They may all wear white socks and chew gum and crack ice cubes with their teeth, anything to be irritating, but there is, nevertheless, one thing you must like about Texans: when they call something an international event it does not mean they are just inviting some country folk from Pennsylvania or Kentucky to come on down for a long weekend.
The Houston Champions International golf tournament, played last week over the Cypress Creek course that will be the site of the Ryder Cup matches between U.S. and British professionals this October, seemed at times like a Berlitz reunion. The American household names were there, of course, doing their normal household chores: Arnold Palmer making birdies on rive of the last seven holes one day, Billy Casper one-putting 12 greens and shooting a course-record 65 on the next and Jack Nicklaus being penalized two strokes for delay of game and ending up as a TV commentator describing how Frank Beard beat Palmer to win another 'lil old $23,000. There was also Ben Hogan, who did not get tired walking the fairly flat terrain as he played meticulously and finished tied for third, Masters Champion Gay Brewer, who looked tired and played tired, and Doug Sanders, who limped and then withdrew, having developed a drop of water on the knee after a pool-side fall one night.
But do you know Jean Garaialde? Well, he is the French national champion from Versailles, and he speaks English well enough to respond to the Texan in Bermuda shorts who quite smartly said "Mishoor Gene" to him. Or Ramon Sota? He is from Santander, Spain and insists that you do not say he is from Madrid, because he does not particularly like that city. Or Wilf Homenuik? He is from Winnipeg, Man., and it probably is snowing there right now.
Nor was that the end of Houston's foreign-entry list. In their desire to have an interesting international field, Jimmy Demaret and Jack Burke, who run the Champions, invited the most unusual pro golfer in the world today, Sewsunker (Papwa) Sewgolum, a 37-year-old Hindu from Durban, South Africa. Papwa plays the game cross-handed. This means he grips the club with his left hand below his right, a frightening sight to behold. That he can get the club back at all is a tribute to the resiliency of the human body. "If I tried to do that I would break both my wrists," says Casper.
Strangely enough, both Papwa's backswing and follow-through look smooth and normal. The grip does restrict the distance of his shots, particularly his drives, which rarely exceed 225 yards, but it also enables him to control his shots with remarkable accuracy. He missed only two fairways off the tee during his first three rounds.
Papwa was competing in the U.S. for the first time, and he was playing a 7,100-yard course, which was 500 yards longer than any he had ever seen before. "I don't mind hitting woods for my second shot on the par-4s once in a while," he said, "but here I do it all the time. I even have to hit woods on the par-3s."
The cross-handed swing was only a part of Papwa's mystique. He dressed almost like a caddie, even wearing a button-front shirt with rolled-up short sleeves—no clothing manufacturer anywhere is sending him a dozen pair of slacks and mock turtleneck shirts every month. He stands only 5'4" and weighs 150 pounds, most of it located around his middle. He is happy to talk to anyone who wants to chat with him on the course. One lady came up and asked him if Papwa was the name of his tribe back home, and he started to laugh. "Oh, no," he said. "Papwa means 'small child.' " But he did not smile when a marshal told him, "The way you hit the ball is ridiculous." "Why?" Papwa said. "The ball goes perfect, doesn't it?"
Papwa started playing cross-handed when he learned the game as a 14-year-old caddie in Durban and has stuck with his swing except for a brief period when he tried to play the normal way and saw his handicap go from two to seven.
He turned pro in 1958 and, until the South African government strengthened its apartheid policies concerning athletic competitions more than a year ago, he played in most of the open tournaments in South Africa. Very often, according to South African Harold Henning, Papwa scored better than either Gary Player or Henning himself. Now Papwa can play only in the nonwhite tournaments, which he generally wins, but the first prize is rarely more than $100, and he has a wife and five children to support.
Last winter an Indian businessman in Durban told Papwa that he would pay the plane fare to the U.S. and Europe, and when Gary Player helped arrange the invitation to the Champions tournament, Papwa decided to come.
It has not been an uneventful trip. He lost his suitcase and golf clubs at customs in Los Angeles, but did not realize it until he arrived in Houston. It took two days for his things to catch up with him. Meanwhile, he was trying to enter two other U.S. tournaments during his stay. Because he does not have an official player's card, he can compete in only three events in the U.S., and he must be invited by the respective tournament sponsors. An invitation to the New Orleans Open, being held this weekend, was managed, but Papwa did not know if New Orleans was in the next state or the next continent, and he was worried about transportation costs. Discovering that he could fly to New Orleans for $24 was a pleasant surprise and left him able to concentrate on his golf, which was astonishingly good until he ate a Texas fried-chicken dinner on Saturday night. An ulcer victim, he became violently ill and was hardly able to get to the course on Sunday, but he still shot a 78. This, when put with his earlier 75-73-73, gave him a 299 that tied such name pros as Bobby Nichols and Charley Sifford.
While Sewgolum added interest to the Champions field, it was Nicklaus, Palmer and Beard who made the news. On the second day of the tournament Nicklaus, who is a slow player, was paired with Al Geiberger, who usually moves at a normal rate, and Cary Middlecoff. In his prime Middlecoff was the slowest tour pro in captivity. Now that he is 46 years old, he has slowed up. The result was predictable. As Nicklaus and his group teed off on 16, the threesome ahead of them was putting out on 18. At that moment Jack Tuthill, the PGA tournament director, decided to penalize each of them two strokes for slow play. When Nicklaus was told he angrily sent his pilot to rev up his airplane and informed a PGA official he was withdrawing because of "shin splints." But he later calmed down and agreed to stay. Geiberger registered his protest the next day when he teed off on the first hole, threw his driver to his caddie and ran down the fairway toward his ball.
Meanwhile, Palmer was shooting a second-day 66 that included his brilliant birdie streak, and he looked like a certain winner even when he followed it up with a rather uninspired 70 on Saturday.
An early leader can usually throw in a 70 in a big tournament and still be safe, but when he follows it with a 71 he is likely to be in more trouble than a cross-handed Indian, and that is what Palmer did. With nine holes to play on Sunday he was three strokes up on Frank Beard, but then Beard chipped in on the 12th for a birdie, and when Palmer three-putted his lead was almost gone.
The Houston Champions now became a replica of the Tournament of Champions at Las Vegas a month ago, where Beard fought Palmer gamely and then birdied the last hole to win. That time Beard sank an 8-footer. This time he needed an 18-footer to win. As Palmer watched, Beard hit his putt very hard, and squarely into the center of the cup. Palmer grimaced. He looked as if his stomach hurt, and he hadn't even had fried chicken.