They held a mixed foursomes at the White House last Saturday night—Dick and Pat, Ted and Judy, the Duke and Duchess, Arnold and Winnie, Billy and Shirley. That was the class of the field, although some 50 other teams qualified. It was a best-ball affair—white tie and tails, sparkling gowns, Ruffles and Flourishes.
The Chief Justice was there, and three ambassadors, and three cabinet members, plus a smattering of industrialists such as Henry Ford II, two fliers (Lindbergh, Charles and Borman, Frank), a dancer (Fred Astaire), a touch of society, some of it merely identified as golfing partners of the Duke, and even a third U.S. Open winner, Johnny Farrell, whom the Duke toasted as "my savior at golf."
While warm light reflected off the golden candelabra, the saumon froid Windsor, the supr√™mes de pigeons veronique and the feuilles de la line du Kentucky came and went. There was a toast to the Duke and Duchess by the President, in which it was noted that dinner-guest Palmer that very day had maintained his lead in the Greater Greensboro Open with a 67. With the soufflé Duehesse came the U.S. Air Force Strolling Strings, and moments later, over brandy and coffee in the Blue Room, Palmer and the former King Edward VIII of England were deep in conversation. The Duke was explaining that he uses Palmer's clubs, and....
As midnight neared, the Nixons slipped away, followed shortly by the Palmers and Caspers, the golfers flying back to their competitive concerns. Golf plainly has made it in the Great White Clubhouse, and as Sam Snead was saying at Greensboro, "The old game sure has changed." Greensboro week showed how much.
April 13, 1970
The White House invitations brought the Greensboro event a degree of reflected glory, which it can use, since it is played the week prior to the Masters and is usually lost in Augusta's shadow. Greensboro is an old tournament, dating from a time when golf professionals lived out of the trunks of Model A's and weren't much welcome in clubhouses. Back then, the citizenry of Greensboro viewed the pro golfers uneasily, to say the least, and there were suggestions from time to time that the town might well be rid of them. But in the three decades since, the annual tournament has become an esteemed civic venture, with an announced purpose of "making Greensboro greater." It benefits local community programs and provides the Jaycees, the group of intense young men who run the tournament, with an opportunity for "leadership training."
"We are operating a half-million-dollar business," explains Mike Haley, the tournament's 31-year-old assistant chairman. He opens the glossy GGO program and turns the pages to a spread of photographs. "These are the men who have run the tournament in the past," he says. "They own Greensboro. They are the Who's Who of the city." His fingers pass over the daguerreotypes of success—state senator, car dealer, manufacturer, oilman, mayor, insurance man, dentist.
To earn a place in this gallery of straight-lipped men is the ambition of young Jaycees like Mike Haley. The tournament has six dozen committee chairmen charged with various projects—everything from getting portable toilets, to the selection of a Miss GGO, to coffee klatches and cocktail parties, to a fishing rodeo for the golfers, to the appearance of Loretta Young in marabou feathers at the pretournament banquet. Their mood is one of tense endeavor. To be a Jaycee must be wearing, for at the age of 36 a man is dropped from the club and thereafter is known as "an exhausted rooster."
One man who much appreciates Greensboro's tournaments is Sam Snead; he won the first one in 1938 and seven more after that. Last week Snead wasn't to be found in any Holiday Inn or Ramada or Howard Johnson's, but in a cabin at a Brand X establishment. He was putting balls across the carpet at a chair leg—knock, knock, knock; the balls ricocheted off the wood. A handsome woman was popping corn on the stove while Sam waited for some friends to go fishing with him for brim.
"I remember that first year heading down here in a 1936 Ford," he said. "I got stopped in Candor [N.C.] for going through a red light. I didn't go through a red light, or even an amber one, but they stopped me and the cop took me to a one-armed justice of the peace in a feed store. All I had was $3 in cash and some $20 traveler's checks. The justice of the peace said the fine would be $5. He wouldn't cash a traveler's check, said he didn't want none of those things. I went across the street to the bank, but it was shut. The man had gone bird hunting. I had an awful time. I drove through that town yesterday. There's still just the crossroads and the one light, and I got to thinking about that day. I guess there aren't many people around still who remember that first tournament."
The balls continued to knock against the chair leg. "My fans are dying out"...knock, knock..."You know Sam Snead can still putt with the best of them," the handsome woman said. "Bull...bull...bull," murmured Snead.
In Greensboro they say, "People in other places look for robins as a sign of spring, but here we look for the GGO." Yet spring was hardly visible last week. Wednesday's pro-am was washed out by a cold drenching rain. Two marshals, rookie Jaycees, turned in their helmets at headquarters toward the end of the day. "It sure was wet out there protecting our African friend," one of them drawled, wringing out his shirt. They had gone around the course with Gary Player.
It rained all Wednesday night and into Thursday. Thirty-five-mile-an-hour gusts whipped through the pines and sweet gums of the Sedgefield club course, and the first round had to be canceled. As a result, there would be a 36-hole final on Sunday.
Arnold Palmer, for one, was not pleased. Five weeks ago he led the Florida Citrus Invitational, shooting a 64 after a rain-out day. But in a 36-hole Sunday final he went 64-72, getting tired and missing a tie by three-putting the 72nd green. "Maybe I should make way for some of the younger players," he said at Greensboro. "My hip and back get weary. I always enjoyed playing 36 holes. I still do if I can make it. I'll have to pace myself. The hip held up at Citrus, but I was tired. It took a couple days to get it back feeling good."
In the lull at Greensboro, while the players whiled away Thursday afternoon, the talk repeatedly turned to Lee Trevino, the tour's leading money winner who has two victories and $77,000 banked to date in 1970. Trevino was at Sedgefield, but he would not play the next week at the Masters. In Augusta, officials could not remember when an American tour player—to say nothing of a leading money winner—had turned down an invitation, except for illness.
Trevino does hit a golf ball on a low trajectory, and his shots do not hold well on Augusta's greens, but last year he finished just two over par, tied for 18th and beat people like Palmer, Nicklaus and Player. Asked last week when it was he first despaired of playing Augusta National well, Trevino said, "It was the third or fourth day. I was paired with Kermit Zarley. At the 6th hole I hit the ball stiff to the pin. It landed 10 feet from the hole and drew back off the green 50 yards. I said, 'Kermit, this course beats me to death.' So this year I've got another commitment. I'm going home to El Paso to my wife and children. You tell 'em I'm gonna get drunk and maybe go across the border to Juarez and chase women. I'll watch the Masters on television."
There are people who intimate that Trevino turned down the Masters invitation as a kind of anti-Establishment gesture, for those who are invited to play in the Masters are certainly an elite corps. The field is restricted, too restricted, a number of pros think. And Trevino, whatever his reasons for passing up the tournament, is quite simply the common man, drinker of Dr Pepper and leader of a fan pack known as Lee's Fleas. Possibly that's the rub.
On Friday, when the pros teed off at last, it was Trevino who drew the early comers. The day was chill. "Give me a swig of that bourbon," one man said turning to a friend. Already an empty fifth in a paper bag lay behind a tree stump. Trevino began pulling his shots, and he bellowed at his wayward ball and stuck his tongue out to sass a wobbly putt into a hole. The crowd laughed exuberantly. He finished with a par 71. In the same threesome was Tommy Aaron, who had gone around with sober concentration and shot a seven-under-par 64. Two men, two styles, both very professional in their way.
Sam Snead teed off at midday Friday, a prime time for golfing crowds, but he drew fewer than five dozen people. Perhaps he is right about his fans dying, for they were sadly gone. He played with Jim Ferrier and Jack Fleck, pros of another time who are unsteady. A yellow mongrel puppy trotted up the first fairway with the threesome, jawing on bags and discarded paper cups that he found. The dog plopped on the fringe of the first green as the men putted out. A school bus full of children passed, and out came a thin shrill cry—"There's Mr. Snead." As the golfers hit their approaches at 2, the only figure seen on the rim of the distant green was the yellow puppy. Later he was joined by a coon hound and a boxer. In this company Sam Snead shot a 69. It was a silent round, punctuated only by the staccato cheers of Arnold Palmer's gallery, sounds of worship that rolled across the fairways, demanding all attention, like thunder from a coming storm.
At the turn Palmer was three under par. He sank seven birdie putts in a stretch of 11 holes and by the time he came to 17 the gallery—among the biggest of his life, he said—was whistling and stomping as if it was at a Carolina football game. It was 5:30 and the shadows were long—a splendid scene, strangely reminiscent of late afternoons in Augusta. Palmer put his approach 2½ feet from the cup. "Go, Arnie, go," the gallery yelled. He rapped the birdie putt and it went past the hole by a foot. Par. On 18 Palmer put his second tight to the pin. This time he made the birdie to finish with a 64 and tie Aaron for the lead.
What Palmer dreads is the inconsistency of his putting. One day it is good and the next it sours. Despite the missed birdie on 17, his putting had been fine in the first round. And in the second it was not all that bad as he scrambled to his 67.
Player (We read it every week, now: "Gary Player, protected by armed...." Sad testimony) moved up sharply on Saturday, shooting a course record of 63. He might well have broken 60, he said. He was playing superbly, though his card the first day had showed only a 70. And he wasn't worried about Sunday. "I don't get tired playing 36 holes yet. I'm still a little young to get tired doing that," he said pointedly.
Saturday afternoon Palmer flew out of Greensboro to his Latrobe, Pa. home. He arrived there at 4, got dressed in his white tie and tails and departed at 6, accompanied by his wife. It was just a 20 minute hop to Washington. (Casper had flown in earlier, in a chartered Beechcraft.)
For the Palmers it was the second White House dinner in a little over three months, and Winnie Palmer said this time she was much more relaxed. She had even ordered a limousine to meet the plane. (Arnold had his sister and brother-in-law, who live in Washington, drive them to their last White House dinner, and their blue Buick had been the only family car on the limousine-lined driveway that evening.) The guests at the gala for the Duke and Duchess were asked for 8 o'clock, and it is every guest's aim to arrive just on the stroke. As the appointed hour approaches, Cadillacs can be seen touring round and round the blocks in the vicinity of the White House. At 8 the procession of limousines—the Palmers' and Caspers' among them—turned down the White House drive to the south entrance. And the celebrities, gowned, polished and perfumed, sat in a traffic jam. Inside a cocktail-party mood prevailed for a few minutes until White House aides began discreetly selecting guests to go to the receiving line. Protocol determines the early order, and a hush falls over the room. "Come on Win, let's get in line," Arnold said. "Let's just wait until someone tells us," she said. "Arnold was anxious to get through the line; he was trying to rush the dinner," Winnie laughed later.
A steak fancier, Palmer should not have rushed, for if the classic menu had a down spot for the athletic appetite it was the main course—pigeon. At the sight of it Winnie's dinner partner, Amory Houghton, the chairman of the board of Corning Glass, declared, "Mrs. Palmer, we must get Arnold something more substantial to eat."
It was one minute past 12 when the Palmers left the White House, 2:30 a.m. by the time they got back to Greensboro and to bed. Four hours later Palmer—Ruffles and Flourishes surely ringing in his head—was up to defend his lead.
It was a dubious task. At about the time Palmer and the Duke began talking in the Blue Room, Gary Player was coming home from a movie—The Stalking Moon—and heading straight to bed. He arose in time to meet his playing partners, Aaron and Palmer, on the tee at 7:58 a.m. It is Player's creed that the fit shall prosper, and on Sunday, at least, his belief was fully sustained. He played well enough in the morning, while missing numerous short putts en route to a 73. And then, on the 6th hole of the second round, he suddenly blasted in from a bunker for an eagle 3, and he realized the day was his. Two quick birdies gave him a front nine of 32 and the tournament lead. Another birdie on 11 put him three strokes up on Palmer, who for the first time showed a trace of a limp. By 14 Palmer was noticeably gimpy—his hip simply won't hold up under that much strain—and Player was on his way to a last-round 65, a 271 and a two-stroke win over Miller Barber. Five strokes back were Palmer and Trevino, the one off for Augusta, the other for El Paso.
Player signed his scorecard in the tent at the 18th green—a cemetery tent used for funerals that the Jaycees had borrowed from an undertaker—and then went to meet the press. "I like to take pride in the fact I'm a physical-fitness man," he said. "I could play 72 holes in a day if there was time." He also said his golf was the best he had ever played in America. Player likes to encourage himself with positive thinking, but this time he was not exaggerating. He has never looked more ready for a Masters. Of course, if he happens to win at Augusta there will surely be a phone call for him in the locker room. The man at the other end might even invite him up to the Great White Clubhouse.