PLAIN WORDS AT WESTCHESTER

Dave Hill didn't win the $250,000 classic (Bruce Crampton did), but golf's constant critic, whose play has thrust him into the game's top rank, reiterated his views of sacred cows and cornfields
August 09, 1970

John Vliet Lindsay may think New York is Fun City, but the touring pros last week thought that playing a golf tournament nearby, such as the $250,000 Westchester Classic, was like asking the New York Knicks to play basketball on ice skates. The Air Pollution Festival, the golfers called it—the Midnight Open, where you could get mugged on a green and nobody would see you, just like in Central Park. None of the players knew how to read the smog that blackened the air, either. Would the stuff make your putts break toward the ocean—or away from it? Would it turn your fade into a galloping hook? Then Larry Hinson said it all: "Next time I come to New York I'd like to see the place. Really."

Hinson saw enough of the Westchester Country Club to tie Jack Nicklaus and Bruce Crampton for the lead after three rounds, but on Sunday Crampton, the mean man of the tour, shot a five-under-par 67 and won the $50,000 first-place check with a 72-hole score of 273, 15 under par.

Besides having the dense smog and oppressive humidity, the Westchester offered some elements of a 4H exhibit—particularly when Dave Hill was on the course. Hill, the critic of Hazeltine's rolling, agrarian acreage, had a large gallery every day, especially on Saturday, when he shot a nine-under-par 63 in the third round and bolted from a tie for last place into a tie for second, and all the big-city cosmopolites acted like real Hazeltine farmers, yelling "moo-moo-moo" or "ding-a-ling" every time he hit a good shot—or a bad one. "It didn't bother me a bit," Hill said. "I'm used to all that now. In fact, I sort of like it."

The reason Hill likes it is that he never had large galleries until that day two months ago at Hazeltine when he talked his way out of anonymity and became the Don Rickles of the golf tour—someone who said what he thought and the stuffed shirts be damned. In case you missed Hill's statements at the Open, he's more than willing to repeat them: "Hazeltine really did lack only 80 acres of corn and a few cows to be a good farm. Yes, [Robert Trent] Jones had the blueprints upside down when he built the place."

Hill thought for a moment. "One more thing about Mr. Jones. Most people in the country think that Robert Trent Jones is Robert Tyre Jones Jr., the great amateur golfer. They think it's 'that great amateur' who is building the golf courses. Huh. What Trent Jones knows about building golf courses George Washington knew about building the Model T Ford." For speaking his mind, something golfers are not supposed to do, Hill was fined $150 by Tour Commissioner Joe Dey, who, coincidentally, was one who helped choose Hazeltine as the Open site. Many of the pros felt Hill had been bum-rapped, slapped down for saying out loud what most of them had been saying privately.

Before Hazeltine, the 33-year-old Hill was known mostly as the nervous, high-strung player who always won the Memphis Open (three times in the last four years) and usually led the tour in fines and suspensions. Hill figures he has paid almost $5,000 in fines to the PGA, a figure that Tournament Director Jack Tuthill says is pretty accurate. "Most of the fines were for swearing and breaking clubs," Hill said. "I was suspended for five tournaments in December of 1963 when I broke a club on national television," he recalls, "and last year the PGA rejected my entry in the National Airlines tournament because I swore at one of the tour officials."

Dave always has been volatile, says brother Mike. "He was hypersensitive and let little things get to him even when we were kids," Mike said. "He's always said what's been on his mind, no matter who he's been talking to. One time in high school he told the basketball star that he was shooting too much. The star, a big kid, didn't like what Dave had to say, so Dave, who was little even then, suggested they step outside and settle it. The big kid wouldn't go. There were four brothers in our family and, believe me, we never talked things out, we beat them out. I'll tell you some-thing else: Dave's got more guts than any player out here. Hell, how many guys could play great golf every round with cowbells and moos ringing through their ears?"

For most of his first 10 years on the tour, starting in 1958, Hill lived with three moods. "I was very happy or very insulting or downright nasty," he says. "The game of golf needs players with personality, players like Palmer and Hogan. The game did not need my type of personality because I made too many enemies. I knew that."

Hill's problem was that he could not control his emotions or his language when he became downright nasty. Then, at the end of the 1968 tour, his wife locked his clubs in a neighbor's garage and forced him to forget golf for two months. "What she did was the best thing that could have happened to me," he says. When Hill picked up the 1969 tour he seemed a changed person. Still volatile, he now was able to control himself most of the time.

"Smoking helped," he said, "and I started to have a few drinks after I played. I'm not saying that those things are good for everybody, but they quieted my nerves and kept my energy at the right pace." (The word is that Hill also pops a tranquilizer or two to help maintain his cool.) Brother Mike thinks Dave would be even better off eating regularly. "He doesn't eat anything," Mike said. "No breakfast. A couple of cigarettes for lunch. A hot dog on the course. Maybe a couple of drinks and some peanuts. At night he only eats half of his dinner." As a result, the 5'11" Hill weighs less than 140 pounds—25 less than he weighed 18 months ago.

Hill also began to play a less hectic golfing schedule. "I used to play every week," he said, "so when I was at a tournament my temper and my nerves built to the point where they, well, exploded and got me in trouble. Now when I feel that I'm ready to hit the ceiling I pick up my clubs and fly home for a week and let it happen there."

The players on tour always recognized Dave as a sound player (sand play is his only technical deficiency) who would start to win when he controlled his actions and his attitudes. "He's always had one of the three or four best swings on the tour," Jack Nicklaus says. Hill, in fact, has an obsession for finding the perfect golf swing. "I want to get to the point where I master the golf ball the way Hogan masters it," Hill says. "Out here the golf ball is usually the master. Like with Arnold Palmer. He can hit only a hook. I want to be able to hit the ball perfectly every way."

Hill hit enough shots perfectly last year to win three tournaments, the Vardon Trophy (for having the lowest stroke average per round) and more than $150,000 in official prize money. He was fined one time last year, and he was not permitted to play in the National Airlines tournament, but in general, he was a new Dave Hill. One incident at the end of the year did detract from the new image, however. Playing for the U.S. against Great Britain in the Ryder Cup matches in England, Dave became piqued when an R and A official made a ruling that later turned out to be incorrect. He was loud in his objections ("The only way they'll get me there again is if I die and they ship my body there by mistake"), and for the rest of the matches the British galleries treated him very unkindly.

This year Dave was a model of decorum on tour until that day at Hazeltine. "You really had to be there to appreciate what happened," he said. "I had finished my round, and I had had a few drinks when they came to bring me into the press room. Someone asked me how I found the course, and I said I had been looking for it since I arrived. Then the writers started to fly questions at me, and, well, I answered them. I meant everything I said. However, I know that I really should not have said those things about another golfer's course. What I really was doing, I thought, was taking a shot at the USGA and Mr. Jones."

Despite the moos and the cowbells that have followed him on tour since Hazeltine, Hill has retained his cool—especially in public. He refuses to answer provocative questions at press conferences, but he will speak frankly in the locker room. Last week at Westchester, for instance, he was incensed at his caddie ("I hit 25 practice balls, and he found only five of them") and at Chi Chi Rodriguez Friday ("After Mr. Hogan left our threesome Mr. Rodriguez put on a stage show"). However, after shooting his 63 on Saturday and a 71 on Sunday that earned him $6,910 for four days, very little bothered Dave Hill—not even the smog.

PHOTOHill grimaces as a birdie putt falls during his brilliant nine-under round on Saturday.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)