Friday, January 09, 2009

Hold out your right hand, make a fist and then extend your pinkie and
thumb. That's the shaka sign, and in Hawaii it means "hang loose."
Things really are different here. The bumper stickers read, "Slow Down,
You're Not on the Mainland." I've had a lot of Hawaiians give me the
shaka sign while driving, but no one has ever flipped me the bird.
I've
been teaching golf at the Kapalua golf resort in Maui for 14 years, so
I've had a front-row seat for the Mercedes-Benz Championship since the
first one in 1999, and even before that, when Lincoln-Mercury hosted the
event. Back then, the tournament really defined "hang loose." It was at
the start of the silly season, and guys wore shorts and really went out
there to enjoy themselves. Kapalua's Plantation Course is a spectacular track in one of the world's most beautiful places, so it's not hard to
have a good time here.

When Mercedes-Benz came in as a sponsor and the tournament moved to
the beginning of the year, our tournament became an official Tour
event, but somehow that
casual, hang-loose attitude survived. One reason is that there's no
cut -- with a small field of only previous-year winners, no one is
slamming his trunk on Friday evening. Heck, the last-place check is
about
$80,000. The Mercedes is also less like a circus than the usual Tour
event. We don't have the dozens of equipment trailers and packed
galleries. But
mostly the guys are relaxed because it's Hawaii. A lot of them bring
their families down early for Christmas and New Year's and make a real
vacation out of it.

Of course, it's a bummer that the top four guys couldn't make it this
year. For Padraig Harrington, we're pretty far from Ireland; Sergio
Garcia is in Dubai; Phil Mickelson doesn't like the Hawaiian winds; and
Tiger Woods is still recovering from knee surgery.

I remember when Tiger won here in 2000 like it was yesterday. In fact,
it's probably the greatest match I've ever seen. He and Ernie both made
eagle on 18 to force a playoff. Then they played No. 18 again for the
playoff hole. Two birdies. It was so intense I had "chicken skin," as
the Hawaiians call it. On the next playoff hole, Tiger sinks a
25-footer
for birdie. Then Ernie just misses his birdie attempt, and I had a
front-row seat for one seriously emphatic fist pump. I just shook
my head -- Ernie played the final
three holes 3-under and lost! Even Tiger had to smile at the victory
ceremony afterward. "That was as good as it gets," he said.

Even though Tiger hasn't been back the last four years, mostly
due to injury, I know he likes it here. I expect he'll be back -- if
he qualifies, that is! Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Jerry King is director of instruction at the Kaplua Golf Academy in Lahaina, Hawaii.

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