Bob Hope used to say, "As much as I love golf, when I can't break 100 it'll be time to junk my clubs."
His irons and woods are now stored, but the funny man who wrote the best-seller Confessions of a Hooker merits an Arnie or Jack or Tiger level of cheer from par cravers everywhere when Hope, in 11 days, cracks 100 in the biggest game of all.
Hope never played in a U.S. Open, PGA Championship, British Open or Masters, but Leslie Townes Hope has meant more to golf than many of its major champions, giving more visibility to the sport than even Palmer, Nicklaus, Jones, Hogan, Nelson or Woods could supply.
For most of a century, the old vaudevillian - born May 29, 1903, in Eltham, England - talked golf on radio, used an iron as his swinging prop on a TV series that lasted 50 years, created his own PGA Tour happening in Palm Springs, Calif., and frequently shared courses with American presidents. "I missed Abe Lincoln," he once said, "but got most of the others."
That ever-present golf club was in Hope's hands on stages of all sorts during moving, meaningful tours with show business friends to war zones, notably at Christmas. He was there in Korea, in Vietnam and so many other volatile places.
As a happy hooker, shooting predominantly in the 80s, a younger Hope played more than 2,000 courses from here to Brazil to Scotland to Australia, often in the company of his pal, the late crooner/actor Bing Crosby, with whom Bob shared many marquees including a series of Road movies.
In 1995, at age 92, his golfing skills well frayed, the comedian gritted through 18 holes of a pro-am round at his Desert Classic, in a foursome including White House alums George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford. In the '50s, a frequent tee-up chum of Hope was Dwight Eisenhower.
Enshrined in the Golf Hall of Fame, the old ham's plaque reads, "Known by his nose, applauded for his humor, envied for his wit and loved by millions for his unselfish concern for all beings, Bob Hope is truly one of a kind. He popularized golf to the unknowing, sponsored it for charity and played it for fun. Not a golf champion but a great champion of golf."
Shooting for a hundred.
HURRICANE HENRY: My May 11 column, detesting the idea of splintering the Big East Conference so the ACC can be a richer, bigger dog in football, was ample fuel to ignite Hurricanes fan Hank Syda of Boca Raton.
"You, Mizell, the champion of all that's SEC, should be ashamed of accusing UM and the other schools of greed and avarice," shouted Syda's e-mail. "It's good business, Hubert, so that makes all the sense that's needed. Name of the game is m-o-n-e-y. Stakes rise and the strong are rewarded.
"Too bad the Big East is too wimpy to keep Syracuse and Boston College, or will it be Virginia Tech? Miami and FSU will make the ACC the strongest league in the country, surpassing the Big 12 and your precious SEC with its squirmy little Gators."
It's a flashy package, Hank, but I still feel bummed for Big East institutions that don't deserve being jilted, and the ramifications are huge beyond that golden ACC football championship game that was the catalyst. Other conferences, like Conference USA and the Atlantic 10, are apt to be plucked by the Big East as the domino effect trips on.
Jim Boeheim, basketball coach of national champion Syracuse, said "it doesn't make much sense" for his Orangemen to flee wonderful rivalries with Georgetown, UConn, St. John's, Villanova and other Big East brothers to become part of an ACC division with maybe Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Miami.
What happens with tennis, track, swimming and softball? How about the sports women play. Did anyone check with those coaches and athletes? Or does really big money make it okay, even if large tracks are left on little people?
I'm just asking.
What if Syracuse jumped, but not to the ACC? A leap instead to the Big Ten isn't a nonsensical idea, a few voices have suggested, which with Penn State would turn that league into the Big 12, if that name were not already taken.
Money's huge, but there is more.
BALBONI AT 46: Word came quickly on last week's Whatever Happened subject, former Eckerd College and major-league slugger Steve "Boom Boom" Balboni.
Steve Densa, who does PR for Minor League Baseball, says the big fellow from New Hampshire is the hitting instructor for the Tennessee Smokies of the Double-A Southern League, based in Knoxville.