Tournament golf for 1961 ended last week in Sebring, Fla., of all places, with the shrill and cheery sound of girlish laughter floating through the humid night air. There was tea dancing to a small combo in the lounge of a hotel called Harder Hall and other sounds and sights not usually associated with the professional side of the sport. Twenty of the best men pros and an equal number of their female counterparts had gathered, along with 52 teams of men and women amateurs, for the Haig & Haig Scotch mixed foursomes tournament—a unique and highly entertaining conclusion to the week-in, week-out grind of tournament play in which the sexes are so rigidly segregated.
After four days of this second playing of the tournament, Dave Ragan and Mickey Wright finished the 72 holes with an amazing score of 272—16 under par over a pair of courses that are by no means patsies when rigged for championship play. They began the final round with a five-stroke lead over the second-place team of Johnny Pott and Marilynn Smith and nine strokes over Sam Snead and Patty Berg, who were tied for 10th. The lead should have been safe, but the day was not very old before Snead and Berg, the two oldest campaigners on the course, began to carve away at par. The cheers of their large gallery lifted across the course to warn the leaders that something was going on up ahead. The two young pros (Ragan and Miss Wright are both 26) began to run scared, with birdies at 6, 8 and 9 to finish the first nine with a four-under-par 32. Snead and Berg never let up the pressure and finally came home with a final round of 65, but it just wasn't enough against the aggressive, all-out golf of Ragan and Wright, whose own final round was a 67. As soon as the tournament ended, Ragan and Wright rushed to phone Earl Stewart, the pro at the Oak Cliff Country Club in Dallas, who has been coaching them both over the past year. Their pairing at Sebring, no coincidence, was due to their mutual bond with Stewart.
When the golfers arrived at Harder Hall early last week to compete in a one-day Pro-Am tournament before the Haig & Haig contest began, they proved for the zillionth time, in case such additional proof was needed, that the best pros are capable of murdering any normal golf course. Gay Brewer, who had been on a particularly hot streak for the previous month, set a new course record for Harder Hall with a 63, and so did the apparently wear-proof Samuel Jackson Snead. Ted Kroll had a 64. Mason Rudolph and Judy Kimball, the latter by no means the best of the lady pros, had 65s, while Paul Harney, Ed Furgol and Tommy Bolt came in with 66s. Seventeen others, including 11 of the lady pros, bettered the par of 72. It should be noted that this new course, winding through the pine trees and Spanish moss of central Florida, was beautifully groomed, the air still and dry, the tees not too far back and the pin positions in the center of greens as smooth as a ballroom floor. It is a 6,723-yard course designed by the talented golf architect, Dick Wilson, and it has ample bends and bunkers and water hazards to keep the play honest.
On the following four days, when the men and women were teamed and playing alternate shots, the golf became immensely more interesting—and challenging. The play on the first (and third) day of the tournament was at nearby Pinecrest Lakes, and there the fairways, dampened by a Wednesday night rain, allowed for almost no roll even on Saturday. A 220-yard drive had to arrive on the fly through the dampish air. Now the average par 4 was no longer a drive, a pitch and a putt for the pros, because the ladies, God bless their pretty muscles, just don't hit a golf ball very far. And every other shot was theirs.
The team of Dow Finsterwald and Marlene Bauer Hagge almost never reached the green in 2 on holes of 380 yards or more, and Finsterwald is hitting the ball somewhat farther, albeit more erratically, than he used to. So they had to pitch and putt magnificently to bring in their one-under-par 71. Most of the other teams were in the same fix, with the notable exception of Ragan and Wright. Ragan is a husky young man who hits the ball with great power, and Miss Wright is by far the biggest hitter in women's golf. Where others were slugging away at the greens with long irons and woods, Ragan and Wright were hitting up with five- and six-irons. They alone were able to reach the longer par 4s and shorter par 5s in 2 with a decent go at birdie putts. Yet even with this advantage, they were only one under par at Pinecrest on opening day.
With the great disparity in distance between men and women, the strategy in two-ball foursomes is fascinating to follow. A couple chooses between the man's or the woman's drive, then play alternate shots. As a rule, if he has a chance to reach the green with a four-iron or shorter club, the man will play the second shot off the woman's drive because even these finest of woman pros have trouble hitting long irons that bite into the green with any real authority. If neither man nor woman can reach the green on the second shot off the other's drive, the woman will play that second shot and the man will do the chipping—giving him one more stroke on the hole. The Haig & Haig proved beyond question that the men, with their superior coordination, are more deft than the women at even the short shots and the putting—surer both of themselves and their technique.
It was additionally fascinating last week to see how team play—and the presence of the ladies—affected the manners of the most obtuse golfers. Tommy Bolt, who was teamed with attractive and young Jo Ann Prentice, was as courtly as a chamberlain for Louis XV. "Lovely shot, honey," he would tell Jo Ann when she struck the ball well. Once, when she missed an 18-inch putt, he said, "Don't let it get you, honey. If I had a dollar for every one of those I've missed, I wouldn't have to work no more." Another time, after the team had taken a bogey, Bolt said, "My fault, honey. I hit a poor second shot," and he was right.
Even the fearsome Snead was amazingly civil to his partner, Miss Berg. Last year, at his own request, Snead had teamed with Mickey Wright. In view of the great distance Miss Wright can hit the ball, they were a pair who had an enormous advantage over the field. As Ragan put it this year, "Mickey can hit the ball as solidly as any of the first 10 men on the tour." Yet when things went badly, Snead refused to speak to his partner. He never consulted with her on her shots, made all the decisions unilaterally, walked ahead of her on the fairway in a solitary funk and otherwise made himself thoroughly unpleasant. This year Snead was teamed with Patty Berg in large part because each represents Wilson Sporting Goods, and the 43-year-old Miss Berg, with years of golfing prestige behind her, took no guff. Snead was helpful to her in reading the greens and sometimes would walk ahead to the green to pace off the distance before his partner played an approach shot. "A hundred and twenty yards, Patty," he would call back. "And flat."
Courteous as they were, the men didn't hesitate to assume command of their teams, and there was no conspicuous instance of female insubordination. Once when there was a question of which tee shot the Finsterwald-Hagge team would use, Finsterwald said in his pleasant way, "I'd better play it—unless you want to." Translated into mixed Scotch foursomese, that reads, "I'll play the next shot"—and under these circumstances, the man had better make good. Finsterwald did. He hit a marvelous four-wood to within 15 feet of the pin, some 200 yards distant.
Even with the men's manners glistening with polish, most of the girls were extremely nervous during the early stages of the tournament, uncertainly hitting shots that they could normally make with their eyes closed. Several, among them Wanda Sanches and Murle MacKenzie Lindstrom, were lucky enough to be teamed with Ted Kroll and Gardner Dickinson, two pros who teach as well as they play. Before or after a round, the girls would get free lessons at the practice tee. Around the practice green in the late afternoon the men and women would show one another some little trick of putting, and you would hear such sweet talk as Bolt saying to Bill Collins (in the presence of several of the ladies), "Those girls know how to putt. They just knock it in the hole."
For all his sweet talk with the ladies, Bolt, it must be owned, was at times still Tommy Bolt. Saturday, on the 11th green at Pinecrest, he missed a simple putt and reverted magnificently to form, hurling his putter ferociously at the ground. The shaft sank 21 inches into the soft soil, a new world record, as somebody remarked. Glaring at the protruding end of the shaft, Bolt then kicked it, breaking it in two. Since he had no other putter in his bag, he was forced to finish the round using his driver for a putter. He may have discovered something. On the 17th green, he drove-putt for an eagle. This set him to laughing about his predicament but, moments before, he had been anything but the gay, carefree golfer. On his approach to the 17th he lost his temper again and buried his nine-iron up to the grip. It was in so deep the caddie was unable to dislodge it. For the first tantrum Bolt was fined $100; for the second, possibly because Bolt had broken his own record, nothing.
In the evening after dinner, while the men, even Bolt, were relaxing or dancing with their wives in the bar or were upstairs in their rooms helping to look after the baby, some of the more dedicated women would come back in their Bermuda shorts to practice putting on a floodlit green in front of the hotel. Someone even ran across tall Carol Mann practicing her swing in front of a full-length hallway mirror opposite the elevator on the second floor.
Not new, only rare
Scotch mixed foursomes are a common part of the togetherness program at virtually every American country club, but they are rare indeed among the pros. Just after World War II there was such a tournament at the Dubs-dread course at Orlando, Fla., but it was at match play, and mingled pros and amateurs more or less indiscriminately.
The idea for assembling a well-organized group of the best men and women came from an enterprising Connecticut teaching pro named Ben Roman, whose son is the captain of this year's Princeton golf team. In the winter Roman runs the golf at Harder Hall, which is one of a new breed of resorts that doesn't even want your business unless you (and your wife) plan to play golf every day. A couple of years ago Roman suggested to Harold (Sonny) Renfield, president of Renfield Importers, Ltd., who handle Haig & Haig whisky in the U.S., that he promote the tournament. Renfield, a golf bug, was mildly interested, but mostly for the mixed Scotch angle. Eventually David Jacobson, one of a pair of brothers who run Harder Hall and nearby Pinecrest in the winter, were approached. Jacobson phoned Ed Carter, then tournament director for the PGA, and Carter forthwith assigned a date in late December, provided Haig & Haig put up $15,000 for a two-day event.
A short time later Renfield had some second thoughts, for he learned of the press's absurd practice of refusing to mention a brand name in reporting a sports event. For instance, the Buick Open, with a $50,000 purse put up by General Motors, usually gets into the paper as the Flint Open, since it is held in Flint, Mich. The Lucky Lager Brewing Co. puts up a similar purse for a tournament in San Francisco, but it comes out in print as the Lucky International. Last year when the De Soto division of Chrysler wanted to sponsor a tournament, they went to all the trouble of staging it at De Soto Lakes Club in Bradenton. Fla. The press couldn't get around that one.
On Carter's promise that he would supply a representative group of men pros, Renfield finally agreed to take a chance anyway, and he put up the necessary $15,000 last year for a two-day event. Carter also suggested that a field of amateurs be invited. Jim Turnesa and Gloria Armstrong won the pro division last year, Truman Connell and Barbara McIntire the amateur, and in some news reports Haig & Haig got mentioned. Renfield was pleased with the publicity and immediately pledged a $25,000 purse for the 1961 event, which was lengthened to four days.
After splitting the winner's share, Mickey Wright took home $1,738, the second-highest purse for a woman pro during the entire year (the Ladies' PGA Championship winner won $2,500). That helps to explain why only four of the leading 20 money winners among the women were absent—three for family reasons, and Louise Suggs, because she couldn't play with Mike Souchak, who had an ailing wrist. This female turnout confirmed Ed Carter's prediction that "the girls will crawl to Sebring on their hands and knees for that kind of dough."
As this year's tournament came to a close, there was some quiet talk among the Haig & Haig emissaries that the purse for next year's renewal might even be raised as high as $50,000. For that kind of money, the Players and Palmers and Sanderses and Caspers might crawl to Sebring, too and Scotch mixed foursomes might start to build up the kind of popularity they deserve.