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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Alabama faces 'buzzsaw' Arizona for NCAA title

By Ryan LavnerMay 23, 2018, 2:00 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – There was no way Laura Ianello could sleep Monday night, not after that dramatic ending at the NCAA Women’s Championship. So at 12:15 a.m., the Arizona coach held court in the laundry room at the Holiday Inn, washing uniforms and munching on mozzarella sticks and fried chicken strips from Sonic, her heart still racing.

Ianello got only three hours of sleep, and who could blame her?

The Wildcats had plummeted down the team standings during the final round of stroke-play qualifying, and were 19 over par for the day, when junior transfer Bianca Pagdanganan arrived on the 17th hole.

“Play the best two holes of your life,” Ianello told her, and so Pagdanganan did, making a solid par on 17 and then ripping a 6-iron from 185 yards out of a divot to 30 feet. There was a massive leaderboard positioned to the right of the par-5 18th green, but Pagdanganan never peeked. The only way for Arizona to force a play-five, count-four playoff with Baylor and reach match play was to sink the putt, and when it dropped, the Wildcats lost their minds, shrieking and jumping over the ropes and hugging anyone in sight.

Watching the action atop the hill, Alabama coach Mic Potter shook his head.

“I was really glad we didn’t win the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed,” he said, “because they’re a buzzsaw with a lot of momentum.”

Given new life, Arizona dispatched Baylor by three strokes in the playoff, then turned its attention to top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals on Tuesday morning.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Facing two first-team All-Americans, the Wildcats beat them, too, continuing the curse of the medalist. In the afternoon, worried that the adrenaline would wear off, Ianello watched her squad make quick work of Stanford, 4-1.

“They’ve got a lot of great momentum, a lot of great team energy,” Stanford coach Anne Walker said. “They thought they were going home, and now they’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re playing with an edge.”

After a marathon doubleheader Tuesday at Karsten Creek, Arizona now has a date with Alabama in the final match of this NCAA Championship.

And the Wildcats better rest up.

Alabama looks unstoppable.

“They’re rolling off a lot of momentum right now,” Ianello said. “We know Alabama is a good team. But they’re super excited and pumped. It’s not the high of making it [Monday]; now they’ve got a chance to win. They know they have to bring it.”

Even fully rested, Arizona will be a significant underdog against top-ranked Alabama.

After failing to reach match play each of the past two years, despite being the top overall seed, the Tide wouldn’t be stopped from steamrolling their competition this time.

They roughed up Kent State, 4-1, in the quarterfinals, then frontloaded their lineup with three first-team All-Americans – Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight – in their semifinal tilt against Southern Cal.

Potter said that he was just trying to play the matchups, but the move sent a clear signal.

“It gets pretty tedious when you never miss fairways and hole a lot of putts and your opponent knows that you’re not going to spray it,” Potter said. “That’s tough to match up against.”

They breezed to the first three points, draining any drama out of the semifinals. Of the 99 holes that Bama’s Big 3 played Tuesday, they trailed after only two.

“We’re always consistent,” Stephenson said, “and that’s exactly what you need in match play. Someone has to go really low to beat us.”

That Arizona even has that chance to dethrone the Tide seemed inconceivable a few months ago.

The Wildcats had a miserable fall and were ranked 39th at the halfway point of the season. On Christmas Day, one of the team’s best players, Krystal Quihuis, sent a text to Ianello that she was turning pro. Once she relayed the news, the team felt abandoned, but it also had a newfound motivation.

“They wanted to prove that they’re a great team, even without her,” Ianello said.

It also was a case of addition by subtraction: Out went the individual-minded Quihuis and in came Yu-Sang Ho, an incoming freshman whom Ianello described as a “bright, shining light.”

Because incorporating a top-tier junior at the midway point can be intimidating, Ianello organized a lively team retreat at the Hilton El Conquistador in Tucson, where they made vision boards and played games blindfolded.

They laughed that weekend and all throughout the spring – or at least until Pagnanganan made that last-ditch eagle putt Monday. Then tears streamed down Ianello’s face.

Folding uniforms after midnight, she regaled Alabama assistant coach Susan Rosenstiel with stories from their emotional day on the cut line, not even considering that they might face each other two days later for a national title. She was too delirious to ponder that.

“I feel like a new mother with a newborn baby,” Ianello said. “But we’re going off of adrenaline. This team has all the momentum they need to get it done.”

Yes, somehow, the last team into the match-play field might soon be the last team standing.

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Pairings, tee times set for championship match

By Jay CoffinMay 23, 2018, 1:02 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – Alabama coach Mic Potter has three first-team All-Americans on this team. It’s little surprise that all three are going out first in the Crimson Tide’s championship match against Arizona Wednesday at Karsten Creek.

Potter tinkered with his lineup in both the quarterfinal victory over Kent State and the semifinal win over USC. But with the NCAA title on the line, this one was a no brainer.

“We don’t want to sacrifice anything,” Potter said. “We just want to give ourselves a chance to win every match.”

Arizona kept its lineup the same all day Tuesday in defeating Pac-12 foes UCLA and Stanford in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. That meant junior Bianca Pagdanganan, the Wildcats grittiest player this week, was in the last match of the day. She won twice.

Now, with all the marbles riding on the championship match, Arizona coach Laura Ianello moved Pagdanganan up to the third spot to assure that her match is key to the final outcome.

Junior Haley Moore, Arizona’s best player all year, is in the fifth spot and will face Alabama senior Lakareber Abe.

“Win or lose tomorrow, this has been a helluva ride,” Ianello said.

Alabama (2) vs. Arizona (8)

3:25PM ET: Lauren Stephenson (AL) vs. Yu-Sang Hou (AZ)

3:35PM ET: Kristen Gillman (AL) vs. Gigi Stoll (AZ)

3:45PM ET: Cheyenne Knight (AL) vs. Bianca Pagdanganan (AZ)

3:55PM ET: Angelica Moresco (AL) vs. Sandra Nordaas (AZ)

4:05PM ET: Lakareber Abe (AL) vs. Haley Moore (AZ)

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Women's NCAA finals: Arizona vs. Alabama

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 11:49 pm

STILLWATER, Okla. – It’s the SEC vs. the Pac 12 for the women’s NCAA Championship; Alabama vs. Arizona, to be more specific.

Both the Crimson Tide and Wildcats cruised in their respective semifinal matches Tuesday at Karsten Creek. Alabama easily beat USC, 3-1-1; Arizona defeated match-play juggernaut Stanford, 4-1.

Alabama’s top three players, Lauren Stephenson, Kristen Gillman and Cheyenne Knight were unstoppable forces in both matches on the marathon day. Stacked in the top three positions in the semifinals all three won their matches on the 17th hole, making the last two matches inconsequential.

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Scoring and TV times

NCAA Women’s DI Championship: Full coverage

Arizona, the eighth seed, won as decisively as second-seeded Alabama, but needed a miracle to be in this position in the first place.

Junior Bianca Pagdanganan drained a 30-footer for eagle on the last hole of stroke play on Monday to get the Wildcats into a playoff against Baylor, which they won on the second hole. Then on Tuesday, presumably running on fumes, they downed top-seeded UCLA in the morning, then crushed Pac-12 foe Stanford in the afternoon.

Pagdanganan, Gigi Stoll and Hayley Moore each won both matches for Arizona on the hot, draining day.

“I don’t want to let them down so I do my best to rise to the occasion,” Pagdanganan said.

Said Arizona coach Laura Ianello: “How many players, when you tell them under pressure that you need them, can really handle it,” Ianello said about Pagdanganan. “This kid can.”

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NCAA DI Women's Champ.: Scoring, TV times

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 22, 2018, 11:30 pm

The NCAA Division I Women's Golf Championship is underway at Kartsen Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

After three days of stroke play, eight teams advanced to the match-play portion of the championship. Quarterfinals and semifinals were contested Tuesday, with the finals being held on Wednesday. Golf Channel is airing the action live.

Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho won the individual title. Click here for live finals action, beginning at 4 p.m. ET.


TV Times (all times ET):

4-8PM: Match-play finals (Click here to watch live)