The name of the tournament, the Astrojet Classic, sounded like a pylon race for commercial pilots who had proved they could miss Jamaica Bay consistently. And even though 54 of the top professional football and major league baseball players would be competing, it seemed on the surface like nothing more significant in golf than another of those member-pro-guest-celebrity affairs that are as much in vogue these days as the cashmere turtleneck. For a couple of reasons, however, the Astrojet Classic turned out to be a stimulating event last week: a football-baseball partnership affair that must rank as the most unusual in the sport until some promoter finds a way to team up a group of civil-rights marchers with their favorite plantation owners.
To begin with, getting a collection of Bart Starrs and Mickey Mantles together is not easy. In fact, there is only one period on the calendar when it is possible, a brief interval from late January into February, the time between the merciful end of pro football and the spring training start of the eight-month-long baseball season.
American Airlines, the inventive sponsor, seized a precious week in there to bring together the two different kinds of gladiators, not to let them display their natural skills, but to socialize and show off a singular lack of sporting talent at another game—with a good deal of money at stake. In fact, the most remarkable aspect of the tournament was the prize money. The airline put up $30,-000 as a purse to rouse the golfing competitiveness of football and baseball players. This was more money than the PGA tour offered in 27 of its tournaments only a decade ago, and the winners, who turned out to be a couple of 13- and 15-handicappers named Bill Mazeroski and Paul Krause, received $5,000 each, which was as much as Ben Hogan got for taking his fourth U.S. Open championship in 1953.
Thus American Airlines proved not only that quarterbacks and pitchers can live happily together, but that golf is continuing to rise faster than the pot-pancake cult.
February 27, 1967
The athletes dressed their roles every day of the 54-hole partnership competition, which was held at the La Costa Country Club-Spa Hotel, a multimillion-dollar lodge, watering hole, stable, golf and real-estate complex near San Diego that may become the bursitis capital of the world. They wore the alpaca sweaters and the overflap shoes, just like the touring pros. Some of them even played like pros—among them the San Francisco 49ers' John Brodie, the New York Mets' Ralph Terry, the Washington Senators' Ken Harrelson and the San Diego Chargers' Ernie Wright.
But there was something wonderfully hilarious about the rest. Here were guys swinging like both housewives and sluggers, chewing tobacco, hollering, taking three from the sand traps, playing for all of that money and leaving La Costa's members wondering if the course would ever get its bunkers raked again.
Among the more interesting sights of the tournament were Willie Mays's line drives from the bunkers, Jim Taylor's Neanderthal stoop over three-foot putts, Mickey Mantle's strike-three follow-through, Chris Burford's ability to race under his own tee shots like the splendid receiver he is, and Norm Snead's pitch-outs—with a wedge. Bob Allison's curving fouls with a driver did not go unnoticed, nor did Mike Ditka's slant-ins with the five-iron. Johnny Unitas was spectacular whenever he tried a roll-out.
It was all great fun, outside and in, for four days—nothing but goofy bogeys, stingers, buffet lines and the music of Murray Arnold's combo on the old bandstand. It was Don Drysdale moving over behind the piano and singing 2 a.m. ballads against a vague montage of Ron Santo, Dave Kocourek, Bob Allison and Don Whitt, the resident pro, behind the drums and bass, and Unitas off to the side bellowing, "Aw-right, let's get after it, here."
And then, of course, there was the inevitable fact that somebody had to win the tournament. The leaders from the opening day, the Pittsburgh Pirates' second baseman, Bill Mazeroski, and the Washington Redskins' defensive safety, Paul Krause, began to think about it. And think. And think. "I can't go out there and play for that kind of dough," said Mazeroski. "Not in front of all those people. I'm starting to choke. On the ball field you've got confidence. You know what you can do. But in golf, with the people so close, and not knowing where the ball is going, it's terrible." Krause said, "This is more pressure than you'll ever feel on a football field. At least there you've got a whole team."
Mazeroski did not know enough about tournament golf to mark his ball properly. He thought you had to put the coin underneath the ball instead of behind it. Krause did not know how to keep score on a best-ball basis. Nor did they know each other. Mazeroski had never even heard of Krause, who was an NFL All-Pro in his rookie year, 1964.
It was typical. The football and baseball stars were almost total strangers when they arrived at La Costa. (Oh, a few were pals—Brodie and Drysdale, for example, who ended up as partners by the luck of the draw.) For the first hours and days the competitors kept noticeably apart in the dining room and bar and lobby of the sprawling, elaborate La Costa lodge. The baseball players moved to one side, and the football celebrities stayed on the other side. But slowly they came together out of genuine curiosity and admiration.
One evening Jim Maloney, the Cincinnati Reds' pitcher, grabbed Green Bay's Jim Taylor by the biceps and said to his tournament partner, Bart Starr, "I never realized it, but this guy is made out of concrete. I can't believe it."
For muscular Mickey Mantle, the San Diego Chargers' Lance Alworth, frail by comparison, was a tourist attraction. "Boy, there's no way you can be a football player," said Mantle. Alworth, the fleet receiver, smiled and retreated.
In general, the pro football players looked smaller than the baseball stars had anticipated—and, in turn, the baseball players were bigger than the football players had imagined. Anyone who could not instantly recognize the athletes and who might have happened upon a conversation group consisting of Drysdale (6'6", 218 pounds), Frank Howard (6'7", 250 pounds), Ken Harrelson (6'2", 190 pounds) and Bob Allison (6'4", 220 pounds), all baseball players, would have immediately identified them as the Packers' front four.
For all of their unnatural grace on the La Costa course, the athletes displayed a raw sense of competitiveness when confronted with the pressure they all feared.
Mazeroski and Krause were not taken too seriously after the first round. No one had watched them play, the gallery displaying strong preferences for the bigger names, such as Mantle, Mays, Kou-fax and Starr. That evening—and early morning—just about everyone wore out his alligator loafers on the dance floor. John Brodie, the best golfer of them all, who once had tried the PGA tour, did one mad frug after another with his pretty wife, Sue. Coming off the dance floor once, wringing wet, he looked down at his natty jacket and said, "Hey! I blew my garb."
The following morning Brodie was too weak to take a practice swing before teeing off. He sat limply in the dining room until he was called, struggled down the stairs, onto the tee, and made a double bogey at the first hole.
"Beautiful," said Drysdale. From there on, however, Brodie played the best golf of the tournament—four under par with his own ball on the remaining 17 holes. This shoved his team into a tie for second with Ralph Terry and George Andrie of the Dallas Cowboys. And they were only three behind Mazeroski and Krause.
That evening everyone delighted in pointing out to Mazeroski that he was playing golf for more money than he had had at stake in the 1960 World Series when he hit the home run that beat the Yankees.
Through nine holes the next day it was close. One stroke separated the three top teams. On the back side, however, the Brodie-Drysdale combination fell behind. One reason, perhaps, was that their fingers ached from signing more autographs than most. But the Terry-Andrie team blazed away toward an 11-under-par 61.
Playing three holes behind Terry and Andrie, it was now all up to Mazeroski and Krause to hold their lead, though neither of them realized it. An official drove up in a scooter next to Krause's wife, Pamela, and said, "They have to par the last three holes to win. Should they be told?" Pamela Krause gulped and said, "I don't know. I just know I don't want to go through anything as nerve-racking as this again."
Mazeroski and Krause were informed, and, like tough athletes in any game, they bore down. Krause hit a two-iron over a lake to within 12 feet of the flag on the par-3 16th and then banged the putt in for a natural birdie. Krause then made a natural par 4 on the 17th, which gave the team a net birdie, and when Mazeroski got in for a par 5 on the 18th for another net birdie they had won by three strokes. They were 31 under par for the three rounds, although neither man had managed a gross individual score of better than 83. No one had won so important a title with such scores since the U.S. Open of 1901.
At the awards ceremony, pros Mazeroski and Krause were asked if they wanted to reject the $5,000 each in order to protect their amateur golf standing. They looked as if they didn't understand the question.