Las Vegas Sun

September 24, 2017

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RON KANTOWSKI :

This celebrity may save it

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Steve Marcus

Justin Timberlake, left, and touring pro John Daly wait for the start of a pro-am event Monday at TPC Summerlin.

Timberlake Tees Off

Justin Timberlake and John Daly got things started Monday in the Pro-Am portion of the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Fore!

Justin Timberlake drives off the second tee during a pro-am at TPC Summerlin. This year's Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, part of the PGA Tour's fall series, will be played Oct. 21 through Oct. 24 at the course. Launch slideshow »

Because I am closer to 56 than 16, when it was announced that Justin Timberland — er, lake — had been appointed the savior of our pro golf tournament, I shrugged in the manner of Tiger Woods lining up a 10-foot birdie putt.

I was hoping for Alice Cooper.

I have seen Alice Cooper play golf. He’s pretty good. Plus, when I approached him for an interview after the Fairway to Heaven benefit tournament several years ago, he didn’t go Russell Crowe or Sean Penn on me. Instead, he told me to call him Vince — his real name. Then he told a lot of sports stories, most of which invoked the name of at least one former Detroit Red Wing or Al Kaline.

They tell me Justin Timberlake is a much bigger star than Alice Cooper. But since he yanked Janet Jackson’s top down at the Super Bowl, I kind of lost track of him. My record collection, although eclectic, features more Grass Roots and Gordon Lightfoot than popular boy bands of the 1990s.

So I shrugged when I heard the Las Vegas Invitational, the generic name for our PGA Tour stop, had been renamed the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

I thought naming golf tournaments after celebrities had gone the way of Al Czervik’s plaid pants in “Caddyshack.”

Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Glen Campbell, Dean Martin, Jackie Gleason, Fred Gwynne ... OK, maybe not Fred Gwynne, aka Herman Munster. But there was a time when if somebody called your name to block on “Hollywood Squares,” there was a 50-50 chance you had your own golf tournament. Joe Garagiola had one. So did Jamie Farr. I don’t think Paul Lynde ever had his own tournament, even on the Nike Tour. But he should have.

I wasn’t alone in thinking that a guy who once fronted a famous boy band was a dubious choice for the life preserver the LVI has needed since Tiger Woods stopped playing here.

But I could be wrong.

“My initial reaction was yours ... Timberlake, really?” said Brian Hurlburt of Vegas Golfer magazine. “But as I looked at the situation, I became more intrigued by the idea and saw the potential merits for several reasons.

“One, he is a true, avid golfer who loves and respects the game. He has already given his time and money to this event, and from what I understand, is very committed to making it a success.

“Two, if you break his career down, he appears to be just now making a jump and becoming a major crossover star that appeals to a wide-ranging audience. He emceed the ESPY Awards and was very funny, he has been in several movies, and, as everybody knows, he is one of the biggest acts in music. With his contacts, he has the ability to bring in many levels of celebrities that the corporate set would love to tee it up with.

“Three, he has the ability to potentially capture the interest of a female demo. Where females go, so go the males.”

Me? I’m just wondering whether Ann-Margret will show.

Hurlburt said the Shriners’ reputation among its charitable brethren and its drive-the-green resources also could play a huge role in the tournament’s long-term viability/survival.

“They have the ability to bring thousands to town and to get behind the event in a big way,” he said. “But, as you have made clear in your columns, Las Vegas likes to support the biggest, best and winners, and until the event gets a date within the FedEx Cup, it could be a challenge.”

The FedEx Cup is the PGA Tour’s answer to NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup playoff system. Basically, it guarantees the top players will show up, instead of a bunch of Al Czerviks and Danny Noonans. In recent years, the LVI has become the bastion of Young Turks trying to make a name for themselves and veterans on the downside of their careers trying to hang onto their tour cards. Not a good mix when you apply that biggest and best Las Vegas common denominator for success.

The wild card is Wednesday’s pro-am featuring Amanda Beard, Josh Duhamel, Josh Kelley, Chris Kirkpatrick, George Lopez and John O’Hurley.

Quick, somebody put a 7-iron in Carrot Top’s hands.

I would argue that Greg Maddux, the future baseball Hall of Famer and one of Las Vegas’ own, is a bigger celebrity than any of those mentioned. Yet last year, when Maddux played the LVI, a Sun photographer and I were his only gallery.

Somebody said Ellen DeGeneres might show. She’s the kind of A-list celebrity who could make a difference at the gate.

But it’s still going to be Wednesday. Kids are still going to be in school, and their parents, at least the ones who don’t have country club memberships, are still going to be working. Fireworks always work here, but golf is played during the day, so that’s not an option.

Plus, I have never heard of $1 beers at a PGA Tour stop. That always works here, too.

Tiger Woods isn’t playing and the parking situation is still atrocious. In fact, about the only way to get to the course is to ride a shuttle, and Las Vegans do not ride shuttles, except, perhaps, if somebody were selling $1 beers at the shuttle stop.

The weekend rounds still will be up against the two-headed monster of college football on Saturday and the NFL on Sunday. Drawing a crowd against those two is like birdieing No. 8 at Pebble Beach.

Officials are billing this as a whole new tournament, one that bears little resemblance to its predecessors, beginning with the format — one course, no amateurs after Wednesday. Less Joe Pesci, more Jeff Maggert.

It’s still going to face the same problems that plagued its other incarnations.

But the weather is supposed to be ideal, the field has a few guys you’ve heard of, the price of admission ($15) is reasonable and Ellen might dance on the 18th green.

Maybe it won’t take another wardrobe malfunction to make this tournament a success.

Read Kantowski’s blog “Now and Then.”

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