A dusty Nevada town provides the setting for the world's richest golf tournament
From the Print Edition:
Emeril Lagasse, Sept/Oct 2005
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The windy conditions seem likeliest to hurt Ping, who must pitch out of a sand bunker on the sixth hole. Much to everyone's shock—including his own—he does it brilliantly, getting to within 10 feet of the hole before cutting loose with a stuttery little putt that circles the cup and seems poised to go around it before dropping in. It puts the young guys to within a hole of their competitors, and they tie the score on the par-4 seventh, after Mulroy's second shot hits the pin and lands just a few feet from its destination.
By the time they get to the 16th hole, Ping and Mulroy have taken a two-shot lead. They've placed the pros from Long Island in practically a must-win situation. A series of bad rolls, augmented by wind-related difficulties, leave the two teams tying, thus turning the 17th into a do-or-die situation for Hartmann and Mielke. The gallery of spectators has grown to 100 or so strong, ranging from family members to disinterested locals to media to investors. Andrew Rosen, who heads up the group backing Hartmann and Mielke, looks dapper in a Prada ensemble of shorts, sneakers and T-shirt. He is into the competition but seems more proud than concerned. The football pros (who backed Ping/Mulroy), accompanied by their pretty blonde girlfriends, are already in party mode, delighted that their investment has cinched a six-figure return. And the golfers themselves are so plugged in to the task at hand that they hit their very best tee shots, which all land near one another in the center of the fairway.
From behind the green, spectators spot a ball arcing up and landing within feet of the pin. It could be a tournament-clinching shot. Just one problem: nobody up here knows who hit it. When word comes that it was either Ping or Mulroy, their contingent of fans explodes with applause. Verba and Stokes joyously beat on each other, as if it's the lead-up to a Super Bowl, and Mamas Ping and Mulroy are practically in tears. Meanwhile, Andrew Rosen runs a hand through his bristly salt-and-pepper hair, smiles curiously, and assumes a wait-and-see attitude. Turns out that it was actually Hartmann's shot. Whoops. He and his partner take the hole, leaving themselves with the very real opportunity of tying the event on the 18th and bringing it into sudden death.
Like just about every match of the tournament, this final one is settled on the greens. Miraculous shots from the fairway and sand notwithstanding, the difference between winning and losing invariably comes down to putting and strategizing. It is fitting, then, that the potential to win $3 million ultimately rests on Mielke nailing a medium-length putt for a birdie, which will possibly force a 19th hole. He sets up, connects with the ball and sends it beelining for the cup. Spectators hold their breath, as the ball dips a little to the left but still seems likely to drop in. It kisses the edge of the hole, rolls around, and stops a few inches from its target.
Ping and Mulroy immediately jump into each other's arms. The $3 million is theirs (each will walk away with $975,000 once the sponsors are paid off). Their NFL backers do end-zone dances on the green. Ping insists that the winning sum is so huge he can't even relate to it. Good-sport kudos are offered by Hartmann and Mielke, as their backer gives them bear hugs and tells them they did a great job. "We did better than most of your race horses," Hartmann tells Rosen with a laugh, not seeming too sad about his share of the $675,000 consolation prize.
Stepping toward the outskirts of Big Stakes' post-game action, Andrew Rosen looks pretty pleased as well. Remembering that Hartmann and Mielke flew out on Jet Blue with bargain-basement tickets, I can't help but wonder if they're going to fly home first-class on a tonier airline. "We're heading back on my jet," says Rosen. "Play a round of golf for $3 million, and you deserve to fly home on a private plane." v
Michael Kaplan is Cigar Aficionado's gambling columnist.
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