Just when it seemed as if half the world had put on a sombrero, taped a Band-Aid across its forearm and ordered an enchilada fix in deference to everybody's favorite Super Meskin—Lee Trevino made an eight and missed a cut the other day.
This distracting episode unfolded at the Westchester Golf Classic and, sure enough—Here come de judge—enabled everybody's favorite Super Gringo, A. D. Palmer of Latrobe, Pa., to step out of a prolonged slump and save the week for those who require their winners to be familiar and want a change of expression once an hour.
What Westchester was supposed to be was something far removed from the Palmer laugher it became when Arnie produced four sub-par rounds (64-70-68-68-270) that enabled him to dominate the event from start to finish. His 72-hole total was 18 under par and five shots better than runners-up Gibby Gilbert and Hale Irwin. Still, the outcome was something of a surprise.
Indeed, this tournament was expected to be a resumption of the battle between Trevino and Jack Nicklaus for present-day superiority in the game. That it turned out, instead, to be good old Ahno's 99th glorious return from the dead (and his 74th career victory) did not take much away from the watching.
Trevino, as everybody knows who has visited the corner newsstand recently, had beaten Nicklaus in a playoff for the U.S. Open title at Merion in June, then had gone on to win the Canadian Open and British Open championships. He had played badly two weeks ago at the Western in Chicago, but admittedly he was tired, psychologically down and coasting after his return from the trip abroad. Here now—in Harrison, N.Y., one of those very special suburbs just far enough out of Manhattan to require a live-in chauffeur—Trevino surely would be able to get himself up to contend in earnest for the $50,000 first prize in the World's Richest Golf Tournament.
Since Westchester is certainly that—total prize money amounted to $250,000, tops on the PGA tour this season—the tournament also brought out most everybody else, too, some from the woodwork. Sixteen of the top 20 money leaders were there, as well as all but three of this year's tournament winners. Youth was represented by current U.S. Amateur champion Lanny Wadkins and British Amateur Champion Steve Melnyk, both of whom had chosen Westchester as an advantageous spot to officially open their pro careers. Moreover, Sam Snead, Julius Boros, Jerry Barber, Jim Ferrier and their wizened like were also on hand—a rousing tribute to long years and the lure of long green. Snead, in fact, shot two closing 68s to finish in a tie for fourth.
Westchester has always been a major attraction for golfers and spectators alike. Not only is the site of the tournament just a traffic jam away from the largest audience of human bodies possible, but there are all those media people scurrying around, all those talk shows to appear on and, yes, all that money.
When the New York and Newark Ford Dealers Association took its Thunderbird Classic out of the Westchester Country Club in 1966 and drove it over into New Jersey, William Jennings, the holdover general chairman, vowed to bring a bigger and better tournament to Harrison. He enticed Eastern Airlines to help underwrite the affair, offered more money than anybody had before and donated all the proceeds to six local hospitals. With the exception of the ill-starred $300,000 Dow Jones Open last August, the Westchester Classic has been the World's Richest ever since.
Practically by necessity Westchester offers a pile of moneybags to the touring pros, for if it had to depend on its course, the Classic would hardly get enough players to fill out one side of a leader board. Besides being (next to Atlanta) the hardest layout on the tour for spectators to walk, Westchester's short (6,700 yards), hilly West Course has elements of the cheap shot in it.
"The worst thing you can say about a golf course is that you can hit a good ball and get burned and hit a bad one and be rewarded," says one Westchester hater. "This baby fits the bill."
"Fifty thou first prize makes up for an awful lot," says another pro, "but if we were playing for, say, forty-nine five, I know a lot of guys would skip it."
The preparations of Palmer and Trevino for last week's edition of the Classic were as diverse as their personalities and, together, comprised a valuable comparison in how to combat the intense pressures of big-time golf. Trevino, appearing in his 14th consecutive tournament, was golfed out and mentally exhausted. Having made a commitment long ago to play at Harrison, however, he felt a duty to show up—especially since he had been disqualified last year when he slept through his starting time.
He was obviously not his usual cherubic self. He blasted the tournament marshalls during the pro-am, calling them "the worst ever." Later, to the galleries, he managed to laugh it up for a while, shouting on occasion, "Can't hit it anymore, wallet's in the way." But it was obvious he was dragging and he confided to Joe Iazzi, the original Lee's Flea, "I can't think anymore. I'm in a daze. No spring, no nothing. Got to go fishing."
When he came to the 18th tee on the second day, Trevino was one under par for the tournament. In the next few minutes he hooked his drive, called a penalty on himself, hit a tree, slashed three wedges and two-putted for a horrendous eight, missing the cut by a shot and getting his much-needed vacation. By that time Palmer—refreshed and putting confidently after two weeks off from the tour—had opened with a marvelous eight-under 64 and was in the process of carving out a second-round 70.
Palmer's own "vacation" had consisted of nothing more than a retreat from the competitive rigors of the game. During the British Open he had stayed at home doing paper work, working on clubs and negotiating to buy Latrobe Country Club. The week before Westchester he had flown to his Arnold Palmer Golf academies for youngsters in Cameron Park, Calif. and Stratton, Vt. and stopped off in Bozeman, Mont, to discuss plans for a course he is building there for Chet Huntley.
"I said two weeks ago this was going to happen to Lee," Palmer said upon hearing of Trevino's departure. "He's just finding out what it's like. Nobody can play at that pace and stay on top. I ought to know. He realizes now what it means to feel obligated to all the people. It takes its toll."
Meanwhile Nicklaus, suffering from conjunctivitis in both eyes and complaining of periods of blurred vision, was unable to drop many good putts and faded back into the pack. (His difficulties did not keep him from remembering his 11th wedding anniversary. He sent wife Barbara a stainless-steel hatchet with a note reading, "Let's bury this forever.")
With Trevino fading and Nicklaus ailing, Palmer had only to worry about a couple of guys named Wood and Smith during the first two days. Larry Wood, a 32-year-old former club pro whose wife stays in the motel baby-sitting their dog and working on her master's thesis, was a stroke behind after 18, while Bob E. Smith, playing with a mixed set of clubs (his were stolen), was two shots back after 36.
On Saturday, while Wood and Smith disappeared, Palmer's 68 increased his lead once more. He now led Gibby Gilbert by three shots. But Gilbert, who had made 19 birdies in three days, revealed where his interests lay. "I can't think of anybody I'd rather chase," he said. "But I'm not gambling. Second prize is a lot of money here and I won't mind it."
For Palmer, of course, such an attitude would be heresy. "Arnold's been stung the last few weeks by all the Trevino publicity," said a close friend. "He gets away from the adulation and it kills him. The money is nothing, but this tournament means a lot to the public and so it does to Arnold. He wants to win one fast and get the people back."
Palmer's 18-under performance, which set a Classic record, accomplished that at least. But as the screaming, trampling thousands who accompanied him all week must have shown, Arnie had never really lost them.