The Hot Dog King of Chicago holds court in Hawaii

By Jason SobelJanuary 11, 2013, 1:21 am

HONOLULU – The man runs a hand through his thinning, silvery hair, looks knowingly at a few friends and methodically says, “So there’s this lawyer who’s out to dinner with his wife when this voluptuous blonde walks in…”

Just then, a stranger walks up to his green gated backyard just 150 yards off Waialae Country Club’s first tee and to the right of its fairway, and interrupts the joke.

The man stops for a moment and without reservation yells, “Come on in! Have a hot dog!”

He then leans back in his chair and addresses the semicircle of friends eagerly awaiting a punchline they’ve been hearing for years. When it comes, they laugh. Not polite chuckles, but loud, forceful belly laughs, as if the man just told them the funniest thing ever. And maybe, just maybe, he did.

His name is Ira Helfer, but people around here know him as the Hot Dog King of Chicago.

This is what they do during the Sony Open. They walk in, they grab a hot dog, they listen to some jokes, they hang out with the Hot Dog King. They’ve been coming every year since 1985, when Helfer moved here with his family and decided to open his backyard to friends and potential friends alike.

He’s originally from Chicago – sorry, “west side of Chicago,” he reminds people – where hot dogs are less a meal than a way of life. He’ll go through close to 1,000 of them this week, each one individually wrapped in aluminum foil, served with mustard and your choice of pickles, peppers and other complements.

Anything but ketchup.

Even at the mention, Helfer’s eyes grow cold and his brow furrows. He may suffer fools, but not fools who request ketchup on their hot dogs.

“If they do,” says longtime friend Paul Shinkawa, “they don’t get a hot dog. He’s like the Soup Nazi.”

Everyone else is welcome, though. There are those who have heard all the jokes and those listening for the first time. There are those he greets with a friendly hello and those who receive acknowledgment in their native Japanese, his fluency the result of spending years in the import-export business in Asia.

The hot dogs are Vienna beef. They are real – and they are spectacular. Grilled on the outside, juicy on the inside. And they’re free, too, since the Hot Dog King refuses to take a nickel from anyone.

Even players have been known to meander into his backyard. Mark O’Meara used to partake in Helfer’s hot dogs. So did “some no-name” with whom he won the tournament’s pro-am years ago.

But those are hardly the most esteemed guests. A few years ago, Helfer was playing Waialae when he received some interesting news.

“When I checked in, the starter said Bill Clinton and the governor were going to be here,” he tells for what must be at least the 1,000th time. “They had gone off the back. I waved at them; I knew the governor. He pulls the cart around, gets out and introduces me to the president. What the hell do you say to a president? ‘Good afternoon, sir. Playing nine?’ He said, ‘No, playing 18.’

“Now what do you say? ‘Well, if that’s the case, why don’t you stop at my house at the turn and grab a hot dog?’ The governor turns to him and says, ‘This guy’s got the best hot dogs west of the Mississippi.’ The president says, ‘Then we’ll stop there.’

“So I came back and asked my wife to get hot dogs for 20-30 people. She said, ‘Who did you invite?’ I said, ‘The president.’ She goes, ‘The president of what?’ I said, ‘The president of the United States.’ She looked at me and goes, ‘Yeah, right.’ But they came by.”

And did the president have a hot dog?

“No,” he says with a pause. “He had two.”

The belly laughs continue around the semicircle, large men choking down beef and bun with contagious smiles spread across their faces.

But there were almost no laughs this year. No smiles, no hot dogs and – most distressingly – no Hot Dog King.

He was in the hospital until Thursday morning, only getting out just prior to the opening round.

“I don’t know why I got sick,” Helfer, 68, says while pulling a bandage and gauze from his right hand. “My kids were here and Monday evening after dinner, I couldn’t stand up. My youngest son is like 350 pounds and he couldn’t even help me up. I’ve never been like that, so we called an ambulance and went to the hospital. But they didn’t know what the hell was wrong.”

So he was discharged from the hospital?

“No,” he answers. “The doctor is coming here later. He said, ‘You’ve got to be there.’”

This is what the Sony Open means to the Hot Dog King of Chicago – and what the Hot Dog King of Chicago means to the Sony Open.

Hundreds of friends will flood his backyard this week, each one enjoying a hot dog, most of them going back for seconds or thirds or more. The only thing missing from the party is ketchup, just the way Helfer likes it.

Even if you’re not a friend – not yet, at least – feel free to walk up to the green gate, where the Hot Dog King will let you in with a yell.

When you do, ask him the one about the lawyer, his wife and the voluptuous blonde. Then sit back, take a bite of your hot dog and get ready to laugh.

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


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The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."

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Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 10:33 pm

After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.

La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.

"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."

Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.

The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.

"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.