The national doubles championship of golf, held at Oklahoma City last week under the name of—pick one—the PGA Team Championship, the APG Classic, the Who Invitational, all of the above, was chock full of scenes which are perfectly familiar on Saturday afternoons at your local club and yet entirely foreign to the normal procedure of the weekly professional tour.
All those famous players, those $100,000 guys, were out there—and they were picking up after they had driven into the rough. Or they were ramming little putts way past the hole in disgust at missing longer putts. Or they were abandoning all caution and swinging like wild men on practically every shot. They were talking over club selection, discussing how to hit out of bad lies, looking over putts together and—get this—helping each other. Big-money pro golfers were actually helping each other.
But these things have always been a part of successful team play and were not really as much of a surprise as they seemed at first glance. The tournament disproved what any reasonable man thought to be a solid, unassailable theory: that any time you get a bunch of golf teams together for a best-ball, the team of guys named Palmer and Nicklaus are going to win in a breeze. Right?
Wrong. George Archer and Bobby Nichols won, and they had to break out of a closely bunched pack of some of the most anonymous teams in America on Sunday afternoon at Quail Creek Country Club to shoot a 65 and take the championship by two shots.
September 29, 1968
The Archer-Nichols victory climaxed a week of spectacular play in the wind (gusts reached 35 mph at times and averaged around 20 mph through the tournament) in what has become, for players and spectators alike, one of the most entertaining tournaments on the schedule. Until two weeks ago, however, no one was sure if Palmer and Nicklaus would play together at the four-ball. In May the tournament committee had voted that, due to changes in "format and site," the tournament was not the same as before, so that Palmer and Nicklaus would not have to defend. The organization feud had strained relations between the two men. It was rumored that Jack wanted to play with Tom Weiskopf instead of Palmer and that Arnie would play with Dave Marr. Then—whether through intermediaries or as a show of strength and unity or what—the two kings finally managed to get together for their title defense.
Although they started well with a 64 the first day, Palmer and Nicklaus fell back on the second round and were never really in contention. Nonetheless, they provided onlookers with some of the best moments of the tournament, especially in their press conference after their 72 the second day.
"We were miserable, both of us," said Arnie. "We must have covered enough territory to build another 36 holes" (big laugh from press).
"Apiece," said Jack (smaller laugh).
"On 16 [a par-3] we were both in the sand," said Palmer.
"But I was better. I was in there in two, Arn," said Nicklaus.
"Yeah, you had it practically teed up in there," said Palmer.
"I wasn't worried. I knew my partner would get it down in four," said Nicklaus.
"Now you boys know why we call this Quail Creek," said one home-town reporter.
"We didn't see any quail, but we sure saw a lot of creek," said Nicklaus.
"Where we were, we could have hunted quail," said Palmer.
"On 17 I was in the rough and Jack was in the ditch," said Palmer. "I hit my third in the trap, my fourth lipped the cup and I made five. And Jack [who had picked up] was rooting for me all the way" (biggest laugh).
Pairing Palmer with Nicklaus is obviously a natural: super on super. But other teams are joined by different methods, and the makeup of the various pairings has always been one of the most interesting aspects of the team championship. This year was certainly no exception.
Normally, players get together out of close friendship and compatibility. Others combine for business purposes or because their games meld and complement each other. The players enjoy this type of tournament because it is a welcome break from their weekly grind of individual play, an event where the pressure is lessened because it is shared with a partner and one where they can relax and have fun on the course.
At Quail Creek there were the Texans, Don January and Miller Barber; the Oklahomans, Labron Harris and Bob Dickson; the old, Sam Snead and Gardner Dickinson; the new, Bob Murphy and Bob Smith; and the old and the new, Roberto DeVicenzo, 45, of Argentina, and Bobby Cole, 20, of South Africa. There were also Gay Brewer and Billy Casper, two fine putters who had played together in the Ryder Cup matches last October; good buddies, Nichols and Archer; Lee Trevino and Homero Blancas, the Alamo entry; and a bunch of brothers: the Heberts and the Cu-pits, the Jacobses, the Lotzes and the Hills.
The last fraternal team—Dave and Mike Hill, two slender, dark-haired pros from Jackson, Mich.—dominated the tournament through the first two rounds. On Thursday they shot a brilliant 62 at the Twin Hills course, evoking the normal run of awful jokes—you know, twin Hills at Twin Hills—and followed that up with a 65 at Quail Creek.
The knack of four-ball is to play well while your partner is faltering and vice-versa. Up to that point the Hills had, as the pros say, been "ham 'n' eggin' it" marvelously. Dave, the better known of the two, had six birds and an eagle in the first round, while Mike, a 29-year-old rookie who has had two second-place finishes on the tour this summer, holed five birdies on the second day. On Saturday, however, the two staggered, and four teams passed them, teams made up of names right out of a phone book. Dale Douglass and rookie Hale Irwin, two former University of Colorado heroes and winners of the National Pro-Am tournament last year, stood tied at 17 under par with Rives McBee and Monty Kaser, roommates on the tour who, though vast strangers to most golf followers, own between them one national public links title (Kaser) and the U.S. Open 18-hole scoring record (a 64 by McBee in 1966).
But on Sunday, before the inevitable shouts of "Hale Who?" and "Rives What?" could get up a good head of steam, the two mystery teams were gone, caught up along with everybody else in the furious rush of Archer and Nichols. Afterward neither winner was as funny as Palmer or Nicklaus, but with $20,000 each in their pockets they really didn't have to be.