Until this past fall the name of Gay Brewer Jr. was hardly one to be conjured with in the pro circuit. Then in September, Brewer won the Greater Seattle Open; he won again in November in Hawaii and Saturday, with fellow Texan Butch Baird, he won the first PGA National Four-Ball Championship near Palm Beach. Brewer was as happy as his name implied he should be.
Even among those who were aware of Brewer's recent wins, the Brewer-Baird team went practically unnoticed as the tournament was getting under way. The two justified the inattention by shooting a best-ball 70 that left them in a tie for 60th place on the first day. But on their second round, playing the shorter (by 350 yards) and somewhat easier West Course of the PGA National's two intricately devised layouts, Brewer and Baird set a new best-ball course record of 60, 12 under par. To this score Brewer contributed an eagle and six of the 10 birdies. After a so-so 67 for their third round—on the East Course—the team found itself tied for second, a stroke off the leading pace of Jay and Lionel Hebert, with whom they were paired for Saturday's final round.
For the first nine holes the final was a marvelously tight struggle. Playing their way boldly in the midst of the enormous flash bunkers and snaking water hazards that characterize this superb course, the Hebert brothers shot five birdies and four pars. Yet, over the same distance, Brewer and Baird had six birdies, five of them Brewer's, and Brewer did not bother to putt for his birdie at the 6th hole when Baird had already made one for the team.
Going to the 10th hole the two teams were even, but Brewer was playing unbeatable golf all by himself. A 6-footer from Dallas with a huge arc to his swing and a funny little loop at the top of it, he was driving the ball well past the long-hitting Lionel Hebert and then hitting his irons dead to the pin. His birdies at the 10th, 12th and 13th holes put his team three strokes ahead and out of reach of the Heberts. Baird's final birdie at the 17th (again Brewer, whose ball was inside Baird's, did not putt) put them 10 under par for the day and tied them for the best-ball course record on the East Course. They won, as one would expect, laughing.
Brewer's half of the $20,000 winner's prize was the biggest check of his life. When asked if his 20 birdies and one eagle during the four rounds of the Four-Ball represented the best golf of his career, he replied with a wistful smile, "Yes, I think you could say that."
The idea of a four-ball team tournament for the playing pros is not a new one. Back in the dark ages of Hogan, Snead and Demaret, the Miami Four-Ball was a fixture on the pro tour, but it was abandoned in the early '50s after two successful decades. Even today, some of the best locker-room yarns of the oldtimers are the oft-told tales of fun and friction that resulted from incongruous pairings in the Miami Four-Ball.
Two years ago, the suggestion of another four-ball was made at the annual players' meeting during the San Diego Open. At the time CBS was filming a team-play series for television, and nearly all the players who were taking part enjoyed it and felt that a team-play tournament would present a welcome relief to the monotony of the week-after-week 72-hole format. Jay Hebert, who was then chairman of the PGA Tournament Committee, suggested that they wait until the PGA's new club at Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. was ready. Then the pros could put on their own tournament at their own course and have something a little special to offer the public.
Hebert was thinking in terms of a year, but there were false starts and minor breakdowns before the PGA finally got itself installed at the Palm Beach site. The place had a big, modern clubhouse and two splendid 18-hole courses designed by the late Dick Wilson, one of the true craftsmen of golf architecture.
By May the tournament committee felt enough confidence in its idea to put the Four-Ball on its schedule for the slack December days, and later it set up a purse of $125,000. Inasmuch as all the prizes would have to be split, anything less than that would be unlikely to draw the blue-ribbon players away from their firesides so close to Christmas. Paul Warren of Cleveland, one of the ablest men in the country at organizing golf tournaments, was retained to run the event.
Easier, the pros discovered, said than done. December, more than slack, is dead in southern Florida, with the tourists still in the North and the locals guarding the dollar closely in preparation for Santa Claus. Because the television people, who were chipping in $54,000, felt they would be murdered by pro football on Sunday, the tournament had to end on Saturday afternoon, allowing it only one day on which the working population could join the gallery. There was hope of raising some extra funds through a pro-amateur event on the preceding Sunday, but the local amateurs took a dim view of the $300 entry fee. The price was lowered to $200, then to $125 before enough amateurs signed up. Public-spirited merchants and golf bugs bought up enough season tickets to produce a $25,000 advance, but this was only a third of what was hoped for.
The prize money attracted all but a smattering of the country's best pros, including Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who are usually enough to insure a stampede at any gate. Because the event was being played on the PGA's own courses, it was agreed that any PGA member would be eligible to play. The turnout was a surprise: 107 teams, the largest field of pros ever to start in an official PGA event. "This is the only tournament in history," said the veteran Chick Harbert, "where the players out-number the gallery."
One of the most fascinating facets of this tournament was the teaming. Some pairs, of course, seemed obvious—like the Hebert brothers, Lionel and Jay, who normally travel together on the tour. Strangely, though, they have teamed together only twice before—in the CBS-TV matches. As Lionel explained it, "We were about the two strongest players in town, so we always had to play against each other to make a match." There were teams born of palships on the tour, such as former Masters champion Art Wall with Doug Ford, who have been buddies since they were both winning pros some years back. Julius Boros and George Bayer were other naturals.
Probably the most unlikely of all the pairings was that of old pro Bill Casper and Homero Blancas, the young man from Houston who has just been named rookie of the year for 1965. It is not in the nature of things for rookies to hobnob with the big established stars, but Casper said, "I was very impressed with the way he hit the ball. He keeps it low, much the way I do, and I thought he would be very good in the wind."
People speculated, too, about the Palmer-Nicklaus pairing. Some felt it would detract from the competition—and public interest—to have the tour's two biggest attractions on the same team. Others, knowing of the tendency of these two to needle one another, wondered if they might not forget the partnership in the heat of battle. Close as they are personally, there is nothing either likes better than to beat the other—and this does not discount their play in the Canada Cup that they won twice for the U.S., in Paris in 1963 and Hawaii in 1964.
On the contrary, the Palmer-Nicklaus team experimented at Palm Beach with schemes to improve their teamwork. On the first day, Palmer drove first on all the holes, and on the second day Nicklaus drove first. So far as they could tell, there was no advantage either way, so on the third day they alternated the honor, depending from time to time on how they felt as they stood at the tee. Where they most helped one another was in club selection. For instance, when Palmer was short with a five-iron to the green on the 8th hole, Nicklaus hit a four. Occasionally, but not often, they would help each other with advice on the contours of the greens. Like just about all the partnerships, if one of the players had a makable putt for a birdie, the other would putt first to insure the par even though he might be closer to the hole.
Actually none of the pros came up with any partnership ideas that are not known to just about every weekend golfer in the world, since four-ball is, without a doubt, the commonest form of golf for the amateur. But they loved the tournament, particularly the ones who were doing well. "It's a lot more fun than regular tournament golf," said Bobby Nichols after bringing in a 65 with his partner, R. H. Sikes, on the third day to go into a tie for second at 19 under par, just a stroke behind the leading Hebert brothers and tied with Brewer and Baird.
In the long run, luck plays the major part in four-ball success. Two golfers can be playing beautifully and scoring superbly, but if their birdies all come on the same holes they will lose to a team that manages to divide its birdies among holes. The trick is to have your partner play well on the holes where you are in the boondocks, and vice versa.
That was the trouble with Palmer and Nicklaus. Starting the final round only two strokes behind the leading Hebert brothers, they were 18 strokes under par for the tournament. On Saturday, though, they were not putting well, and their four birdies came only on the par-5 holes, leaving them in a tie for seventh. Casper and Blancas were in a similar fix, and their routine two-under-par 70 left them 10 strokes back after their earlier promising rounds.
In fact, the celebrities of golf were notable for their absence from the top as the tournament ended. Senior citizen Sam Snead, paired with Gardner Dickinson, played marvelous golf to finish in a tie for third with Nichols and Sikes, who had a lackluster 68 on the final round. But then came names like Bert Yancey and Dudley Wysong, Bob Shave and John Berry, and Billy Farrell and Babe Lichardus. None of these frightened the oldtime front-runners, who pronounced their best-ball tournament a huge success. That would change, of course, if the "unknowns" seemed about to make a habit of beating the pro pros.