Every year at about the time that the nation's 6 million amateur golfers are digesting the last few mouthfuls of their Thanksgiving bird and dreaming wistfully of next spring's birdies, several hundred of their more proficient brethren are nervously awaiting the arrival of each morning's mail. The time has come for invitations to the National Pro-Amateur Golf Championship, better known as the Crosby Clambake or just the Crosby.
Even among the very great of amateur golf, an invitation to the Crosby is as much to be appreciated as a comehither look from Sophia Loren. But apparently—and happily—one need not be among the very great to get either. This year, as always, the Crosby numbered among its amateurs some names that are household words only in their own households. Yet the 168 amateurs who played last week were culled from a list of 7,156 who had either applied for invitations or were thought worthy of same by the host. Among them, of course, were some truly fine golfers in their own right, for Bing himself is an excellent player who regards the game with respect and is jealous of the reputation of his tournament. There was Dick Davies, the current British Amateur champion, Harvie Ward, twice U.S. Amateur champion, and Dr. Frank (Bud) Taylor, three-time Walker Cupper. There were great celebrities of other sports who also know their way from tee to green—low-handicap players like Alvin Dark, manager of the San Francisco Giants, Del Shofner, one of pro football's leading pass catchers, and John Brodie, quarterback for the 49ers. There were celebrities from both biz and show biz: Tom Lanphier, president of Fairbanks, Morse & Co., Chase Morsey of Lincoln-Mercury, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Ray Bolger, Dean Martin, Phil Harris. There were even a couple of Roman Catholic priests who are friends of Bing's.
This heterogeneous collection of amateur golfers all had one thing in common: for at least three days they had to play tournament golf over courses as difficult as any in the world under the same conditions as their professional partners. Worse yet, they had to do it with thousands of people watching them, and with the freezing knowledge that their professional teammates had thousands of dollars at stake. When an amateur in the Crosby owns up to a bit of nervousness, he really may be asking himself why he hadn't planned a January cruise of the Caribbean.
"If you want to sum up how an amateur feels about this tournament," Pete Elliott, the Illinois football coach, was saying bravely after a trying round at Cypress Point, "it's like this. Every amateur would really like to see how he could do in a big event. This is his only chance, so he takes it."
Conditions for both pro and amateur at the Crosby are notoriously among the most testing anywhere on the calendar of tournament golf. It isn't just that Pebble Beach is brutally long and devious—Gene Littler shot an 83 there last Thursday—or that Cypress Point is a treacherous seascape (the third course used for the Crosby, the Monterey Peninsula CC, is a relative snap). There is an annual meteorological phenomenon in northern California each January known as Crosby weather. In drought years farmers sigh with relief over the approach of the tournament, knowing that at last the skies will open. Gales invariably batter the coastline. Last year there was even a blizzard.
Anecdotes about the weather monopolize Crosby Week conversation. One of the classic stories is that told by Larry Tailer, a San Francisco businessman. "I was playing the 17th at Cypress one year," reminisced Tailer, "and the wind was blowing so hard the birds were going backward when they tried to fly into it. Usually I hit a drive and a six-iron at 17, but this day I hit three of the biggest woods of my life, and the third shot was hole high at the back of the green. Then the wind started to blow the ball toward the hole. It would roll and stop and roll and stop. When it got within a couple of inches of the hole, I tapped it in quickly for my par 4."
Once an amateur gets his invitation to the Crosby, he can look forward to six weeks or so of unrelieved travail. First he must find a place to stay in the small vacation resort of Carmel or the nearby city of Monterey. If he has been going to the tournament for years and has a special pull with the management, he may get a room at the Del Monte Lodge, which overlooks the 18th green at Pebble Beach. Or he might just possibly get into Carmel's charming old Pine Inn, where the small bar has been the after-dark hangout for amateur golfers through the years. Otherwise, he has to scramble for space in one of the lesser hotels or motels, most of which are booked up months in advance by the touring pros and the hundreds upon hundreds of California golf bugs for whom the Crosby is a date as firmly fixed on their yearly schedule as Christmas.
Next the amateur must practice to the exclusion of all else. He can spare time for only brief visits to the office. His wife must do the Christmas shopping. The living room carpet becomes a putting green. If he lives in a frigid climate, he has to find an indoor driving range.
It is when the tournament finally gets under way at dawn of a brisk Thursday morning in mid-January that the amateur entertains his first doubts about why he even bothered. The dew sweepers have to begin teeing off at the three courses as early as 7:30, when the chill early light is just seeping through the tall pines of the Monterey Peninsula. This means they have to climb out of a warm bed in the numbing darkness, mummify themselves in sweaters and windbreakers and grab some eggs and bacon alongside a few sleepy truck drivers in an all-night diner.
"I've been going off with the dawn patrol for years now," says Hal Booth, a Los Angeles businessman who is a fixture at the Crosby, "and sometimes I don't even see my ball until the 3rd or 4th hole."
Those who tee off later in the morning have another sort of problem, for they are likely to be paired with one of the big-name pros who attract the galleries. A somewhat extreme example this year was Mark McCormack, the young Cleveland attorney who manages the business affairs of Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus. A fine golfer in his own right, McCormack went as far as the third round of the 1958 National Amateur. This year in his second Crosby (Bing himself arranges all the partnerships), he found himself paired with Palmer.
When McCormack and Palmer started off at Cypress Point last week in a foursome with Dave Hill and popular Phil Harris, they took along the largest first-day gallery in the Crosby's history. "I can't say I was really nervous," McCormack recalled later, "although if I hadn't known Arnie so well I'd probably have had a lot more butterflies. The worst part is that you know all the gallery wants to see is Arnold. So you're anxious to get out of the way. I know Arnold would want to advise me on a lot of my shots, but if he's across the fairway somewhere, I don't want to call him over and hold things up. As a result, you rush yourself. That's the worst part of having a big gallery."
"Another difficulty with the gallery," says Thomas Choate, a low-handicap New York lawyer who once starred in the Harvard backfield, "is the way they stand so close to you." Last year, as he was this year, Choate was paired with pro Joe Campbell, who lost a sudden-death playoff for the individual championship to Doug Ford. "We had a pretty big gallery with us at Pebble on the last day," Choate said, "and at the 9th tee they were standing so close I was afraid I'd hit one of them on my backswing. So I took a slow practice swing first, and as the club went back it knocked the cigar out of a guy's mouth.
"Playing with Campbell was a wonderful experience," Choate continued. "He had a 71 at Pebble Beach on Friday, the day of the terrific storm when the wind was blowing so hard you couldn't even reach the par-3 17th with a driver. Joe was always very considerate of me, and he even moved the gallery around as if he were a marshal himself. You know, everyone is watching the pros or the real celebrities, and they don't know you're in the tournament. After the pro holes out, the gallery doesn't much care what happens to your ball because they don't realize that you may have a handicap stroke on that hole. The main thing, though, is that you don't want to do anything that might upset your pro if he's in contention. It means a lot more to him than just the prize money; it means getting into the Tournament of Champions and all sorts of extra things."
Not that the prize money is insignificant. Billy Casper got $5,300 for being top pro last week, and Doug Sanders won $3,000 when he teamed with Lloyd Pitzer, a Chicago insurance man, to take the pro-am title. "Actually, with all that's at stake and all the excitement, the best thing you can do is try to be relaxed and play your regular game and don't talk to your pro unless he talks to you," added Choate.
Choate was asked how an amateur decides what to do on the 16th at Cypress, the famous water-flanked monster. "That's a real problem," he said. "You think about it all the way around. I get a stroke there, so if I think we are leading or up close I play my tee shot safe, and with my stroke we're sure of getting a net 3. Of course, if you need to pick up strokes you've got to go for it and hope you get a net 2."
Every team has its own ideas about how to handle the 16th, and Mark McCormack described how he and Palmer worked it out on Thursday. "I was hitting first, and I sensed that Arnold would want to go for it even though he was three-under at the time. He didn't say anything, but I just felt he would go for it. The wind wasn't strong, so I thought I could make it with a three-wood. It's a lucky thing I did because I hit one of my best shots of the day onto the green. Arnold hit over the green and took a double bogey."
"One thing you can't help worrying about is that when you miss a short putt you know it's going to cost the pro a few dollars." The speaker was Jean Luis DuPont, a Parisian who had come all the way to Pebble Beach to play in the tournament of his friend, Bing, with whom he had golfed frequently in France. One of the leading French amateurs, even Jean Luis felt some concern playing with a pro of the caliber of Jon Gustin, his partner.
Pete Elliott, who had been playing in the same foursome with DuPont, agreed in part. "You're nervous, sure, but if you're playing well, you play a little better when you're nervous. If you're playing poorly, that's a different matter."
Naturally it isn't ever fun for an amateur to make mistakes at the Crosby, but every now and then one of the show people who is quick with a quip turns a fluff into a memorable laugh, a reminder that fun and enjoyment are what Crosby really wants the pros, the amateurs and everybody else to get out of his Clambake. One of the best at this is Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Last year at the troublesome 12th hole at Cypress, Tennessee Ernie put his second shot into some clutching rough to the left of the green. He skulled the ball badly trying to hit it out, and the shot caromed off the leg of a woman standing in the gallery bordering the far side of the green. When he examined the ball and saw the slash he had put in it, Ford turned to the lady and said, "Madam, you've got the sharpest shins I've ever seen."