Seldom had The Crosby had better weather, and seldom had it had more erratic exhibitions. Bill Casper, who had shot a horrendous 78 on his opening round at the relatively mild Monterey Peninsula course, came back with a course record of 65 on the third day at the brutal Pebble Beach links. In the 18 holes Casper putted only 23 times. Dave Hill, a promising newcomer to the pro tour, went from 67 on opening day to an 85 on the last. Aging Ted Kroll, who had a four-stroke lead on the field at the start of the last day, finished with an awful 81.
In the end it was Bob Rosburg, the 1959 PGA champion, playing his typically conservative game, who won the day. A chilly 20-knot wind blew ocean spray across the Pebble Beach course, and Rosburg found himself standing in the lead in the 1961 Crosby with Dave Ragan, a stocky young pro from Daytona Beach, Fla., and Pro Bill Collins, a long hitter from Baltimore, directly behind. As he waited on the 17th tee, Rosburg watched Ragan, playing just ahead of him, take three putts for a double bogey. Rosburg took a two-iron out of his bag and made the decision of the day—to play safe into the bunker guarding the green rather than to risk a shot into the sea (the sea surrounds the 17th on three sides). He reached the bunker fine and was down in two putts for a bogey.
On the 540-yard 18th Rosburg again played safe, using a two-iron off the tee and also for his second shot, thereby avoiding a flirtation with the sea on the left of the fairway. He was on the green with an eight-iron shot in three and sank a 14-foot putt for the birdie that gave him the tournament.
These were the events that caught the attention of the gallery in the closing hour of The Crosby. But the real tournament, the action that separates The Crosby from the rest of the weekends of the winter golfing calendar, was the pro-am, and that was won by a 40-year-old corporation lawyer from San Francisco named Frank Tatum Jr. and a skinny 28-year-old professional from Fairlawn, N.J., Wes Ellis. Together, they had a best-ball score of 252—36 under par for four rounds played on three nerve-racking golf courses, Pebble Beach (twice), Cypress Point and the Monterey Peninsula Country Club.
January 30, 1961
No one insists that the team of Ellis and Tatum is the best combination of pro and amateur that could be put together in 1961. Although Ellis is an able younger golfer, his score on his own ball for The Crosby was only 289, which put him in a tie for 18th place in the pro competition. Tatum is an excellent two-handicapper—as a Stanford undergraduate he won the intercollegiate championship in 1942—but he is not likely to crop up again in the national golf news. This weekend, however, a pro like Ellis and an amateur like Tatum meshed their talents for a moment of real glory. This is what makes The Crosby such a fascinating interlude in the week-to-week routine of tournament golf, and this year's Crosby made the point as well if not better than any of its predecessors.
As always, most of the great names of golf answered the muster—Arnold Palmer; former U.S. Open champions Cary Middlecoff, Billy Casper, Julius Boros, Ed Furgol and more; former Masters champions Jack Burke, Jimmy Demaret, Art Wall, Claude Harmon and more; PGA champion Jay Hebert and such of his predecessors as Walter Burkemo, Lionel Hebert and, of course, Rosburg. For four days one saw the likes of these playing in partnership with some very exciting people who made their reputation elsewhere but who also play respectable, albeit fallible, golf.
A good example of this was the foursome of Arnold Palmer, Art Wall Jr., Alvin Dark, the new manager of the San Francisco Giants, and Dick Groat, the National League's batting champion and Most Valuable Player. This foursome attracted the largest crowds of the tournament. It wasn't just because Palmer is the most thrilling golfer of the moment, fresh from his first victory of the year at San Diego, or because Wall is still the impeccably precise golfer who dominated the tour in 1959. Dark and Groat lent a glamour to the group it would never have had if they had just been two other professionals.
The foursome teed off for the first time at Cypress Point with a crowd of several thousand dogging them. Dark, who was Wall's partner, was playing with a seven-stroke handicap, and he underscored his ability to hit to right field by pushing his first drive into the rough on the right side of the fairway. Groat, Palmer's partner, played with 10 strokes, and he turned out to be a strong pull hitter as he smacked a long tee shot to the left of the fairway. Palmer and Wall were far down the middle.
Groat played a five iron for his second shot and was the only member of the foursome to reach the green in two on this 418-yard hole. Wall's second was on the apron just past the green, Palmer was in some long, ugly grass to the right and beyond the green, and Dark was in the rough below and to the right. Dark chipped out delicately, rolled some 15 feet past the flagstick and then sank his putt for a par. Palmer dug his ball out of the weeds with a wedge, but it rolled 20 feet past the hole, and he missed the return putt by an eyelash to take a bogey. Wall and Groat were both down in four and an entrancing golf match was under way.
A good deal of the time Dark, who was constantly in trouble, could be seen ambling across the fairway and into the rough with that weary stride so familiar to baseball watchers. Playing shots from frightening lies in long grass and behind tall trees, he showed the marvelously competitive spirit that made him such a good football player at LSU and helped bring two pennants to the Giants when they lived at the Polo Gounds. Groat, wearing a black cap similar to Dark's, turned out to be a long-ball hitter but an erratic putter. Many of Groat's tee shots were right alongside Palmer's and Wall's, but he lacked the methodical consistency of the pros, and the crowd seemed to bother his concentration. When he missed a shot he would slap himself on top of the head with anguish and contort his face in self-recrimination.
Neither of the two baseball stars was of spectacular help to his pro in the best-ball competition. At the end of the round Groat had helped Palmer's two-under-par 70 by six strokes for a best ball of 64, four strokes off the leading score of 60. After three rounds, the team had a best ball of 195, only 14 strokes better than Palmer's 209 on his own ball. It was good enough to qualify for the final day's low 40 but 10 strokes behind the leaders. Dark was even less helpful; he aided Wall with only four strokes on each of the first three days, and they failed to make Sunday's cut.
Two teams were tied with an awesome 12-under-par 60 after the first day's play. One was composed of Jack Burke Jr., the youngish Texas veteran, and amateur George Coleman, a rich, middle-aged Oklahoma oil man who is a great friend of Crosby's and has been playing in topflight golfing circles since his youth. With the help of a natural eagle two on the treacherous par-four 14th at Cypress, giving his team a net one on that hole, Coleman improved Burke's very fine 68 by eight strokes.
The other leaders were Dow Finsterwald and Fred Kammer, the latter a 48-year-old Detroit businessman who was a baseball and hockey star during his undergraduate days at Princeton. Kammer supplied nine strokes to Finsterwald's individual 69.
But a lot of the cheers of the first day and thereafter went to two somewhat senior athletes who refused to be daunted by the mediocre performance of their pro partners. One was Ernie Nevers, the fellow whom Pop Warner quite rightly called one of the two greatest football players of all time. Let it be remembered that it was 36 years ago that Nevers, running on two freshly mended ankles, played against Knute Rockne's Four Horsemen in the Rose Bowl and gained almost as much yardage by himself as they did in concert. Nevers has put on a bit of a paunch, but he is still a fierce competitor. His pro came in on the first day with a dismal 81, but Nevers, with a handicap of 10, was able to lower their best-ball score to 63, just three off the pace.
Another oldtimer cut from the same kind of cloth is Eric Pedley, the superb international polo player. Pedley was in the Army in World War I and a member of the team that won the U.S. open polo championship in the summer before Nevers played the Four Horsemen. On Thursday Pedley's pro had a 77, but he brought their best-ball score down to 64. Plenty of spines tingled over the performances of these two aging but still marvelous athletes.
It is feats like these that make The Crosby something more in golf than just another stop on the circuit, although some of the pros have been slow to realize it. Jack Fleck, the 1955 U.S. Open winner, has been heard to mutter that he can't stand those society golfers, and now and then his complaint may be justified. On the other hand, there was the year when Fleck refused to show up for the final day's play because he was out of contention for the individual prize money. His amateur partner, Charlie Seaver, played on alone and did so well that Fleck received some of the pro-amateur prize money anyway.
Coast sportscasters—Vin Scully and Bud Foster—were complaining on their radio show last weekend that the amateurs were spoiling The Crosby and should be dropped from the competition during the final two days. "They ruin the TV show," one of them said in effect. However, this year's Crosby demonstrated that, thanks to the amateurs, it is still sport and not show business and deserves to be reported in this journal rather than Variety.