Notes Big Changes for the Big Easy

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DUBLIN, Ohio -- About the only thing Ernie Els hasnt changed the last few weeks is his caddie.
 
First, the Big Easy sold his G-4 plane when he got to Dallas for the Byron Nelson Championship. Then he switched the shafts in his irons, going to lighter models. And during his two weeks at home in London, he ended his one-year relationship with IMG and will switch to British agent Chubby Chandler.
 
This will be his fourth agent since leaving longtime manager Nick Frangos in 2002.
 
I just felt like I needed a change, and that was that, Els said Tuesday. Ive been changing quite rapidly recently, so its not that big a deal. But Im looking forward to the future.
 
Chandler also handles Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke.
 
As for the plane?
 
Els is upgrading to a G-5, but hell have to wait until next May before it is delivered. He said the G-5 has a range that is about four hours more than his old plane, important for a guy who travels the globe.
 
I sold it for a profit, which was very strange in todays day and age, Els said. So thats why I did it. I got a good deal on the other one.
 
Els is flying by charter until he gets the new plane.
 
Otherwise, we would have flown here by British Airways or something, he said. The last time Els flew commercial, a mix-up put him in the middle seat in coach.
 
TOUGH SELL
The U.S. Open has sold out every year since 1987, usually within a week after tickets go on sale. The Masters has a waiting list even for practice rounds. The Players Championship has been a sellout 17 straight years.
 
But when it comes to the PGA Championship, its all about location, location, location.
 
With three months to go, the PGA Championship at Baltusrol (Aug. 11-14) still has plenty of tickets available.
 
August in the Northeast is a tough month, tournament director Andy Bush said. The biggest thing is the competition in the New York marketplace. They have access to almost everything. It seems like the general ticket buyer always purchases a little bit later ... once they figure out where theyre going to be.
 
It doesnt help that the New York Yankees are home all week, against the Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers.
 
Whistling Straits had record crowds, but Wisconsin doesnt get major championship golf very often. Ditto for Hazeltine outside Minneapolis and Valhalla in Kentucky.
 
The good news for the PGA Championship is the corporate market in New York is second to none, and the tournament already has sold more than 90 percent of its chalets.
 
The PGA Championship sent out a news release last week trying to boost sales, although it was a mixed message. It began by stating that there were still tickets available'practice rounds, early rounds and the final round. Then, it suggested fans share weekly badges with so much demand for tickets.
 
It also said there would be a cap of 35,000 fans at Baltusrol each day. The bigger question is whether the PGA Championship will have that many people.
 
TURF TESTER
Tiger Woods hit a 3-wood that measured 321 yards during the Wachovia Championship earlier this month and someone asked why he was hitting it so far.
 
These fairways are a little like landing on trampolines, Woods said. You get the ball lying on the correct knob, you can run this ball out there a long way.
 
The word trampoline has been associated with thin faces of drivers, but the USGA might now apply it to agronomy. Senior technical director Dick Rugge said the USGA has applied for a patent on a new device that measures the bounce on fairways and how greens receive approach shots.
 
Rugge said the tool was developed by the same man who created the pendulum tester, the portable device that measures trampoline effect in drivers.
 
Its been down to Pinehurst, Rugge said of the device. Its not quite ready for prime time, and we dont know what the numbers mean. But its part of the whole picture. We arent just focused on the golf ball. Were focused on how the game is played.
 
ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are among those lobbying for a shorter season, although they dont need the PGA Tour to fix that.
 
Steve Stricker is a perfect example.
 
For years, Stricker has shut it down in early September to hunt and spend time with his family. He almost cost himself a spot in the Tour Championship in 2001 by taking off six weeks, barely holding down the 30th spot.
 
Stricker no longer has that luxury, having finished outside the top 150 on the money list. That gives him a different perspective on two fronts'someone who knows the season is as long as a player wants to make it, and someone who now needs as many opportunities as possible.
 
He is more concerned with the communities that get the PGA Tour once a year.
 
There are some events that struggle, he said. But to get rid of them, I dont think the towns themselves would be happy. They support the tour, they want to be part of it. Its a growing sport. I think it would hurt a lot of people if you start to get rid of some tournaments.
 
DIVOTS
Already the hometown favorite at the St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tenn., John Daly was an even bigger hit last week when we treated some 600 volunteers to a barbecue on Tuesday before the tournament. Weve been wanting to do it for years, and we finally got a bar, Daly said. ... It isnt quite the same as when Eugeno Saraceni changed his name to Gene Sarazen, but Jung Yeon Lee on the LPGA Tour will now go by Sarah Lee. ... Annika Sorenstam set another record last week, taking only six tournaments to surpass $1 million in a season.
 
STAT OF THE WEEK
Only four times since 1995 has a player won a PGA Tour event without making a birdie in the final 18 holes of regulation'Vijay Singh in the 1995 Buick Classic and 2004 PGA Championship, and Justin Leonard in the 2002 WorldCom Classic at Hilton Head and the 2005 St. Jude Classic.
 
FINAL WORD
I want to turn the TV on Sunday afternoon late in the year, and its not to watch Justin Leonard come down the stretch at whatever tournament. Its to watch the Steelers.'Jim Furyk, on the PGA Tour going up against football in the fall.
 
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