The Bing Crosby National Pro-Amateur Championship has one of the highest ratings of all televised golf shows, so it is completely fitting that the host and nature should conspire to make the most of the game's dramatic possibilities. Last week, in the climatic wilds of Monterey Peninsula, the pair outdid themselves. The 24th renewal of the Crosby was played in weather that would have made the witches of Macbeth flee their caldrons and fly for cover, and when it was over young Bruce Crampton, as handsome a leading man as any drama could hope to cast, was the winner. Understandably pleased with his role, Crampton stood on the 18th green Sunday afternoon smiling broadly, but the rest of the world's best pros were hardly as calm. They would long remember the 1965 Crosby as the kind of place from which a fellow—such as Doug Sanders (left)—was lucky to escape alive.
The weather is a topic of conversation that inundates the Crosby, year in, year out and year around, as if the tournament were a meteorological convention instead of a sports event. There is no real reason the weather should be frightful—Monterey Peninsula is not always insufferable in January—but somehow the Crosby climate reacts to the attention it receives, behaving like an old trouper who refuses to abandon stage center. This year it greeted the players on the first morning of the tournament with some glorious midwinter sunshine, forcing the golfers and gallery to shuck their mackintoshes, tweeds and Shetland pullovers and laugh at the official forecasters, who had predicted storms. By mid-afternoon the tweeds and Shetlands and mackintoshes were back on, for the duration, and the laughs were over. Only Arnold Palmer had the nerve to joke about the weather after that, and he should not have. On Friday morning, having just birdied the first hole, he looked at the angry clouds scudding a few feet overhead and started singing "Oh, what a beautiful mornin' " on his way to the 2nd tee. He was so engrossed in song that he tripped over a low strand of wire and fell on his face. He did not have another birdie all day. But the next afternoon, with the wind howling and TV towers collapsing and his score a shambles, Arnold got some measure of revenge. On the 545-yard 18th hole at Pebble Beach he hit what looked like a laugh of a golf shot, a three-wood that he aimed out over the ocean in the general direction of Tokyo. As he watched patiently, the ball went 50 yards out to sea, and the wind then blew it back to the front of the green. This unforgettable effort brought him one of the three birdies scored on the hole all day.
Whenever the talk at this Crosby switched from the weather to golf, it was likely to move to that other most interesting subject, one that never seems to bore the followers of tournament pros, the Palmer-Nicklaus rivalry. By now the pros are taking the regency of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus pretty much for granted. One even hears such irreverent remarks as that of the pro who said: "I'm sick of them." But Palmer at the age of 35 and Nicklaus at 25 show no more signs of stepping aside than does Charles de Gaulle. Now, with Nicklaus playing his first tournament of 1965, the rivalry was being assessed again.
It is always a surprise to rediscover how very young Jack Nicklaus is in view of his superb record during his first three years as a pro. This was emphasized on the opening day of the Crosby, because it was Jack's 25th birthday. Everyone on the golf course seemed to know it. When Nicklaus reached the tee of the 16th hole on Cypress Point, where he played his first round, the gallery encamped on the hillside above broke out in a dissonant rendition of Happy Birthday.
Having reached the quarter-century mark, Nicklaus was in a mood at the Crosby to reflect momentarily on himself and his future. "My ambition," he said quite frankly, "is to be the greatest golfer who ever lived, just as it is Arnold's ambition and everyone else's who plays the game seriously. But we have different ways of going at it. Arnold wants to win the Grand Slam, or what they now call the Grand Slam [the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA], because he would like to do something that no one has ever done before. I don't yet know what I would have to do to become the greatest. But I think Sam Snead was wrong when he said publicly the other day that I have reached my peak, though I believe I have an idea what he means.
"When I think of being the greatest golfer, I remind myself that I am only 25, whereas Arnold didn't reach his peak until he was 29 and Hogan until he was 36. Right now I think you would have to say that Hogan was the best ever. That is the goal, but I don't know how you get there. Maybe I could win the Grand Slam, but what would I do after that if I was still young?" Jack laughed. "Win two Grand Slams?"
With 10 years of seniority on Nicklaus, Palmer's future is well past the analyzing stage. This year, for instance, he expects to play in only about 15 tournaments—all the major championships, including the British Open—and devote considerably more time to his Arnold Palmer Company. "But that's just for this year," Arnold will remind you. "Maybe next year I'll go back to playing a lot more tournaments." Every wrinkle in his forehead seems to expose the main thought that lurks there: Grand Slam.
Only two golfers at the Crosby appeared really capable of challenging Palmer and Nicklaus through the year ahead. One is Bill Casper Jr., a self-contained and soft-spoken 33-year-old who has been in the forefront of tournament golf just as long as Palmer and is second only to Arnold in the list of alltime money winners. Casper is on the finest streak of his auspicious career, having finished ninth or better in his last 16 tournaments, a remarkable show of consistency dating back to June of last year.
The other heir-hopeful at the top of most lists is Tony Lema. He is a wise and thoughtful golfer who understands what he is doing whenever he hits a shot, a talent that is rarer than one might think among the 30 or 40 professional golfers who are good enough to win a PGA event. As Dave Marr puts it, "When Casper or Lema go out to play a round they don't worry about how they are going to hit the ball. They know they are hitting it well, and the way they score depends pretty much on the kind of breaks they get. That's a hell of an advantage."
There was no particular reason to think on Thursday that you would have to look past this quartet to find the winner of the Crosby—but you could be sure some strange things would happen before any of them, or anybody else, would be listening to Bing's gags and accepting the top money of $7,500 late Sunday afternoon.
Because it is set up as a pro-am, the Crosby field is bulky and has to play on three different courses the first three days. This means an element of fortune enters into the tournament and an element of deception. The three courses, in ascending order of difficulty, are Monterey Peninsula Country Club, Cypress Point and Pebble Beach. A leader on the first day is not really a leader at all if he happens to have played the easiest course. In addition, it is helpful to play the hardest course when the weather is relatively amiable, and vice versa. Casper and Lema were actually off to a good start on Thursday when they shot 70 and 71 respectively at Cypress Point, as were Nicklaus (72) and Palmer (71), even though they all were well behind the leaders.
Thursday offered a major shock in the Crosby tradition, this one the performance of Ken Venturi. Playing Cypress Point, a course he has known for years and has handled as if it were part of his own backyard, Venturi came in with a hapless 81. His first shot of the day was a drive out of bounds that sliced so monumentally it cleared the wide expanse of the adjoining practice area. He wound up with a 7 on that par-4 hole and immediately followed it with a double-bogey 7 on the 2nd. But it was not a totally lost day for Ken. His amateur partner was a San Francisco disc jockey named Jim Lange. While Venturi was chasing his ball from tree to trap, Lange, who likes to describe himself to his rock-'n'-roll followers as Captain Showbiz, was firing enough birdies to make his 11-stroke handicap look as distinctive as his spivish black-and-white-checked peg-leg slacks. On 11 of the 18 holes, Lange was able to help the team total by anywhere from one to four strokes, giving them a best-ball total of 61, a handy 20 strokes better than Venturi's individual score and good enough to lead that section of the tournament. Lange's extraordinary round made it possible for Ken to win the daily prize of $1,000 that was awarded to the professional half of the team with the low best-ball score.
There was a disturbing reason for Venturi's catastrophic performance. As long as two months ago there were reports that he was suffering from a circulatory ailment in his hands, but he stoutly denied it. Actually, he thought at the time that the peeling skin on his fingers was due to some allergy, and he tried taking shots for the malady. He did not improve, however, so he visited Dr. Robert Woods, the same man who had treated the dead finger of Dodger Pitcher Sandy Koufax two years ago. Woods diagnosed the trouble as something called Raynaud's phenomenon, which disrupts normal arterial circulation. He prescribed two drugs to expand the arteries and another to thin the blood. The trouble cleared up quickly in Venturi's left hand, but the third and fourth lingers of his right hand are still numb and practically useless.
Venturi had been advised by his doctor to quit golf until his hands were cured, but Ken is enormously conscientious about his commitments, especially since he has only recently recovered from his long slump. So he played at Los Angeles, where he tied for 60th and didn't make a sou, and he came to the Crosby. "But when this tournament is over, I'm going to put the clubs away," he said. "I'm going to do what the doctor tells me. There is no point in playing this way. I have no feel for the club." Venturi unwound his fingers from the hand warmer he had been carrying in his hip pocket and said, "Here, feel this finger." It was cold. When he hits a shot, the fingers turn as white as chalk, and after he plays a few holes in the chilly northern California air they become blue. Venturi's troubles turned Thursday bleak.
Friday was an ebullient day—at least for Tony Lema. Playing Monterey, he birdied six of the first nine holes, finished with a 65 and earned a pleasant three-stroke lead. But he knows the Crosby. "I don't think anybody leads this tournament until everyone has played each of the three courses," he said. "Don't forget, I haven't played Pebble Beach yet. I am just momentarily treading water as the leader." How true.
If ever a day displayed what makes the Crosby memorable, it was Saturday. Gale, storm, disaster, warned the weatherman, so, naturally, morning arrived benign as a favorite uncle. Over on the easy Monterey course a tour rookie from Wichita Falls, Texas named Rocky Thompson teed off early with the hope, he later explained, of maybe shooting a 65 and gaining some ground on the 32 players ahead of him in the standings. Instead he came in with a so-what 68 and repaired to the clubhouse for lunch. About this time, when a lot of the big names were only on the first nine of Pebble Beach and Cypress Point, the real weather arrived, worse late than never. The wind mounted to 30 knots, 40 knots, 50 knots. Seagulls and ducks descended into fairways because they could not fly, and neither could golf balls. Soon the situation degenerated to a Dunkirk of pro golf: get off the beach with what you can save.
A good measure of the wind was the clubs that the pros had to use. The 7th hole at Pebble Beach is a little 110-yard wedge shot. On Saturday afternoon Al Mengert made a hole in one there—by hitting a full three-iron. Playing against the wind at Cypress Point, Paul Harney, one of the very long hitters, failed to reach the green at the 367-yard 17th hole with two full driver shots. On the same hole Mason Rudolph had to use a driver, a three-wood and a firm eight-iron, and he hit them all well. At the 222-yard 16th at Cypress, George Bayer used a one-iron to get across the water the safe way—normally a five-iron shot. At the 218-yard 17th at Pebble Beach, powerful Mike Souchak could not even reach the bunker in front of the green with a driver, a distance of no more than 190 yards.
"It was absolutely the worst conditions I've played under since St. Andrews last year and that was an easier course," said an unebullient Tony Lema after finishing with a 79. Only the strongest and smartest of golfers had any hope of breaking 80 once the wind was up, and not many did. Thanks to his birdie at the 18th, Palmer made 77 and survived the cut by a bare two strokes. (Since he shot an 80 the next day, he might have spared himself the trouble.) Casper, playing in the wind, had a 76; Nicklaus' great strength helped him salvage a 77; Souchak finished in the dark with a 76—all brilliant rounds considering the conditions.
When this savage day was done the drenched spectators stared in disbelief at the scoreboard. The second-day leaders had been decimated: Charlie Sifford—83; Bill Collins—78; Dave Ragan—81; Bob Goalby—79; Don January—88; Doug Sanders—82; Bill Ogden—79. PGA champion Bobby Nichols turned in a 90. Of those who now stood among the first six, only Lema and Bruce Crampton, an Australian who has become a regular on the U.S. tour, had played at Pebble Beach, and Crampton had been fortunate enough to tee off early. His 73 put him in a tie for fourth place at even-par 215.
But who was the Crosby leader by nightfall Saturday? Why, it was a stunned Rocky Thompson, whose 212 was two strokes ahead of anybody else. Tournament officials had quite a time finding Rocky for the traditional press conference. They finally located him gawking at the scoreboard. "I didn't even make the golf team at the University of Houston," he told reporters.
The next morning was Sunday, when the low 70 pros and the low 40 pro-am teams played Pebble Beach. The weather had exhausted itself, so everyone was in friendly sunshine, and the course had exhausted itself, too. It was so torn up from Saturday that the pleased pros were permitted to improve their lies.
Rocky Thompson's glory lasted only until he came up with three straight bogeys. Meanwhile, ahead of him, Bruce Crampton was making birdies galore—four on the first six holes to take the lead. Thereafter no one came within two strokes of catching Crampton, and he breezed home with a three under-par 284. Immediately behind him were those familiar names: Lema—287; Nicklaus—288; Casper—288.
Ironically, it was Nicklaus who was partly responsible for Crampton's victory. On the day before the tournament began, Jack spent three quarters of an hour on the practice tee helping Crampton get rid of a hook that had been bothering him. "By Friday my swing started to feel a lot better. I began to get a little wind in my sails," Bruce said. "It was very gracious for a man of his caliber to spend so much time helping out a nobody like me," he added, showing perhaps an excess of humility.
The fact is that Crampton played three exceptional rounds of golf following a rather uninspired 75 at Cypress Point on Thursday. He had 67 on Friday, the 73 in the gale at Pebble on Saturday and his splendid closing round of 69 on Sunday, the best score of the day by anyone. "When I sank a 50-foot putt from just off the edge on the 16th green," he said later, "I began to feel it was one of those times when you are just destined to win." In a game as capricious as golf, a man soon learns to believe in destiny.