Stanford reunion at Open

Publication Date: Wednesday Jun 17, 1998

PRO GOLF: Stanford reunion at Open

Watson, Woods, Martin and Kribel take aim at U.S. Open title

by Keith Peters

When Tom Watson made his dramatic chip-in birdie that gave him his first U.S. Open golf title in 1982 at Pebble Beach, the feat went largely unnoticed by a special trio of youngsters. Casey Martin was 10 years old. Tiger Woods was 6. And Joel Kribel was just 5. None was aware of Watson then, but they are now.

Since Watson's triumph 16 years ago, much has changed in the lives of all four golfers who spent their college days at Stanford.

Watson, now 48, has won 34 PGA titles. Woods, 22, whose fame is matched only by his wondrous smile, has won seven since turning pro in 1996. Martin, 26, has shaken USGA officials and rankled Tour pros with a lawsuit to that allows him to ride a golf cart. Kribel, 21, meanwhile, has proven himself as one of the top amateurs in the nation.

This week, all four Stanford products will play for the first time together in the 98th U.S. Open at San Francisco's Olympic Club. Moreover, this Stanford reunion will draw considerable attention from the 25,000 spectators each day and a national television audience.

Watson will be shooting for his second U.S. Open crown after missing by one shot in 1987, the last time the event was held at the Olympic Club. With his 50th birthday and the Senior Tour beckoning in a few years, Watson has become one of the sentimental favorites this week.

Woods, whose success at the 1997 Masters was matched perhaps by his failure at the '97 Open, can make history by winning his first Open--thus becoming the first player ever to win a U.S. Junior Amateur, a U.S. Amateur and a U.S. Open championship.

Martin, who won his pro debut on the Nike Tour this season, is assured of putting his name in the history books this week as the first player to ride a golf cart in the U.S. Open. Martin, playing in his first U.S. Open after failing to qualify in three previous attempts, won a court battle to allow him to ride because of a debilitating circulatory problem in his right leg.

Kribel, who played with Woods at Stanford in 1996, just finished up his junior season at Stanford. He finished second at the NCAA tournament this year, then played all four rounds of the Masters. He led Watson and Woods after the opening round of the '97 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club, only to triple-bogey the par-3 18th hole on the second day--missing the 36-hole cut by one stroke. He's trying to become the first amateur to win the Open since John Goodman in 1933.

While separated by age and experience, one thing will bring the Stanford Four together this week when the tournament tees off Thursday--the desire to win.

"I'm playing well right now," said Watson, who won the Colonial three weeks ago and has earned $832,385 to rank 10th on the PGA Tour money list. "I'm still hitting the ball with ease. I'm fairly confident I have the swing where I want to. I just have to put Olympic Club to the test.

"I like Olympic Club. It's a shotmaker's golf course. We played it in '87; it was long . . . I know they have had some unusual rain for this time of year; it should play longer this time."

Watson will discover just how long when he tees off Thursday at 9 a.m. One of his playing partners will be Tiger Woods.

Woods has all the talent in the world, but hasn't received the kind of hype he did last year at this time. Shooting 74-67-73-72 will do that for you.

"It humbled me," Woods said of the '97 Open course. "It humbled me bigtime . . . In a U.S. Open, it's going to humble you whether you want to or not because the demands of the U.S. Open are so tough and are so strenuous that you're going to get worn out."

Despite his No. 4 ranking on the Tour money list and $1,061,234 in 11 events, Woods isn't considered among the favorites this week because of his length off the tee will be negated by Olympic's tight fairways and ball-eating rough.

Kribel, however, believes Woods' shot at a title is as good as anyone's.

"I don't think you can write him off in any tournament," said Kribel, who lost to Woods in the semifinals of the 1996 U.S. Amateur. "But an Open tournament setup does take away a little bit of the advantage that he has because you can't step up and just wail away on every hole.

"He's going to have to try to be a little bit more controlled, hit some irons and 3-woods off the tee, which I don't think is that much of a disadvantage."

Woods certainly knows the course, having played numerous practice rounds there during his two years at Stanford.

"I've played so many rounds there that it's scary," said Woods, who didn't know about his place in history if he added the Open to his Junior Amateur and Amateur titles. "Any time you can win your nation's title . . . it's something you shoot for because it means more to you. You take a lot of pride into it. It just means a lot more to me. Growing up in junior golf, the USGA events have always been the biggest."

Woods, however, realizes the difficulty of the task ahead.

"The U.S. Open is one of the toughest tournaments to win," he said in a USGA interview. "You have to be accurate, put well and manage your game better. You're going to see some great golf. Hopefully, I'll be in there in contention with a chance to win."

For Martin, who'll need only a short drive from his home in Foster City for his Thursday tee time of 3:10 p.m., just playing in the U.S. Open is a dream come true.

"It's special, I admit," said Martin, who needed a 25-foot birdie putt on the second hole of a five-way playoff to qualify. "To say I'm actually in it, I have to pinch myself. It's a thrill. I want to do well."

Martin also played Olympic Club during his Stanford days.

"I've played there about a half-dozen times," he said. "There's no trickery out there. The guy who wins this is going to have to play outstanding.

"I hope to play well. I know I can play well. I don't want to put too much pressure on me to go out there and win this thing."

Kribel, however, does set high expectations for himself.

"As long as I'm here, I might as well go out and try to win it," said Kribel, who hails from Pleasanton.

Kribel has been reminded more than once about his collapse on the 36th of the '97 Open.

"It's something I'd like to forget," he said, "but it's hard to. I think I can draw some positives from it. I've played Olympic maybe eight times. I like it. I'm not saying I'm going to win the U.S. Open this year, but if I keep playing like I am, I think I can do all right."

Veteran Stanford golf course Wally Goodwin, for one, believes all four Cardinal products can do well this week--especially the three he coached--Martin, Woods and Kribel.

"I thought they would get there, eventually," Goodwin said. "They're terrific kids. Joel is a blue-collar, hard-working guy. So are Casey and Tiger. I'm very, very proud they came to Stanford and helped me build the program.

"It's quite a group. They were unique guys when they came. All were relentless. They were determined to get to where they've gotten to."

While Goodwin would love to be in San Francisco this week, he'll be busy on his guest ranch in Wyoming. The place doesn have a satellite dish, though, which will keep Goodwin busy between chores and golf.

"Obviously, I'd like to be there to see the guys play," Goodwin said. "But they certainly don't need me there. But they know I'll be watching, and thinking of them." 

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