Notes Gulbis Done with Range Balls

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Along with a big check, the perks of winning a tournament include everything from preferred starting times to qualifying for major championships. In the case of Natalie Gulbis, who won for the first time at the Evian Masters, it meant getting rid of that stripe on the ball when she worked with Butch Harmon in Las Vegas.
 
Gulbis noticed some discrimination when she first began working with Harmon. She hit range balls, while Adam Scott, Tiger Woods and other clients used new Titleist balls.
 
'He said it was because I hadn't won a tournament,' Gulbis said last week. 'A couple of years went on and I continued to use the range balls. After I had a good season -- I finished sixth on the money list, played in the Solheim Cup -- he told me I could use the new golf balls.'
 
Gulbis turned him down. A deal was a deal.
 
So after winning in France, she called Harmon and told him, 'You better get my nice golf balls ready.' In return, Gulbis was equally excited to carry on another tradition.
 
'He always puts the winning flags of the players that have won up in his room in his office,' she said. 'The Evian Masters flag is like a bright, hot pink flag. It couldn't be any brighter. I finally got to sign that one for him.'
 
STRENGTH IN THE MIDDLE EAST:
Tiger Woods has played the Dubai Desert Classic three of the last four years and is building his first golf course there. Chris DiMarco did a two-week swing through the desert last year at Abu Dhabi and Qatar. Scott Verplank is considering a trip next year.
 
The United Arab Emirates is one of the hottest properties on the European Tour, reflected by the world ranking. The average number of points available to the winner of three tournaments this year was 47.3, compared with an average of 48 to the winner of the Bob Hope Classic, Buick Invitational and FBR Open in Phoenix.
 
This is one area where Europe might be able to compete against the PGA TOUR, especially with those stops offering appearance money and amenities so luxurious that some say the seven-star hotel in Abu Dhabi requires a golf cart to get to the room.
 
'I would hesitate to say it's a problem,' PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem said at the Presidents Cup. 'Appearance money is concentrated on a handful of guys. We've had the conflicting events policy for a number of years, and since then we've had no players get anywhere near them.'
 
PGA TOUR policy allows for three releases to go overseas for every 15 tour events played. Finchem said he pays attention to whether the same PGA TOUR event is affected year after year, and whether a number of players ask for a release to the same overseas event.
 
'We won't release the world to go play,' he said.
 
The bigger question is whether Europe's desert swing stays in the first part of the calendar year. Chief executive George O'Grady is said to be leaning toward moving the desert events toward the end of the year to set up a blockbuster finish.
 
And that might make it even more attractive to some Americans, especially with the FedExCup ending in September.
 
Some players might choose to use the final two months to make a push for the top 50 in the world to qualify for the majors, and more points are available in Europe than at watered-down fields in the PGA TOUR's fall tournaments.
 
The Dunhill Links Championship offered twice as many points as the Valero Texas Open last week, and with the HSBC World Match Play Championship this week at Wentworth, it will make it three straight weeks that Europe has offered more ranking points than the PGA TOUR.
 
STEWART AT SMU:
Eight years after Payne Stewart perished in a freak plane crash, his son his playing at his alma mater.
 
Aaron Stewart is working with his father's longtime friend and swing coach, Chuck Cook, and playing golf at SMU, where his father won the Southwest Conference title before embarking on a PGA TOUR career that brought him 11 victories and three majors.
 
'What I really like is his attitude,' SMU coach Jay Loar told The Dallas Morning News. 'He showed up in shape, ready for a collegiate workout. It looks like he's come here to succeed, and you'd better not get in his way. I think he's proud to be a chip off the old block.'
 
Aaron was 10 when his father's plane flew uncontrolled over the country before crashing in South Dakota. He played in the Father-Son Challenge three years ago with two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen, one of his father's best friends.
 
Going to SMU was no accident.
 
'The heritage that my father left here helped out in the decision,' Stewart told the Morning News. 'But I also liked how the team was structured, and I liked the coach. I felt that players get better here.'
 
SHARING SHOES:
Phil Mickelson wearing his caddie's tennis shoe to wade into a pond and play from the hazard at the Presidents Cup was not a spontaneous decision.
 
Years ago, caddie Jim 'Bones' Mackay said they were playing on a sunny day when Mickelson was in a bunker with white sand. It was so bright in the bunker that Mickelson asked to borrow his caddie's sunglasses, and that got them to thinking what other items a player could use that belonged to his looper.
 
'He asked about shoes, and the rules official at the time told him he could,' Mackay said.
 
So when the opportunity presented itself on the 15th hole at Royal Montreal, Mackay took off his size-14 sneaker and gave it to the Mickelson -- the left shoe, naturally -- but not without twice checking with referee John Paramor.
 
Mackay, by the way, wore a different pair of shoes the next day.
 
DIVOTS:
David Duval plans to play in the Del Webb Father-Son Challenge with his wife's son, Deano, a senior in high school. ... Fred Klauk, the superintendent for the TPC Sawgrass, will retire after 25 years. His retirement is effective after The Players Championship next year. ... The Senior British Open will be held in 2009 at Sunningdale, the first time it is not held on a links course. ... Lee Westwood is trying to get in shape, and his waist size already is down from 40 inches to 34 inches. There's no secret to his fitness regimen. 'Spit out all the things that taste nice and do the gym four times a week,' he said. ... The Mexico Open will be added to the Nationwide Tour in 2008. Past champions of this national open include Bobby Locke, Roberto De Vicenzo, Billy Casper, Lee Trevino and Ben Crenshaw. ... Justin Leonard's playoff victory at the Texas Open leaves Rick Fehr as the only player who has not won a playoff on the PGA TOUR with at least four attempts.
 
STAT OF THE WEEK:
Winners of the first three Fall Series events have a combined 19 victories on the PGA TOUR.
 
FINAL WORD:
'I still believe there's no motivational speech you can make to a guy who's playing poorly. And if he's playing great, you can't say anything to screw him up.' -- Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger.
 
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