In the World Cup golf tournament, which keeps getting itself staged in places you thought only Lowell Thomas knew about, most of the field would not be able to survive the cut in Mule-shoe's annual member-guest. But there is something wonderfully intriguing about a spectacle that gets a Rumanian out of his country for the first time in 31 years, that sees a Monacan amateur make a hole in one and still shoot 85, that turns up a Finnish pro getting the shakes before a gallery of three, that produces an Italian fan who pays his $4.50 for a ticket and thinks it entitles him to stroll out on the greens and chat with the players, and that, best of all, invents a couple of inscrutable Chinese who steal much of the glory until the last egg has been rolled by Canada.
This was the championship they played last week on a onetime Thoroughbred farm outside Rome in weather that did not make a fellow want to get in his chariot and take a few laps around the old Circus Maximus. This was the World Cup, once known as the Canada Cup, a bringing together of two-man teams from 43 nations under the auspices of the International Golf Association in the grand and noble spirit of goodwill toward duck hooks and high slices, earthwise.
The tournament has been going on for 16 years, and it has turned up in some marvelous places for Nikons and Leicas—Tokyo, Madrid, Paris, Dorado Beach, Buenos Aires and Maui, to mention a few. It has discovered more countries that do not play golf than the Masters, and it has asked most of its competitors to travel like an Olympic torch to reach the first tee. But so what? Golf is no longer the exclusive pastime of Scots, Englishmen and Americans, and last week was Rome's turn to make like a Motor City Open. At the Olgiata Golf Club, Italian royalty, socialites, movie stars, embassy employees and Via Veneto strollers wandered around curiously in the wind and drizzle to stare at a handful of big names—Gary Player, Julius Boros, Lee Trevino, Roberto DeVicenzo and George Knudson, mainly—and more often, when watching Swedes, Austrians, Finns and Czechs, to ponder what is so tricky about the game. All you got to do is grab a bunch of sticks and go thresh around in the trees.
The tournament had an eerie quality, all the way to Canada's victory, for anyone accustomed to the U.S. circuit. The Olgiata club, first of all, was a death-defying one-hour taxi ride from downtown Rome, way out among some beautiful hills where it was carved from an estate owned by the Marchese Mario Incisa della Rochetta, a chunk of real estate that includes a stud farm (where, incidentally, the undefeated Ribot was trained). For the World Cup the club was all decked out in more advertising than an Indy car, not the least of which was a huge banner across the main drive that said "Esso Uniflo." Pretty well decked out, too, was the sparse crowd, which, in all its jewels, miniskirts, pants suits, furs and lockjaw expressions, looked more like it was headed for a George Plimpton party.
November 25, 1968
It was, as a matter of fact, one of the few major golfing events in all of the history of the Eternal City. The Eisenhower Cup for amateurs had been played at Olgiata a few years back, but before that an exhibition constituted a major event. Fred Corcoran, the untiring World Cup director and an old familiar figure in golf, remembered Gene Sarazen and Johnny Farrell once playing a match at the only other course in Rome, the Acquasanta (which means Holy Water), with Benito Mussolini gallerying in an armored car.
The way some of the teams performed, anyone venturing out on Olgiata to watch would have been safer in an armored car. They had excuses, of course. The Czechs, for instance, have to practice around Soviet tanks, so no one thought too harshly of Jan Kunsta's opening 86. When Austria's Hans Stroll fashioned a cool 92, it didn't seem bad for a cat from ski country. The only professional golfer Finland has ever produced, Sygurd Nystrom, loitered around the mid-80s for a while before closing with a 95. But, as he explained, Finland's golf season is only about four or five minutes long. Once, on the second day, he stood nervously over a putt for a par on the 18th hole and finally sank it while three Italians outside the ropes stared moodily at him.
"It is very enjoyable to make a par with a gallery," he said.
It was enjoyable for the Rumanian just to be in town. Paul Tomita was his name. He is the only professional in his country, and he hadn't left it for three decades. He did not arrive until the second round, on Friday, whereupon he went out and shot 39 on the front side—and quit. "I just wanted to see the Rumanian flag raised with all these other nations," he said proudly.
Before all this the attention had been focused on the favored Americans, Lee Trevino and Julius Boros. Trevino was his usual boisterous self. "The way I look I'm at home in any country," he said. "They think I'm Italian here anyhow. What a team we have. The Spaniards send a couple of Spaniards, the Finns a couple of Finns, the Germans a couple of Germans. The United States sends a Mexican and a Hungarian."
Throughout the week Trevino chatted constantly with everyone, gestured, laughed, danced, threw balls to the watchers and took it upon himself to be the unofficial "team" captain for the U.S., which meant Boros' captain. Julius grinned and ambled along smoking as Trevino paced off distances and marked trees and lined up team putts.
Nationalist China was represented by a couple of pupils and admirers of Chen Ching-po, the friendly little man with a Ben Hogan swing who shows up at the Masters every year. One, named Hsieh Yung-yo, had a smile and a bow, a good, slow-motion swing and a putting stroke that looked as if he was tapping home plate with a baseball bat. The other was named Lu Liang-huan. He had a crew cut, an equally sound swing and a more realistic putting stroke.
For three rounds the Chinese, who are from Taiwan, either led or were tied for the lead. Lu shot 69-69-72 and Hsieh managed rounds of 70-75-71. This made for some fascinating interviews with the world press. Lu and Hsieh tried hard to please. "Gleen blake funny," Hsieh would say. "Glass glow wrong for Chinee putt." And Lu would offer, "Hook dliver very inconvenient. Partner must make ball go stlate."
When a storm blew across Olgiata on Saturday afternoon no one knew who was going to lead after the third round. The Chinese had to scurry in from the 16th, the Italians and the Americans from the 18th green. It was ruled that they all would complete the rounds on Sunday morning before teeing off on the final 18. At a party that night Boros was asked by a lady who hadn't heard what had happened what he had shot.
"I got a chip and two putts for 73," he said. "Lee has a 10-footer for 70." The lady thought that over momentarily and moved away, frowning.
Meanwhile, with all good humor, Hsieh and Lu wandered around the immense Cavalieri Hilton saying they had shot 62 and 64. Then they would grin. "Chinee play 16-hole golf."
On Sunday the Chinese still led the championship with just nine holes to play on a day that saw the sun shine fit to make the jewels sparkle. Playing with the Americans, Hsieh and Lu went out in 35 and 36 and jumped two strokes up on Trevino and Boros, largely because Lee started with four bogeys in the first five holes before rallying with three birdies. But the Chinese were doomed to crack, or clack. They clacked at the 15th hole, a par-5, by driving terribly, scraping and topping their seconds, and coming away with bogey-par as Trevino and Boros both got birdies. They would ultimately finish fourth, the Chinese, far better than anyone thought, but disappointed at missing after coming so close to their greatest victory since The Sand Pebbles.
While all this was happening, Canada, principally because of surprising old Al Balding, was running off with everything. Balding had played superbly through the gray days of Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and on sunny Sunday he played even better. He shot another 67 (he had done that Saturday as well) and posted a 72-hole score of 274, 14 under par. He practically hand-carried his partner, George Knudson, along to the team championship by two strokes over the U.S., and he won the individual title by five whopping shots over Italy's Roberto Bernardini. Trevino—who gave all the golf balls he had left to the Czechoslovakians and all his rain gear to his Italian caddie—was third and eager to go sightseeing, while Boros was ninth and eager to go to Greece.
"I had no idea we were winning," said Balding, a 44-year-old pro who has been around the U.S. tour longer than arguments but who has rarely ever won. "I didn't know it until the 18th fairway. I was just playing the best golf of my life and really enjoying it."
Trevino and Boros had not played their best, but they had played well enough to pass the Chinese under pressure and well enough to have won for America in other years. It wasn't the first time the U.S. has been beaten in the championship. The Argentineans have won it, the Irish have won it, the South Africans, the Japanese, the Australians have won it and now the Canadians. And this is what the World Cup is all about. Golf doesn't need a Motor City Open every week.