Of the several hundred golf tournaments I have played in, it is safe to say that at few have I felt such little cause for optimism as I did prior to the recent PGA Championship in Dallas. In the three tournaments preceding it I had: 1) missed the 36-hole cutoff at the U.S. Open; 2) played a bad last round to finish seventh in the rich Cleveland Open; 3) thrown away the British Open on the final two holes. I had hit the ball so well in Britain and had such disappointing results that I was quite discouraged.
I was also tired. It is a long trip (5,000 miles), involving a seven-hour time change between Lytham Saint Anne's in England and Texas, and play was to begin in Dallas only five days after the British Open ended. In fact, the only person who felt at all confident about my chances in the PGA was my mother-in-law, Helen Bash, who knows absolutely nothing about golf.
"You lost by two strokes at Cleveland and one stroke in England," she told me. "So I just know you're going to win the PGA." I appreciated her faith but not her logic—which goes to show what I know.
The one thing I was sure of was that I was not going to drive myself as hard preparing for the PGA as I had for the U.S. Open. I got plenty of sleep, played three practice rounds and let it go at that. On the eve of the tournament I felt rested and almost back to normal again. There remained only the question of whether my game could recover its sharpness after so much traveling.
The constant travel, rather than playing every day, is the toughest part of tournament golf, especially when international trips are involved. When a player goes abroad he makes a long trip, he must adjust to the smaller British ball and he is still expected to score well. When he returns to the States he has made another long trip, must switch back to the larger ball and now is expected to score well with it. One consequence of this is some relatively sloppy play, and nobody likes to see such golf in major championships.
Since tournament golf is becoming more and more of an international sport—an excellent trend—I wonder if it is not time for, say, our own PGA, the USGA, the Royal and Ancient of Great Britain and the Australian Golf Union to attempt to coordinate both their rules and the scheduling of their major championships. Tt is a difficult thing to arrange, but it would be a good idea if these tournaments could be spaced out so that one does not follow right behind the other. More golfers would then be able to play in all the world's major events and still be able to display their very best skills. Proper coordination should also insure that tournament sponsors in the U.S. not be left in the precarious position of having to hold an event at a time when few of the top players are available.
The recent PGA tournament serves as a good example of what can happen when one nation's championship is immediately followed by a big event in another country. Of those who competed in the British Open the week before, I was the only one lucky enough to regain my touch in time to play halfway decently at Dallas. British Open runner-up Phil Rodgers shot a 78-77 and missed the PGA cutoff. The British Open winner Bob Charles, and Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Doug Sanders all played golf in the PGA that was not nearly up to their usual high standards. The unbelievable heat was a factor—100° in the cool places—but the big problem was weariness.
Fatigue affects a player's game in a funny way. Very often it will not show up at all in his full shots. Unless he is very, very tired he will be able to hit these just as solidly as ever. What it strikes first are the delicate shots on and around the green that require so much concentration. A tired player cannot concentrate, he completely loses his sense of "feel." He has very little idea how hard or how softly to hit the ball. Finally this lack of touch around the green causes him to put so much pressure on the rest of his game that it also begins to go to pieces.
Traveling, of course, is not the only cause of fatigue on the pro tour. Rich tournaments and big championships week after week can build up so much pressure that everyone begins to get mentally exhausted. Take the six weeks, for instance, that ended with the PGA. In that stretch we played the $100,000 Thunderbird Classic, the U.S. Open, the $110,000 Cleveland Open, some of us the British Open and then the PGA Championship. The scoring showed that the golf was not sharp, and it looked very much at times as if no one wanted to win a tournament. This happened, I think, because everyone was trying so hard for so long to play so well. Last year we were all attempting to adjust mentally to playing in those rich $50,000 tournaments. Now they are routine, and we are trying to get used to playing in $100,000 events, where $25,000 may go to the winner. This is all a professional golfer's dream, to be sure. But it is difficult to get used to having $25,000 ride on a few golf shots. I think one reason Arnie has been so successful in the very rich tournaments this year is not just that he is such a great golfer. It is also that he does not get nervous at the thought of putting $25,000 in his pocket.
Ordinarily, about 10 players probably would have been able to break the par of 284 for 72 holes at the Dallas Athletic Club golf course, but the things I have cited hampered all of us there. Still, I was extremely lucky to win with a 279, and with what happened on the last hole I might well have not won at all.
Something occurred on the 18th that I guess a lot of people think would never bother a pro, never cross his mind. I came to that hole two shots in front, knowing that I could bogey it and still win. The hole is only 420 yards long, but there is a pond about 280 yards from the tee. Because of the water, I tried to play a safe three-iron off the tee, but I had mixed emotions about how hard to hit it and I hooked it into the rough. I was now forced to hit the ball safely out into the fairway, still short of the pond. I was left with a full nine-iron to the sloping, elevated green.
As I prepared to hit this shot I became consciously aware of something that is coming up more and more frequently in the life of professional golfers. The fact that I stood to win $13,000 in prize money was almost incidental. What I really started to think about was that every move I made was being watched by 10,000 pairs of eyes on the course and another five million or so on television. That is a lot of eyes. There was nothing to do but go ahead and hit the ball. Considering what I was thinking about, I hit a very good shot. I feared for a moment that it might have been too strong, and I waited for the crowd's reaction. When the yell came, I knew for the first time I was going to win the PGA. I had a three-foot putt left. After I sank it, I was happy to have won. But I must confess I was even happier to get out of that hot spotlight.