Notebook: Gold shoes, green jacket?

Augusta, Ga., April 2 — Remember Olympic runner Michael Johnson’s gold cleats in the 1996 Games? They’ve returned, but this time they’re laced onto the reigning 2006 U.S. Open champ, and they include soft spikes.

Geoff Ogilvy teamed up with Puma to debut the glittering golf shoes this week at Augusta, which is only a couple of hours from Atlanta, where the track star Johnson made them famous. The British Masters champ, Johan Edfors, and Japanese player Hideto Tanihara will also be walking on gold. Ogilvy said he would wear the shoes during practice, the par-3 contest and in at least one of the tournament rounds.

“When I heard gold shoes, I raised an eyebrow,” Ogilvy said. “Personally, I think gold shoes and a green jacket could make a very nice combo on Sunday.”

A lengthy par-3

Ogilvy also said he may choose to lay up at the par-3 4th hole this week and hope for an up and down rather than going for the green every day.

“It’s not a completely far-fetched thing to do,” Ogilvy said. “If you hit it over the green on the fourth, you’re not in good shape.”

The fourth was lengthened to 240 yards last year, forcing shorter players to hit a fairway wood or hybrid from the tee. The hole was part of the major restructuring the course went through for the 2006 tournament. The tee box was set back 30-35 yards.

If Ogilvy decides to lay up, it wouldn’t be a first in major-tournament play. In the 1951 British Open, Bobby Locke laid up on the lengthy par-3 14th at Royal Portrush to get up and down each day. Billy Casper laid up on the par-3 3rd at Winged Foot and made par in all four rounds to win the 1959 U.S. Open.

What’s not being talked about

For all the discussion about the course changes in 2006, this year there has hardly been a peep. Augusta National underwent serious revamping before last year’s tournament, with six holes significantly lengthened to counter the rise in driving distance from the game’s top players. But this year only two holes have been altered, and barely — the par-4 11th and the par-5 15th, with 5-7 yards added to each tee box.

Hometown hero

Twenty years ago, 7-year-old Charles Howell III, who grew up 10 minutes from Augusta National, first stepped foot on the course. It was also 20 years ago when Augusta native Larry Mize hit a now-etched-in-memory 140-foot chip shot in a playoff to win his only Masters title, a shot that inspired Howell to pick up clubs as a kid. Now he’s hoping the Mize anniversary could help another hometown golfer don the green jacket.

“Larry Mize winning here was definitely big for me,” Howell said. “I didn’t appreciate it at the time … and I didn’t realize how big of a feat it was.”

Mize hit his shot on the second playoff hole (No. 11) to defeat heavyweights Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman. “(Mize was) not the favorite going into the playoff,” Howell said. “Let’s face it.”

Howell said he has even tried to recreate the Mize chip-in on 11. “I don’t think people have any idea how quick that (shot) is, going in that direction” said Howell. “It was an incredible shot, but at the time, it made it even more incredible.”

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