Every golfer who has ever been tempted to stash his clubs permanently in the attic or sell them at the church rummage sale should have been at the Colonial National Invitation Golf Tournament in Fort Worth last weekend. He might have changed his mind after watching Ben Hogan dump an easy little pitch shot into a lake, or Mike Souchak take a 6 on a par 3, or Lloyd Mangrum take a quintuple bogey 9 on the par-4 10th hole. What the Colonial Country Club course did to 57 of the best golfers in the world reminds one of Bobby Jones's favorite Scottish aphorism: "Goff is a humblin' game."
Doug Sanders, a sturdy, handsome young Georgian who swings a golf club something like your Uncle George with a hangover, was the eventual winner, but even with rounds of 69, 67 and 70 he still finished with a one-over-par 281, having been blown to a 75 by the 30-mile-an-hour wind that came galloping across the course on the second day. The fact is that at this last major tournament before the U.S. Open in June, one had a chance to see what a truly difficult game golf can be when it is played on a course with serious problems.
As the field started the last round on Sunday after 54 holes of play, only Gene Littler stood under par, and he by a single stroke. Bill Casper Jr. and Arnold Palmer were a stroke behind Littler with even-par 210s. One over par at 211 was Sanders. By the time Littler had bogeyed the 5th hole, a treacherous 459-yard par-4 dogleg bordering the Trinity River, no one was under par.
It is tempting to say that Colonial, being the kind of tight and trying course it is, offered a pretty good form chart for the Open, but that would be only half true. Gary Player, for instance, had innumerable difficulties the first two days, and only by dint of a marvelous 68 on Sunday was he able to climb as high as a tie for ninth with an eight-over-par 288.
May 21, 1961
Palmer, who will be defending the Open championship, slipped to sixth place on Sunday with an erratic 75. Souchak, who had led the tournament after 36 holes with a one-under-par 139, played his last two rounds in 10 over par to tie for 15th. These and many other likely contenders at Oakland Hills can't be downgraded too far for what they did at Colonial.
Nonetheless, Doug Sanders' performance at Fort Worth is a reminder that this very steady golfer with the abbreviated backswing has developed into one of the half dozen most consistent performers in the professional troupe. He is not a long hitter of the likes of Palmer and Souchak, but, as he was saying after his victory, "I think I've only been out of bounds five times since I joined the tour in the middle of 1957." His total winnings so far this year, including the $7.000 he took home from Fort Worth, now come to $26,703—a comfortable third on the list behind Player and Palmer.
As one of the three leading money winners on the tour through May 21, Sanders automatically qualifies for the 1961 Open. Late last Sunday afternoon, sitting beside his pretty young wife Joan, a former Miami Beach model, Sanders gripped her hand and said with a Georgian twang, "I told Joan as I came down the 18th that if that little old First Flight ball went in that little old hole in four blows I'd take her off on a little old trip to Acapulco. So that's what we're gonna do tomorrow."
Sanders, like all the other pros, can probably use the rest, for tournament golf—or at least that refinement of it played on the tour—has changed considerably in the past few years. It has become more difficult. Time was when names as obscure as the supporting cast of 77 Sunset Strip were turning up week after week with 65s and 66s.
The trend is now in the opposite direction, thanks largely to the prestige that grew around courses like the Augusta National, where a man has to be able to use all 14 clubs in his bag to negotiate the full 18 holes. It is now customary to toughen up the weaker courses of the circuit when the pros are coming to town, and it is getting to be a matter of local pride to brag about what a miserable time Palmer and Finsterwald and Souchak and Littler had at the Sandtrap Valley Club.
But, as last week's activities in Fort Worth proved, for the 15th time since the tournament was started in 1946, there is no need to toughen up Colonial. It is one of the courses along the pro trail that can take care of itself in the presence of the very finest golfers anywhere. Built near Forest Park in the southwest part of town, it is a woodland course, meandering gracefully amongst live oaks, hackberries, elms and willows. The trees and a few placid creeks are the natural hazards of Colonial, and they guard the long, bending fairways with nasty hostility. When the wind blows briskly off the Texas plains, as it did on the second day, their truculence becomes severe.
On that second day Mike Souchak made his way around the course in par 70, a figure that only Gene Littler and Art Wall Jr. could match in such blowy weather. On the day before, when the Texas climate had been more benevolent, eight of the 57 most capable golfers you could assemble in this country had managed to get around the course in par or better, including an almost unbelievable 65 by Kel Nagle, the current British Open champion (the next day, in the wind, Nagle shot a 76).
When a reporter asked Souchak if the course was tough, he replied, "This is my eighth year here [Souchak won the Colonial in 1956], and I've got plenty of respect for this golf course. I know it well enough to know that you can't shoot at those pins for those birdies, or else you're gonna end up with a lot of fives and sixes.
"This is a course where you've gotta drive good, but you don't have to be a great putter here. You get down in two putts all the way around and you're gonna be all right if you're driving O.K. Of course, a few of those putts are going to drop for you, but you can't force this course."
In his way, Mike Souchak was describing one reason why the Colonial has taken such a short time to work its way into one of the handful of truly important events on the golf calendar. The Colonial comes only five weeks before the Open and provides the last stern examination of the current aptitude of the country's best pro and amateur golfers. In eight of the previous 14 Colonials one of the first five prizewinners has gone on to win the Open.
Blazing a path
Even more important to its success is the fact that the Colonial has been a pioneer in the movement to make something more of the tournaments on the tour than just four-day exhibitions by a bunch of itinerant athletes. Unabashedly taking its lead from the Masters, the Colonial opens its doors only to the golfers it wants, and this year's entry list of 57 was the largest in its history. Through a system of selection as complicated as a tax form, it manages to invite all the current PGA champions, the leading amateurs, a platoon of representative foreigners, the leading PGA money winners and a few venerable bishops of golf like Hogan and Byron Nelson. The Colonial has even borrowed a little of the persiflage of the Masters, such as dressing up its officers in club blazers (in this case Royal Stewart tartan) and its Negro caddies in uniform white coveralls.
Proud Fort Worth isn't yet ready to compare its performance to the one at Augusta. However, it doesn't mind claiming second place. But holding second place may not be too easy in the years to come, for lots of other communities are latching on to the idea. Both the new, enlarged Crosby at Pebble Beach and the Tournament of Champions at Las Vegas are examples of this kind of special tournament that has a character all its own.