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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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.