Hi-Tech Tour





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Hello! I am WriteBot. I have been programmed to find professional golfers who are using computers, wherever they are -- in the locker room, in home offices, surfing the World Wide Web. A simple task? Perhaps -- except that the cranial neurons of many of these non-Bot golfers seem overloaded with other real- time interrupts.

Or, as one of them suggested in analog verbal mode: "The attitude out here is, "Show me a computer that's gonna help me shoot a better score, and I'll get in there with it. If it ain't gonna help me, I'm not gonna to do it."

So, while you might think that a professional golfer would sooner take a swing tip from a 22-handicapper than talk computing, WriteBot is pleased to report that the PGA Tour is getting wired, bit by bit (that's a WriteBot Virtual Knee-Slapper!) as more players realize that a computer can be the secret to off-course productivity and management of money, schedules, and correspondence.

And fun and games, too, as WriteBot discovered while real-time interfacing with Mark Hulbert, who after buying an IBM Thinkpad and hooking up to America Online, was excited to find "a ton" of sports chat rooms and up-to-the-minute sports information sites. "I'm a sports nut, so I like to hit all those online places. At the beginning of the year, I was staying with Justin Leonard during the Phoenix Open, after Justin was leading after the third round -- and when we came back to where we were staying, I told him, 'Hey, let's go online, I can show you your quotes for tomorrow.' I hooked up to AOL, and there were the things he'd said in the press room just an hour or two before."

Dave Stockton, Jr., who owns a Toshiba 5100 laptop, is beguiled by computer games. "Frankly I don't even know how it works -- I just want to have fun doing it, says Stockton. "We have 'Caesar's Palace' on it, and I've had fun making $500 blackjack bets -- which is something I'd never do in real life!" Meanwhile, his wife Diane is starting to handle their finances with it.

Some of pros buy a computer "for the sake of the kids," including Wayne Levi -- but since Levi, long known as the Tour's resident financial whiz, also needs to be online to track information about companies he's considering investing in, he subscribes to two online services: "My kids like to use the Internet, and they're always chatting with somebody: that's better on Prodigy. (Plus, the chat rooms on Prodigy are a better deal than on Compuserve, which is what I use.)" With an eye on a television set in his home office tuned to the stock ticker, Levi can go online to Compuserve to check out companies he's interested in investing in.

David Edwards wanted to make sure his 10-year-old daughter Rachel got a good beginning. "I figured I'd better start, so that I could maybe help her along." It seems to WriteBot that many Tour members are a little concerned about the likelihood of their offspring's processing power exceeding theirs -- or, as Edwards wryly remarked, "I didn't want her to get too far ahead of me."

Richard Zokol, who is one of the Net-savviest players on Tour, remembers his children showing him the ropes when he first bought his Macintosh. "I used to have to ask my daughter Hayley, who was 6 years old at the time, how to turn on the computer. It was fun for me to let on to my kids that they were more intelligent than I was -- 'cause they were more computer literate than I was when we started."

The lessons eventually paid off for Zokol: "I was a person that kept at it -- looking at the manual, and figuring it out strictly on my own -- not that I'm a computer expert, but I'm computer- dependent now."



"Computer-dependent" describes Gary McCord, who relies on his ThinkPad for his announcing work. Several years ago, when the task of tracking information and player backgrounds for broadcasts became too much to handle with pen and paper, he turned to a friend of his at IBM for advice. With the help of EDS (Ross Perot's software company) McCord set up a database that he and the rest of the CBS crew use to reference players' stats and biographical information almost instantaneously. Freed of coordinating lots of homework each week, McCord says, "I can use my time to write weird stuff to say on the air."

Eventually McCord (who has four computers, including an old "beater" he gave to his grandchildren) ventured online, and now he regularly cruises the World Wide Web. Often it's to satisfy a quick need for information to spice up the telecast ("There are all sorts of sites I like to check out -- Dracula, Surrealism, stuff about insects and grass types that I can use"). But McCord also likes to prepare for an appearance at a corporate-sponsored event with a little bit of research. "I'll go in and dig up financial information about a company, and then when I show up at an outing and say, 'So, you did pretty well last year' -- they go, 'How the heck did you know that?'"

Zokol, who's among the savviest net-users on Tour, didn't know what the Internet was until a year or two ago, when he was working on an instructional book that he wanted to distribute on his own. "I was sending it to people, and someone said, 'Hey, you've got to market this thing on the Internet!' Which was something I'd heard about, even if I didn't know exactly what it was -- but I came to understand that it was the cheapest way to get something like a book in front of a lot of people.

"I had a friend hook me up with a modem -- I didn't know how to do it -- and I got to looking around the World Wide Web, and saw what was there, and said to myself, "Hey, this is really interesting." Before long, Zokol had a Web site of his own, with reprints of his columns for the Vancouver Sun. Now he has plans to use the Web to market his startup family golf center company.


If email is the modern-day Road Warrior's best weapon, it makes sense that a modern major-general of golf would use it to muster provisions for his troops: 1997 Ryder Cup captain Tom Kite relies on his Austin Notebook for email correspondence with the PGA of America in preparation for the '97 Cup matches at Valderrama -- and carries a printer with him on the road so he can print out paper letters he generates. (Just the night before WriteBot spoke with him at a tournament last year, Kite had exchange email replies with the PGA of America's Julius Mason, regarding possible gifts for Ryder Cup team members.) Kite, who started using a computer several years ago for his book writing work, simply finds that using a computer makes things easier for him: "I'm not going to say what's indispensable to somebody else -- but personally, it saves me a lot of time if I'm able to do stuff on the road that I don't have to do at home."

"You can sometimes get a lot of dead time out here on Tour -- there's nothing worse than going back to a hotel room and having nothing to do. So if I can do a lot of stuff out here on Tour, it means that when I'm home, I can play with my kids and not have to write all those letters."


Lots of players told WriteBot (in so many bytes) -- "Sure, computers are fun, and maybe they're useful. But they can be a pain to use." Like many computer users, David Edwards -- who organizes his finances on the desktop computer he keeps in his home in Stillwater, Oklahoma -- sometimes gets frustrated with the user-unfriendliness of his computer. "I'd probably do more things with my PC, except every time I want use it -- for, say, word processing -- I have to pull out the manual again to figure out how to get it done again -- and the time it takes me to learn what I did, I could have typed the letter manually," says Edwards, who might as well be speaking for almost everyone over a certain age who's used a pc -- (including WriteBot, confidentially).

It's no surprise that computing seems to come easier for younger professional golfers, most of whom used computers in high school and college. Jerry Kelly (who, along with Richard Zokol, is one of the few PGA Tour pros using a Macintosh) dabbled in programming early on, and started using several personal financial software packages to track his earnings and expenses soon after he joined the Nike tour in 1993. He likes to use his Powerbook to go online to read magazines and catalogues, and kicks up his word processor to take notes for a book he's writing about his experiences as a pro -- in addition to composing thank- you notes and invitational letters. Kelly is enthusiastic about the possibilities: "You don't have to get someone -- or pay someone -- to write letters, figure out your finances, keep track of your appointments -- and best of all, you keep it all in one place, on your computer.

"Sure, you gotta get the hang of it -- but once you do, it's just, 'Click!' -- open it up and it's all there. Even my wife is going on the thing -- and she never thought she'd be able to."

Nike Tour player Matt Peterson was exposed to computing in high school, and then went on to concentrate in computers while a business major at the University of Georgia. "While I was in college, having that extra knowledge certainly made things a lot easier. Not just helping my teammates on the golf team, either," he adds wryly. These days, he does his taxes and all his correspondence ("both paper and electronic") on his computer. A Prodigy subscriber, Peterson likes to hit the Web to check the weather, and to research his favorite hobby, fly-fishing. "A lot of the tackle companies are creating Web sites, as advertising -- they're neat to go through. Many of them have condition reports, and you can also email them and ask about the best places to fish, or where to stay -- they're almost always cooperative."

Of the reluctance of many to "go digital," Peterson says: "From a cost standpoint alone, I think people are going to realize more and more that doing things with a computer -- whether it's using email, or financial programs, or word processing, or planning trips -- is just a whole lot faster, not to mention a great deal more cost-efficient in the long run."

Jay Williamson is a very matter-of-fact about his computer use; while at Trinity College in Connecticut, Williamson experienced enough of the digital revolution that he now says, "I can see the direction we're heading in this country." Williamson first decided to get a computer for the simplest of reasons: managing his money.

"Being a golfer, so much money comes in and goes out at one time -- I wanted to know where everything was going. Some guys out here don't even really care, they just want someone else to do it for'em. Sometimes I wish I was like that -- but I like to know what's going on.

"A lot of successful people in other professions use their computers to keep track and organize what's going on in their life. And frankly, I haven't been doing as well as I would have liked this year, and I've put a lot of pressure on myself, especially financially -- and a computer just gives me a better idea of how I'm spending my money. I've had some big life changes here in the last couple of years -- I bought a house, and got engaged -- so I really need to know what's going on there."

Williamson has one or two ideas about how being wired could help him and his colleagues on the PGA Tour: "Instead of going through the hassle of having every tournament send you information, maybe we could go online and access it. It would help us so much if all the information about the travel and hotels in each city were located in one central place, instead of doing the hassle of having every tournament send you information. I mean, my schedule changes on a minute's notice."


Jay Williamson is not the only one thinking along those lines: many corporations around the country who are looking to solution to their organizational headaches. (Of course, you knew that the idea of a "Paperless PGA Tour" was bound to appeal to a computer- aided authoring tool such as WriteBot.)

Imagine if instead of having to stop at the tournament to find his pairing, a PGA Tour player could just plug computer into any telephone jack, press a couple of buttons, and check out his Thursday tee-time -- or find out where he stands on the money list on a Monday -- without having to leave his hotel room. Or, instead of pasting a sticky-pad note on his colleague's locker, a player could drop him an email and be sure he'd get it -- even if they were five thousand miles apart. Or, instead of having to join AOL or Compuserve or Prodigy in order to cruise on the World Wide Web and check out airline schedules and fares, he could just hook up through the PGA Tour's server.

There's just a few problems, however: not only are these darn things pretty %^&*% complicated -- how could you get everyone on the Tour to configure their softwares, link up in the same way, and get them online all at the same time? It all sounds easier said than done.

But the latest developments in corporate computing are headed straight for a user-friendly, relatively inexpensive solution to these kind of problems -- it's a small computer without the headaches, or a sort of automatic laptop, although the technical word for it is "slim client." The important thing is that it's really a computer that everyone -- and WriteBot means *everybody* -- can use. Because it doesn't have a lot of fancy extras, it's smaller, lighter and much more portable than ordinary laptops -- and corporations and organization can custom-design applications for it, while allowing users to use all the things that computer users take for granted, but in much simpler and more easily-understood fashion.

As John Soyring, a vice-president of IBM in Austin, Texas, puts it: "One of the great appeals of this approach is that the user of the PC doesn't have to do all the management and administration of the software. It's kind of like an appliance -- because people want the simplicity of a toaster or a coffeepot, where you just basically push a button and it turns on.

"Or to make another comparison, it's like a television or a radio: someone manages the software on the 'server' -- just as a TV network produces programming -- while the 'client' is the equivalent of the television set in peoples' homes -- except, of course, computers nowadays can be fully interactive, thanks to advances in programming.

"So if you want the very latest software, when you click on an icon on your screen, it should download it from a server, and the user -- say a PGA Tour player -- doesn't need to concern himself with configuring the software or hardware, or clicking through a bunch of screens and menus.

"There'd be an IS [Information Services] professional who would handle the administration of the software, getting the very latest releases, making sure it was easy to use, etc. Tour players would only have to click on a button to, for example, schedule a pro-am event -- they could point and click on the various events they'd want to participate in, and it would automatically build their calendar."

Inevitable? Hardly. Possible? Most certainly.


There will always be skeptics -- lots who don't need computers (*sniff* -- permit WriteBot to pause for a moment here to clear the lump from his hard drive cable) 'cause they're a distraction, or unreliable -- or "inhuman". But to more than a few PGA Tour golfers (and to WriteBot) the downside is more than made up for by the convenience.

Says Zokol, "I'm not just interested in golf -- I'm interested in diversifying -- golf course design, the business of golf -- so that's why I'm moving into these directions.... Typically if you're a golfer and you're in our age group, you haven't touched a computer. It's the old intimidation factor -- and golfers typically are traditionalists, and set in our ways, and not really into change. I was intimidated by it, and I got through it.

"It's kind of like having to stand in there on a five-foot-putt at Augusta -- you gotta stand in there and make it. And once you learn to do it, you're going to go, 'Hey, that wasn't really that difficult.'"