The national PGA championship is a major sporting event that usually is played in comparative secrecy each year, its winner accustomed to taking his place in fame alongside the pie-baking champion of your suburban neighborhood. Although the PGA is one of golf's big four tournaments, and certainly the one with the toughest field, the average fan can come closer to naming the greats of pinball than he can the last five men who have won it. No one knows exactly why this is so, except that it gave up its one distinctive feature—match play—a few years ago, and then rattled around on a few dog courses for a while. This was pretty much the spirit in which a lot of people gathered in Dayton last week. Would the event have changed by some happy accident, or would the historic old National Cash Register Country Club give us Rick Jetter nipping Stan Thirsk on the last nine Sunday afternoon? Would this finally be a PGA to be remembered, or would we go on yearning for those marvelous days of Nelson vs. Snead, one on one?
It would get itself remembered, all right. It would be remembered best as the tournament that furnished the inspiration for the bullet-proof Alpaca, the new MacGregor repeating four-iron, the Foot Joy sprinter, a shoe guaranteed to get you around the course faster than any other, and a new golfing vernacular: a man played a hole, everyone laughed, by hitting a driver, a spoon and a demonstrator.
More importantly, of course, the PGA would be remembered as the tournament that let golf in on what's going on out there in the real world, which is that there are these huge numbers of individuals who aren't terribly concerned whether Frank Beard and Dave Hill can find peace and happiness on only $150,000 a year, whether Arnold Palmer can pilot his jet after an 82, or whether the new champion, Raymond Floyd, being big, handsome, swinging and single, gives added hope to all watchers of the dating game.
The golfing Establishment's reaction to Saturday's disruption of play, which almost turned Jack Nicklaus into a chain smoker and Gary Player into a member of CORE, was predictably amusing. As disturbances go these days it was strictly minor league and totally inept. You could have found a better protest in a number of Dayton restaurants when the check came. But everybody said boy, they've done it now, those shaggy-haired pigs. It wasn't so bad when they just shot people, burned down cities and tore up universities. Now the lazy, dope-crazed, oversexed, Communist, Nazi, welfare medicare, hippie treasonous Red Chinese spies have picked on golf.
August 24, 1969
What happened was, Gary Player got a rolled-up program thrown at him, a cup of ice tossed at him and a golf ball hurled out onto the green by a girl while he lined up a putt. Jack Nicklaus, meanwhile, had a big guy come out of the crowd and onto a green and start toward his ball, which in turn made Jack draw back the putter as if he were offering a new tip—always hold the club high when swinging at a demonstrator. And everybody went crazy for a moment or two with shouts of "Club 'em, kill the pigs," meaning the hecklers. It was not what anyone particularly wanted to have happen in a championship, of course, since Player and Nicklaus were at the time trying very hard to catch Raymond Floyd. But then again, anyone who had ever played much golf on a municipal course would have known that these were normal hazards.
There had been threats of protest all week because there were these groups in Dayton, it seems, who felt that too much money and man power were going into the PGA effort and not enough into a poverty program. But the busloads of protesters never showed up, and the few who did often got lectured by officials and pros driving to the course every morning in courtesy cars.
"If you're so hungry, why are you so fat?" one pro asked a man holding a picket sign one morning.
"Ever thought about gettin' a job?" another pro said.
Maybe it was this atmosphere that put everybody in a testy mood all week and had the tournament sounding like an episode from As the World Turns even before the big incident on Saturday. It seemed like every day everybody was gossipy and picky. First, Dave Hill expressed a distaste for Frank Beard's attitude toward the game. He thought he understood Beard, the leading money winner, to say that golf was work and no fun, whereupon Hill told Beard off in local print, and Frank responded with "I guess neither one of us has learned how to handle success."
Then it was Tom Weiskopf is turn. Weiskopf is from Ohio and was supposed to be at home, but he turned off the press one day and they got even quickly, WEISKOPF CURT WITH WRITERS a headline said, and behold, a photo of him throwing a club, which in turn got him a private lecture from Joe Dey. Tom said the paper put him right out of the tournament. "I saw that picture, and I knew I'd shoot 76," he said, after shooting 76.
Now here came Raymond Floyd long before he had his first major championship won. He'd just shot a 66 to open up a lead through 36 holes, but he crawled all over poor old Jim Ferrier, who had played with agonizing slowness. "The guy's nerves are gone and he shouldn't be out here," said Raymond, whose nerves, at 26, are solid, who owns a piece in some racehorses, once had a piece of a nightclub and who likes his flown-in ladies. A healthy American youth, we call it. Raymond later apologized, and that was proper, for Floyd is a good guy with the powerful game and personality to be a big star.
In the midst of all this, Arnold Palmer, after giving up cigarettes again, shot that 82 and completed his fifth straight year without winning one of the major titles—a PGA, a U.S. Open, a Masters or a British Open—and also failed to make the Ryder Cup team for the first time since 1961. He piled into his plane with Winnie and said he was going to rest and get competitive before he came back out. "You gave up smoking and golf the same week," a friend said, and Arnold, taking leave, managed to laugh. This was the first indication that the Big Three—remember them?—would finally take a dive in Dayton. It had been 12 years, going back to 1957, since neither Palmer, Nicklaus nor Gary Player—at least one of them—had not captured one of the major championships. Player made the only serious run at Floyd but came up one stroke short, a stroke that might be found somewhere in Saturday's embattled round.
"That was the toughest round I've ever played," Gary said after the experience with the hecklers. "I honestly thought I might get shot because of South Africa. It was unbelievably difficult to concentrate out there." Player said, loud and clear, "I'm no racist. I want everybody to understand that. I love all people—white, black, yellow."
The fact of the matter is, the disruption was very real to Player and Nicklaus, who are accustomed only to applause and adoration and who hear nothing while making a shot except their own breathing.
"My hands were quivering," said Jack. "I didn't know what the hell to think. I just wanted off the golf course, that's all. It took me a little longer to get off than I would have preferred," he smiled, referring to the triple-bogey 7 he made at the 18th Saturday, which eliminated him from serious contention. When everyone decided they might as well have chuckled over the thing, some of the players began to reflect on the events of the week and they decided how they would handle the next protest: just turn them over to Hill, Weiskopf and Floyd.
For a while, the golf course itself was as big a joke as anything. The NCR course is lovely, with hills and trees and excellent bent greens and a variety of doglegs, and before the championship got under way the pros raved about it. That was the tip-off. When a pro starts talking about how good a course is, he's liable to level it. And after the opening round, when nine guys tied for the lead at 69, some of whose names—Mowry, Ziegler, Shaw—gave it the look of a satellite tournament, they did just that. Player shot a 65 with two bogeys, and then along came Don Bies who shot a 64 with a double bogey. A day later Miller Barber had the decency to shoot a 64 without a bogey. There were scads of 66s and 67s along the way and the question arose as to whether a course was suited for a major championship, if all anyone did was score touchdowns.
"You keep thinking this is a hell of a course but there are guys out there under par that they ought to throw a net around," Jackie Burke said. The explanation had to be that the course was soft, the greens held every kind of shot, and it played fairly short.
Nobody destroyed it more than Raymond Floyd for the first three rounds. He kept the driver in his hand while others were laying up and shot 69, 66, 67 and said, "I'm playing good, I've got confidence, and that's a pretty good combination. I don't see how I can lose."
No one else could, either. Floyd was having his year. He had won at Jacksonville and Akron, and he had always been a tough front-runner. He has the capacity to hit it crooked, but he was pumped up, and he's a good putter. Maybe he was at last fulfilling the great promise he had shown when he first came out on the tour.
For a while he had probably been too much of a playboy hotshot with what the pros call a Miami attitude. He had been a duck hooker once, but he had never lost his aggressiveness or his length and he was still a high hitter, which suited the NCR's softness last week. He has become a bit more serious this year about his golf; at least he didn't laugh too much last week when a friend said that if he kept on winning he'd have to become known as Causeway Raymond, for Florida, as compared to Broadway Joe for that other swinging bachelor in sports.
The new PGA champion is a sports nut, so incurable a Chicago Cub fan that he sometimes wears a Cub warmup jacket on airplanes and often works out with the team. On the tour he chums around with Bob Rosburg, Phil Rodgers and Ken Still, the other sports nuts. "Cub Power" is one of their favorite expressions. He spends his money and takes his pals along, and he says he sure would like to have his own plane if he could keep on winning.
For a while Sunday, with an awful lot of uniforms and guns around to see that any further demonstrations would be promptly handled, Floyd seemed to be trying to give back the championship he had practically locked up through 54 holes with a five-shot lead. Nobody really ran at him, but he dropped a couple of shots to par and this kept Player trying and inspired Bert Greene hanging in there. It seemed as if Floyd just might blow if he dribbled away very many more shots. This was sort of the year of the blowup, anyhow: Didn't Bill Casper let the Masters slide away and didn't Miller Barber shuck the Open?
When Floyd and Player reached the 16th green, there was, in fact, just a stroke separating them as Raymond had drifted to three over on the round and Gary was one under. Here, Floyd dropped a 40-foot birdie, however, while Player missed a six-footer for a par, and that was that. Raymond wasn't about to fritter away three strokes on just two holes, even though Player did get two of them back with his birdie-par finish to Floyd's cozy par-bogey for a 74 and 276. For a tournament that had experienced so much, it probably couldn't have taken much more than Raymond Floyd winning the championship by casually tapping in a three-inch putt.
It ended then like most of the recent PGAs before it have ended, quietly, with a young man taking his first major championship. But, for an entirely different reason, this one made the front page and everything that went on in Dayton last week wasn't a secret in the ghettos.