When he met the players for the first time this week he received several messages warning him to be on his guard. 'I was told that they would crucify me,' Coates said. 'When I walked into the meeting Laura (Davies) winked at me and gave me a big smile. She said everything was going to be all right.'
Coates, a former marketing man with British Airways and Hewlett Packard, has already dealt with his first problem without any bloodletting. Trish Johnson, the leading money-winner on the US Tour following back-to-back victories, informed Coates that she had tickets to the England-Netherlands match at Wembley and that she intended to use them. The trouble is that the match coincided with the pro-am dinner at Woburn Abbey and Johnson was expected to attend.
Instead of laying down the law, Coates reached a compromise. In the pro-am, the curtain-raiser to the Ford Classic at Woburn Golf and Country Club, Johnson, who is on the board of the WPG Tour, played with several Ford executives. 'I reminded her of her responsibilities and told her to argue a persuasive case as to why she should be at Wembley instead of Woburn Abbey,' Coates said.
The Ford Classic is the first women's event of the season in Europe and after this there is a three-week break before the next tournament. Coates, who is looking for a corporate sponsor to support the WPG Tour in the way Volvo back the men's tour, announced yesterday that he is confident of staging a new Scottish Open this year. That would represent considerable progress for a tour bedevilled by a lack of business confidence. An idea of how hard things are is that some of the players have even had their complimentary Skodas withdrawn.
It was no coincidence that of the players on the leaderboard after the first round yesterday most have had the opportunity of warming up in America. The par on Woburn's Duchess course, which measures 6,079 yards, is 74 and Johnson was at three under, one stroke behind Lisa Hackney who, as her name would suggest, is English and Jill Kinloch who, as her name would suggest, is Scottish. Alongside Johnson at three under is her Solheim Cup colleague Dale Reid and Annika Sorenstam of Stockholm who is making her debut on the European Tour.
Johnson scored well, especially over the back nine, but she admitted that she did not play well. 'I didn't hit the ball out of the middle of the club face,' she said. She salvaged her round with three birdies in the last five holes and at both the 14th and 15th she had chances for an eagle. She was almost as keen to talk about England's performance at Wembley. 'It was good until Gascoigne went off . . .' etc.
Hackney and Kinloch are both products of the American university system. Hackney, 25 from Eccleshall in Staffordshire, went to the University of Florida. This is her third year on tour and her best finish is sixth. Kinloch, who is 24 and who comes from Cardross near Glasgow, went on a golf scholarship to the University of Georgia from 1986 to 1990. She turned professional in 1991 and last season won a total of pounds 865.
FORD CLASSIC (Woburn) Leading first-round scores (GB or Irl unless stated): 70 L Hackney; J Kinloch. 71 D Reid; A Sorenstam (Swe); T Johnson. 72 T Yarwood; F Dassu (It); H Wadsworth; S Nicklin; W Dicks. 73 D Dowling; R Lautens (Swit); S Gerrard; W Doolan (Aus); S Mendiburu (Fr); S Moon (US); V Palli (Fr); M Navarro (Sp). 74 V Michaud (Fr); L Fairclough; J Hill (Zim); J Allmark (Swe); H Dobson; K Marshall; K Skalicky (US). 75 J Lawrence; A Arruti (Sp); N St-Marie (Can); L Maritz (SA); D Petrizzi (US); M Wright; C Hjalmarsson (Swe); K Lunn (Aus); K Parker (US). 76 K Douglas; C Dibnah (Aus); G Stewart; H Hopkins (Aus); S Elliott; L Davies; M-L de Lorenzi (Fr); X Wunsch (Sp); A Nicholas; C Hall; A Shapcott; T Craik; S Waugh (Aus).
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