Hottest 40 Athletes of All-time’’ by Sports Illustrated in 2008, and recently was voted one of the “Four Hottest Athletes in the World’’ by www.ingamenow.com.
. “I don’t have a problem with being ‘sexy’ as long as I’m comfortable with what I’m wearing and what we’re shooting,’’ said O’Neal, whose very first project was a calendar for Golf Digest.
“There are a million beautiful women out there, but not all of them can play golf.’’
And not all of them have a perfectly toned body that stretches 5 foot, 10 inches and looks like it belongs on the cover of Vogue. It’s one of the main reasons O’Neal recently appeared on the cover of Scottsdale Health magazine under the headline: “Blair O’Neal: Get Her Hot Bod.’’
“That was a funny deal, because one day I just started getting all these random text messages from my friends saying, ‘I want your hot bod!’ ’’ O’Neal said, laughing at the thought. “I had no idea about what they were talking about because I hadn’t seen (the magazine) yet.’’
It’s kind of like Big Break XI: Prince Edward Island. Even though she remembers the filming, she never knows exactly how The Golf Channel is going to edit the final version.
“For the first (episode), about 30 of my family and friends got together at my boyfriend’s house for a viewing party,’’ O’Neal noted. “Everybody thought it was pretty cool to see me on TV and the competition I was up against.
“So the tension was pretty high when I made my first shot, and right as I was taking the putter back and bringing it through for a 3-footer to keep from going into the elimination round, I yelled, ‘I’m going to miss it!’ Everybody went: ‘Oh, NO!’ Then I made it and that turned out to be the big moment of that evening.’’
If you think that O’Neal likes to keep it light, you’re right. She has a lively sense of humor and loves the attention her new-found Big Break status has brought her. Or as she puts it: “I’ve got my autograph down pat now.’’
“Like recently I played in a fund-raiser in San Diego for the Navy SEALs and their families, and when my car pulled up (at the golf course) I was met by a whole lot of (autograph-seekers) just like I was a movie star or something. I don’t take it too seriously, but it was kind of a kick.’’
O’Neal, whose claim to fame was that she twice won the women’s NCAA long-drive championship with booming blasts of over 300 yards, played all four years at ASU for three different coaches – Linda Vollstedt, Micky Yokoi and Melissa Luellen. Never a winner but always among the top finishers, Blair served as team captain her senior year.
“I love modeling but I consider myself a professional golfer first,’’ said O’Neal, who grew up playing muni-type courses like Ahwatukee Lakes and Dobson Ranch and calls ASU Karsten her home course. “I have not been to LPGA Q-School yet, but I have played in Asia, a little bit on the Futures Tour, as well as on the West Coast and right here in Arizona on the Cactus Tour.’’
The plan, O’Neal said, is to keep playing the Cactus Tour this year, give Q-School a shot this fall, and to keep modeling “even if golf is my first love.’’ Along those lines she is looking for some sponsors to help her with the golf end, “and if I’m successful on the course the modeling jobs will always be there, too.’’
O’Neal is not the first golfer from the Valley to compete on The Big Break. Scottsdale’s Katherine Roberts was the original co-host, and the Scottsdale siblings of Laura London and Benoit Beisser both appeared in the series along with Phoenix’s Brian Kontak, who won The Big Break VIII when it was contested in Mesquite, Nev.
London, for one, said she is not surprised at all with O’Neal’s success on and off the course. The two played junior and high school golf against each other, and London said when they were paired together recently on the Cactus Tour "we realized we shared a big bond through the Big Break.”
"Blair just kills the ball. She’s really, really long,” London reported. "It doesn’t hurt that she’s also really, really smart and nice and good looking.
"Seriously, you wouldn’t expect some one who looked that good to be that normal. But Blair is all of that.”
London also said that O’Neal’s background in modeling is a real skill that might even be a built-in advantage when it comes to winning this Big Break.
"Doing the Big Break is an intense two weeks of filming, from early in the morning to late at night. It’s a real grind and it helps to be mentally prepared,” London said. "Because she’s been a model, Blair has that ability to focus in on just herself, which is a great trait to have in that situation.
"What I mean is , models understand intensity. How else can you explain sitting around all day in, say, your underwear or a negligee while everyone else who is watching you has their clothes on?”
To date, The Big Break XI: Prince Edward Island has drawn rave reviews. O’Neal said she thinks there are several good reasons why, and neither has to do with her being the Big Break’s sexy star.
“I think the first reason is because we have a lot of characters, and you never know what we’re going to do or say next,’’ she said. “Another reason is the girls are playing the guys straight up, or without getting any type of help (different tees, shorter yardages, etc.).
“And for the first time ever in The Big Break, we’re playing for real money. In the past it was mostly prizes, but this is the first time they’ve actually put up cash – a lot of cash!’’
Meanwhile, the excitement is building at O’Neal’s viewing parties each Monday night around the Valley. And O’Neal, whose website www.blairgolf.com has gone bonkers, is enjoying every minute.
“The hardest thing about the entire (filming) was hitting that first shot with all those cameras on you,’’ she said. “Cameras can make you really uptight.
“But after that, you get used to it and then you’re just in there battling to win. So I’ve really enjoyed it so far, and so have my family and friends.’’
No kidding. True to her fun-loving nature, Blair ends each party by declaring to her faithful: “Woh-hoo! I’m not kicked off yet!’’
Who knows? The way O’Neal’s red-hot career is going these days she might be in line for a $100,000 jackpot.