The 1964 professional golf tour has completed what is becoming known as its California shakedown cruise, and just when it ought to be getting up steam like a formful Queen Mary it continues behaving like the Walloping Window-Blind. Arnold Palmer is being penalized for hitting somebody else's golf ball, Jack Nicklaus is losing his own ball up a palm tree and calm Julius Boros is finishing a calm 20th or so. Such greats have been losers all year, and last week they stayed losers when Tommy Jacobs shot a seven-under-par 353 for 90 holes and then won a sudden-death playoff against—gasp—Jimmy Demaret to take the Palm Springs Golf Classic and emerge as the fifth different champion on the five-week-old winter tour. He thus joined Paul Harney (Los Angeles Open), Art Wall (San Diego), Tony Lema (Bing Crosby) and Chi Chi Rodriguez (San Francisco). He also prompted a question. Is this the pattern for 1964?
The answer is both yes and no. There is little doubt, for instance, that last year's heroes are simply smoothing out their games before earnestly starting their annual assault on the big titles. Boros, who will be 44 in March, traditionally waits until the warmth of spring before stirring his lethargic bones with any real purpose. Never in his 15-year career has he won a tournament before May. Nicklaus, following a seven-week layoff, has had a hard time trying to recall how he used to swing a golf club, but he is beginning to remember. "I think I'm now capable of winning a tournament," he said at Palm Springs.
And Arnold Palmer? Well, Arnold Palmer, like a million other Americans, is struggling to give up smoking. At this game the world's greatest golfer is no better than anyone else.
"I don't want to make a fuss about it," says Palmer, trying hard not to make a fuss about it, "but this nonsmoking thing has me all tightened up. It seems to be changing my whole system. I'm getting the yips in everything, but mostly on the putting green. I'll just have to stick it out until my system adjusts."
Palmer's father, Deacon Palmer, has long been after his son to stop smoking, but what triggered the latest withdrawal from tobacco was a sinus attack during the recent chilly, rainy week in San Francisco. Palmer had his sinuses drained, and the attending physician, Dr. William Taylor, made the usual suggestion.
"He told me to stop smoking," says Palmer. "I agreed to stop if he'd stop, too. He agreed and I said, 'O.K., you've got yourself a game.' "
There is one thing that bothers Palmer more than nonsmoking, however, and that is nonwinning. Last year he played in 20 tournaments and won seven, a rate of better than one in three. This year he has played in five, missing the cut at the Crosby, fumbling in untypical fashion an excellent chance to win at San Francisco and finishing a dismal 41st at Palm Springs. Palmer has tried to stop smoking before, and the experiment always ended the same way: one three-putt green too many and he was bumming cigarettes until someone could run and fetch him a fresh pack of his own. He has now stopped for 11 days, while three-putting 18 greens.
Despite their poor records so far. Palmer, Nicklaus and Boros will be in sharp contention soon—and so will Gary Player. He is still at home in South Africa, where his wife recently gave birth to a baby girl.
The confusion emerging from the West Coast is, like an obscure Zen poem or a barking dog, trying to tell us something. It certainly has in the past. In 1959 Art Wall won the Bing Crosby in January and launched a year in which he also took the Masters and was the leading money winner. In 1960 Palmer started the year that finally established him as the best player of his day by winning the Palm Springs Classic with closing rounds of 66 and 65. In 1961 Bob Goalby and Gary Player, by winning at Los Angeles and San Francisco, supplied a forecast of the conquests that would soon fall to them. In 1962 Phil Rodgers, who would have been pro golf's rookie of the year but for the simultaneous debut of Jack Nicklaus, won at Los Angeles, and last year Palmer and Nicklaus opened their $100,000-plus seasons with victories at Los Angeles and Palm Springs.
There is every reason to believe that this winter's sojourn in California is revealing, too. L.A. Open Champion Harney, who was born in Worcester, Mass. 34 years ago, has chosen to retire with his wife and four children to the ordered life of a country club job in northern California and will play in only half a dozen 1964 events. He is one of golf's longest hitters, however, and in spite of a curtailed schedule last summer still managed to tie Palmer before losing a playoff at the $100,000 Thunder bird Open. Then, a week later, he bogeyed the last hole to finish just one stroke back of Boros, Palmer and Jacky Cupit in the U.S. Open. He is capable of even more success this year.
Harney is long, but pound for yard the tour's longest hitter is Chi Chi Rodriguez, the 1,900-ounce, 5-foot-7 Puerto Rican who won at San Francisco. When Chi Chi first joined the pro tour in 1960, before he developed the nasty habit of outhitting his bigger brethren, he used women's clubs and was something to see in action.
"I'll never forget him," says a touring caddie. "He wore a white shirt with big gold cuff links, a straw hat and loud brown shoes. When he swung he picked his club straight up like someone knocking apples out of a tree."
Today he uses men's clubs, dresses in more somber shades of brown and orange and swings like a man trying to hit a golf ball 320 yards, which he sometimes does. His new ability to hit consistently for distance is something Rodriguez stumbled on while practicing at home last winter. He calls it a "secret" and has bottled the ingredient in book form for sale at $2 a copy starting in March. Chi Chi's ability to outhit players half a foot taller and 50 pounds heavier does not exactly endear him to his fellow pros. Neither does another more puckish habit of Chi Chi's.
"How about that?" he will ask the gallery when he has unleashed a particularly resounding drive. "How about a little squirt like me outdriving these big fellows?"
"The first time he pulled that routine on me," says one player. "I thought, 'It won't look so good if I flatten him right here, will it?' But I sure felt like it."
This tendency is one of the two things that may keep Chi Chi from being among the top 10 money winners this year, since there is an even chance he will be stuffed in an angry opponent's golf bag and tossed into a pond. The other is that Rodriguez probably will play in no more than 25 tournaments. Both his parents are dead, and the money he wins on the tour is going toward construction of a house near San Juan for the three sisters and two brothers he supports.
"I want to get home to the family," he says, "and watch our house going up." He can also use the time learning more lines, for he has a showman's sense of humor. "Do you want to see the fastest draw in the West?" he asked the press at San Francisco. Getting an affirmative nod, Chi Chi rose to his feet and took the stance of a gunslinger.
"Well," said a writer, "let's see it."
"You mean you want me to do it again?" sulked Chi Chi.
While Harney and Rodriguez might be classified as surprise winners, Lema's victory in the Crosby was as predictable as the champagne that flowed at its conclusion. Last year Lema was intent on proving that his fast finish of 1962 was no mistake. He proved it. This year he has set his sights on a major championship, and he may well win one. Lema is an emotional jumping bean in a game that demands the temperament of a potato, but his Crosby victory has put him into a relaxed and confident frame of mind that not even his 13 on the last hole at Palm Springs can shatter. He is a long driver, a sharp wedge player and often a brilliant putter. These three ingredients mean to a golfer roughly what brains, talent and looks mean to an actress. They are not exactly handicaps.
Nor, in another sense, was Art Wall's first victory since 1960 much of a surprise. Remember Art Wall? Try. He was quickly forgotten after his 1959 Masters win, because Wall, unless he is winning tournaments, is hard to remember. Unlike Lema, Wall has never driven golf balls out of a hotel window. Unlike other touring pros, he never smokes or drinks or plays the trumpet or dances the twist. He is satisfied with chopped steak instead of filet mignon. He is most subdued and also most pleasant. This year he gives promise of again becoming one of the tour's most effective golfers.
"I'm not a great player," he says. "That's a category I reserve for Palmer and Boros and someday Nicklaus. But I'm a good one. I've had a back injury for the last few years that has constricted my swing. But now the back feels fine, I can take a full swing at the ball and I see no reason, if my health holds up, why I can't start playing well again." To judge by his showing in California this winter, Wall already has started.
Tommy Jacobs started when he was 16. That was in 1951 when he won the USGA Junior Championship and went to the semifinals of the national amateur. But then, in a sense, he stopped. He has always been a very competitive golfer, yet a conservative one. Last week at Palm Springs he changed tactics, and the change just might make Jacobs the player he promised to be 13 years ago.
"I have always pitty-patted the ball around the course," he explained. "It must have made anyone watching me feel sick, but that was all I felt capable of. Finally, I made up my mind to go for the pin all of the time, regardless. If you are playing good golf you have to take advantage of it. Now I am hitting the ball as confidently as I did when I was a kid."
He needed all the confidence he had on Sunday afternoon to outlast the most confusing circumstance of the entire 1964 tour: the performance of 53-year-old Jimmy Demaret. Pot-bellied, joyous Jimmy has been seen primarily in recent years in his senior statesman's role of a TV golf commentator. Indeed, he was supposed to have helped announce Sunday's play on TV, but it was Arnold Palmer who got handed the mike, while Jimmy puffed his splendid way into the playoff against Jacobs. Had Demaret not missed two 30-inch putts on the last four holes, he would have won. That is the part of the Zen poem that only a fool would attempt to explain.