Family men resist draw of season's final major

Golf: Lavish prize-money on 50-week calendar and the promise of long careers allows professionals to put families ahead of the game
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The Independent Online

It is a nice problem for Ben Curtis to have. One of the consequences of becoming the biggest outside winner of the Open Championship in decades was an entry to the NEC World Invitational at Akron in his home state of Ohio later this month.

There is more than $1m (£628,000) for the winner and no cut, meaning that the élite field of which Curtis is now a part is guaranteed a cheque at the end of the week. The problem? Curtis's wedding to his fiancée, Candace Beatty, had been scheduled, six months ago, for 23 August, the day of the third round.

The surprising new Open champion, who is in his rookie season on the US Tour, has come up with a surprising solution. He will play in the tournament and still get married on the Saturday evening, back in his home town of Kent. "Hopefully, everything will work out," Curtis said. "It should be a great day."

Prior to playing in the Open, Curtis said he "liked" golf but also liked to make time for the simple things in life, like going to the movies and spending time with his family. He even discussed the latter on his visit to the White House to meet President George W Bush.

"We talked about sports and how we had kind of similar backgrounds," reported the 26-year-old. "How he was very tight with his family, just like I am. How his values of family mean a lot."

But a career in sport is not necessarily compatible with a normal family life, as a trip to the divorce courts will attest. Golfers live out of the suitcase more than most, with events most weeks of the year. Careers stretch out far further than in most other sports, too - into the 40s and then with the Seniors from 50 onwards.

Yet the mere fact that there are tournaments 50 weeks a year and plenty of years in which to play for the huge amounts of money on offer, is maybe making the leading golfers more picky. Handsome prize funds week after week on the tours are not enough to tempt them out.

Bruce Lietzke never played during his children's school holidays. Not only did he keep his card on the US Tour, but when his caddie slipped a banana into his bag to check if Lietzke ever took his clubs out at home, he was the one who had to clean up the malodorous mess several weeks later.

Majors, you would have thought, are immune. But one look at the withdrawals from next week's USPGA Championship at Oak Hill in Rochester, New York, shows that you cannot keep real life out of a golf career.

Some of the absences are enforced. Ian Woosnam will remain at home to attend the funeral of his father, Harold, who died last week. Paul Lawrie, the last European to win a major, has been ordered to rest after suffering from a neck problem that has caused headaches and tiredness. But Nick Faldo decided to terminate his run of 65 consecutive majors to stay at home with his wife, Valerie, and their new baby girl, Emma.

Faldo's streak was the longest among active players and as recently as last year's US Open he had been battling to keep it alive. Faldo was at the birth of his first three children from an earlier marriage, but was back on the course as soon as he needed to be afterwards.

"Having taken part in 65 consecutive majors this was obviously a tough decision to make, bringing with it mixed emotions," said the six-times major winner. "This is an incredibly special time in my life becoming a dad again at 46, and I promised Valerie that I would be around to support her and our new daughter.

"Claiming another major title would be immensely fulfilling for me, but all that comes second to the joys of fatherhood. Whatever happens on the golf course, now or in the future, Valerie and I are just delighted to have a healthy baby to complete our life together."

Padraig Harrington, the world No 9, may yet miss the USPGA as his wife, Caroline, is expecting their first child on 18 August, the day after the tournament finishes. If he does travel to New York, Harrington will be in a similar position to Phil Mickelson, who wore a bleeper during the US Open in 1999, which he lost by one stroke to the late Payne Stewart. The Mickelsons' first child arrived the following day so had an 18-hole play-off been required, it would have been abandoned.

Rich Beem, last year's champion, is not defending his title as he is this weekend at The International after his wife, Sara, went into labour three weeks early. She had been due next Saturday. Beem left his new son, Michael, to play at Castle Pines.

"I'd rather be at home right now," Beem said earlier this week. "But I guess I have to come out and make some money, so I can take the rest of the year off. Since I had some success here last year, I might as well come back and see if I can't do it again."

Beem added: "This is way better than winning any golf tournament - although winning golf tournaments isn't very bad, either. Having the newborn and just taking care of him is a huge thrill."

Earlier this year, Greg Norman spent two months cruising with his family on his new yacht. His friend, Nick Price, the twice USPGA champion, withdrew from the championship after deciding to extend his family holiday. Price missed the USPGA in 1991 for the birth of his oldest son and that let in John Daly.

Daly won, using Price's caddie, and the Zimbabwean won the following year. Whether Daly is at Oak Hill remains to be seen after his turbulent private life took another extraordinary turn. His fourth wife, Sherrie, has been named in a federal indictment, along with her father and mother, regarding a drug ring and an illegal gambling operation. Daly is not suspected of being involved and the offences may have stopped by the time they married in 2001.

If Curtis ever thought playing golf was a simply way of life he will have been swiftly disabused of the idea. At least, he will never have to face the prospect of playing in a major championship with morning sickness as Patricia Meunier Lebouc did at the Women's British Open last week. Being almost five months pregnant will not stop the Frenchwoman playing in the Solheim Cup next month.