Coaching Search Inescapable, Even At Augusta

LITTLE ROCK--The nightly phone conversations were two-pronged and transitionless.

From one end, there were firsthand reports of golf -- spectacular and suspect -- at Augusta National Golf Club. From the other end, there were relays of secondhand mumblings about the identity of the new basketball coach at Arkansas. The search for the replacement for Stan Heath, or Dana Altman if you want to be specific, was mentioned in the Atlanta paper. Alongside a piece about Kentucky's hiring of Billy Gillispie was a snippet that said names gleaned from the Arkansas message boards include Jerry Tarkanian, Eddie Sutton, and Pat Summit. I assume the paper was making fun of the message boards. Others just as laughable also came up -- Rick Majerus, Sidney Moncrief, John Calipari, for the second time, and Sutton with the proviso that he turn over the job to son Sean after two years. It would have made more sense to talk with Mark Fox of Nevada and Oliver Pernell of Clemson and it's possible that there was some communication with one or both. Arkansas wound up hiring John Pelphrey on Monday and some fans will say the school "settled" for the coach from South Alabama and could have had the same man a week ago. Considering the Razorbacks returning, Pelphrey will be expected to win immediately, and he should. At least equally as important as his on-floor coaching will be his ability to recruit; it will be a year or two before his reputation begins to take shape. Now that the coaching search is over, there are some leftovers from Augusta: * It's not often that a look back at a major sporting event would feature a participant who was absent at the end. A four-time winner on the PGA Tour, Robert Allenby is the man who uttered the most popular one-word plea of the Masters. Starting the second round, Allenby hit a masterful approach shot through and over the pine trees that populate the right rough. The ball trickled off the green and Allenby laid his 60-degree wedge wide open for a closely clipped chip. It popped up and the man next to me congratulated Allenby. "Bite," Allenby said. The ball rolled through a swell or two before beginning a serpentine path off the front edge. Double-bogey six for Allenby. * Such conditions are sometimes labeled scary, but that's a misnomer. Scary is being airport-bound at 5:30 a.m. and the taxicab driver confiding, "I haven't slept in two days." * There are connoisseurs and characters at the Masters and I wish I had run into the foursome from Dallas early in the week before the golf got serious. Assuming they didn't get booted off the course, some money changed hands. One guy couldn't pass up a dollar at 10-1 that Freddie Couples would chip in for birdie on No. 1 or 5-1 that Couples would sink the par putt. The winner suggested the loser go ahead and hand over the whole "mallard." I had heard sawbuck and fin, but never heard mallard and tried that on some cohorts from South Carolina. "Wasn't there a president named Mallard?" "What?" "Mallard Filmore." * This week, there are 972,002 reasons to win the Verizon Heritage in South Carolina. There is the money, the PGA Tour exemption, and an invite to the Masters. Effective with the 2000 Masters, the tournament abolished the automatic invite to the winner of a PGA event. Billy Payne, the new chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, said last week the policy had been changed and that most Tour winners will get an invite. The exceptions are winners of those tournaments held opposite three World Golf Championship events and the British Open. "I can remember innumerable times where winners of tournament events would be more excited to hear that they had automatically qualified for the Masters than to receive the first prize money check," Payne said. Only about two dozen players win a PGA Tour event each year and that accomplishment should merit an invite. Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media's Arkansas News Bureau. e-mail: hking@arkansasnews.com.

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