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My Drive to Be a Champion

Oct. 04, 1971
Oct. 04, 1971

Table of Contents
Oct. 4, 1971

And Who?
  • By Peter Carry

    The NBA still has size and style, including big No. 33 with a new name (below), but one week of interleague action showed the ABA is playing its way to parity—fast

  • Jim Dooley, the Chicago Bears' coach, had this plan. He would concede the Minnesota Vikings 17 points but, by getting field position and having room to throw, the Bears would get more. They did

That Guy
Sixkiller
Tuna
People
College Football
Harness Racing
My Drive
Baseball's Week
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

My Drive to Be a Champion

The potential was there, no doubt about that. I needed just a few lessons and a week of practice

The men's grill of the Essex County Country Club in West Orange, N.J. is a cozy room. It has wall-to-wall carpeting, a mahogany bar with golfing figurines on a shelf above it, an enormous mural of the 11th hole on one wall and, on another, three wooden scrolls listing in gold letters the club's golf champions since 1895. One of the names that dominates the scrolls is that of Charles R. McMillen, who won in 1912, again in 1922 and six more times between 1924 and 1931. Downstairs in the men's locker is another scroll, this one carrying the winners of the Charles R. McMillen Memorial Tournament, which a group of his friends started in 1953, the year he died. Today, Mr. Mac, as he was called, is a legend at Essex County, a man who never played the game until he was 30, who shot an 83 his first round and was never that bad again, a man who was generous with advice to younger players and then beat their brains out. Charles R. McMillen was my grandfather.

This is an article from the Oct. 4, 1971 issue Original Layout

The name Walter A. Bingham appears twice on the list of champions, in 1932 and again in 1950. Walter A. Bingham is my father. In his younger days he was an even bet to shoot somewhere in the mid-70s and now, at the age of 67, he is only a few strokes higher. The first time he won the club championship he played my grandfather—who else?—in the finals and was naturally something of an underdog. I wish I could have seen that one. When Dad won there were those who accused my grandfather of throwing the match to please his daughter. Some joke.

Almost everyone else in my family played some golf—my other grandfather, my mother, aunts, uncles, cousins—so it was not unnatural that as soon as I could hold a club I did, too. For four years I lived with my grandfather Bingham, a New Jersey obstetrician who kept his own backyard putting green, and I spent long hours alone chipping and putting. During the summers between my ninth and 12th birthdays the whole family went to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. Every morning my cousin Larry and I were turned loose on the golf course and not expected to return until dusk. I made my first birdie at 10, driving the green with a brassie on a par 3 and sinking the putt. At 13 I played in the third flight of the club championship, losing in the first round to a Mr. Uhl on the 19th hole. During those years Larry and I played a thousand rounds of golf, or so it seemed, and when we reached home in the evenings we would dig a hole at the bottom of the long driveway and play that makeshift course until it became too dark to see.

But, somehow, I never became Jack Nicklaus. I didn't even become Charles R. McMillen or Walter A. Bingham. As a teen-ager I was shooting regularly in the low 90s and I had several nine-hole scores of 42 or so, but I never broke 90. Nor did I do it when, after an early retirement from the game, I began playing steadily again in my late 20s. A friend wanted to learn golf and so one day we took the ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island and played over there. He shot 134 and I had a 94. A year later we were both shooting 94. And the year after that he was in the low 80s regularly while I, of course, was still at 94.

It didn't bother me. I had my game, such as it was, and was happy with it. Put me on a course even after a year or so in drydock and I would produce maybe five pars and a birdie. I would also come through with a few 7s. Or 9s. And perhaps an X. Most often, this would be the result of hitting a titanic drive straight down the middle and following it with an eight-iron 25 yards along the ground, a wedge into a trap, several unsuccessful attempts to get out—well, there you are. That night I could review the scorecard and see where on two holes if I had kicked the ball toward the green I might have saved five shots and had an 89. One time, playing with my friend, I reached the 15th tee needing four bogeys for an 87. I finished triple bogey, quadruple bogey, double bogey, double bogey for a good old 94. Another time I came to the 18th, an easy par 4, needing a 5 for an 89. I took an 8. So what? My thrashings amused me. There had been enough champions in the family.

My carefree attitude changed about two years ago. I was golf editor of this magazine at the time—my grandfather would have loved that—and Dan Jenkins, who covers the major golf events, decided we should play a round at Champions in Houston since it was to be the site of the U.S. Open a month or so later. Jenkins had never seen me play. I knew that he was a 70s shooter though he seldom swung a club anymore. I told him with some confidence that I would probably have five pars and a few 8s.

We arrived at Champions early one morning and were just about to tee off with two club members when Jimmy Demaret, the three-time Masters winner, appeared. Jenkins introduced us and Demaret decided to watch his old friend Dan hit one. Being courteous, he waited around then until all of us had teed off.

Now I would have sworn that in my sleep, blindfolded and hung over, I could have hit the ball somewhere off the tee. Maybe not a boomer, but at least an ugly little low line drive of sorts. Not so. I did a total Spiro, except I caught mine on the heel of the club, sending the ball almost directly behind me. A moment of utter silence followed before there were a few lame jokes and someone mentioned a mulligan. Still flushed with embarrassment, I teed up another ball. And did the same thing again. Precisely. The two shots finished within 10 feet of each other. Nor did I improve once I had gotten out from under Demaret's gaze. It was absolutely the worst round of golf I have ever played, a hacking, divot-digging disaster. When it was over and I had time to think about my performance, I realized that I had lost that smug self-confidence, that I was no longer good for a 93-98 every time with enough laudable shots during a round to make people forget the atrocities. My game improved on the few occasions I played after that, but I had to face up to it. I could no longer call myself a 90s shooter.

Recently Bert Yancey, the touring pro and a friend, invited me to play a round with him. It was a loose invitation, good anytime over a two-week period, and I told Bert I'd try to make it. But I had no intention of doing so. Foolish, maybe, but the Demaret incident had shaken me badly. It occurred to me then that I should either give up the game permanently or do just the opposite—go into it all the way and take a lot of lessons, a sort of crash course in golf, to see if at 40 it was possible for me to produce a little of whatever it was that put my grandfather's and father's names on the wall of the Essex County Country Club. I decided to try.

Remembering my contacts as golf editor, my first thought was Ben Hogan. What better way to learn the game. But Hogan, I was assured, would not have time. Ditto Jack Nicklaus, who just then was getting himself ready for the Masters. Besides what I really needed were lessons from a professional whose business was teaching, not playing. I called Frank Hannigan, an official of the USGA, and asked for suggestions. He rattled off the names of several good teaching pros, one of them Mac Hunter at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. Mac Hunter. I had heard of him, I thought, or was that MacDivot of the comic strips? No, I was certain Mac Hunter was a famous teaching pro, a Scotsman about 60 or 70 years old, and that seemed just right.

I also liked the idea of learning at Riviera. I had played the course once, 20 years ago. My grandfather had come out to visit—my home was in Los Angeles at the time—and had wanted to play Riviera.

"It's a private club," I told him. "I don't think they'll let us."

I underestimated my grandfather. When we arrived at the club he asked the first person he saw where the pro shop was. Finding it, he strode right up to the man behind the counter and said: "I'm Charlie McMillen of the Essex County Country Club in West Orange, New Jersey and I'm hoping you'll extend me and my grandson the privileges of the club." The man nearly saluted. "Yes sir," he said. "I think we can arrange that." And play Riviera we did, although curiously I have no memory of the round.

Riviera is one of the most difficult courses in the country. Hogan won the 1948 U.S. Open there. Two years later, following his near-fatal car accident, he made a dramatic comeback at Riviera by nearly winning the L.A. Open. Sam Snead made a long birdie putt on the final hole to tie him, then beat him in an 18-hole playoff. A year later I drove to Riviera to watch Glenn Ford and Snead do a scene for the movie Follow the Sun, which was about Hogan. Snead was to duplicate his birdie putt at 18, then shake hands with Ford, who portrayed Hogan. A small gallery of extras clustered behind Snead in line with the camera. Sam stroked the ball and as it reached the cup the crowd cheered enthusiastically, but the ball did not drop. Cut. Again. Same thing. Five times Sam tried the putt and missed, the crowd cheering each time. Snead took some practice putts, made a couple and was ready to try again. He did and this time the ball dropped, but the crowd of extras had become so conditioned to the ball missing that it was caught short. Only a few people cheered on cue, the director had a fit and the whole scene had to be shot again.

The minute I got Mac Hunter on the phone I knew that I had been thinking of the wrong man. His voice was neither old nor did it have a Scottish burr. I explained my project to Hunter, that I would like to play a round at Riviera one Sunday, take six one-hour lessons during the following week, practice two hours a day and finally play a second round the next Sunday to judge what improvement I had made. "Come on out," said Hunter. "We'll make you a seven-day wonder."

It turned out that the Hunter I had been thinking of was Mac's father Willie, who was indeed a Scotsman but who died several years ago at 76. Willie won the British Amateur in 1921, moved to the U.S. and became the head professional at Riviera in 1937. He was evidently as honest as a man can be. It is said that Howard Hughes, wishing to learn the game of golf, hired Willie as a teacher. Not just for an hour a day, but full time as a private pro. After a month, Hughes is supposed to have asked Hunter if he would ever become a player of championship caliber. "No sir," said Willie, whereupon Hughes walked away and never picked up a club again.

Willie's son Mac is 42. Mac beat Arnold Palmer in the Hearst National Junior Championship at Oakland Hills back in 1946 and at the time many people thought it would be Hunter who would go on to win four Masters and so forth. Three years later he beat Gene Littler in the California State Amateur Championship. He turned pro in 1952, but instead of trying the tour he joined his father at Riviera. When Willie Hunter retired in 1963, Mac took over as head pro.

Hunter still plays a strong game. He has been in 10 U.S. Opens and six PGAs, and every winter when the tour is in California he plays in the L.A. Open, the Crosby, the Andy Williams—almost always finishing in the money. But teaching, not playing, is his life and that is the way he likes it.

Hunter had warned me to get to the club early if I wanted to avoid the weekend crush (there are 600 playing members at Riviera). I arrived at 6:30 a.m. Even at that hour there were many cars in the parking lot. The clubhouse, a tan stucco fortress, sits on what is, in effect, the edge of a cliff, so that when you walk through it and out the back the course is far below, 6,485 yards of hills, bunkers, eucalyptus trees and, I was to find out, other things. At the hour I arrived an early-morning fog hung over most of the course, giving it a haunting look.

Hunter was in the pro shop where he had been working for an hour, ever since the first members had started showing up. I was startled by his resemblance to Arnold Palmer, except that he was slimmer, lacking Palmer's powerful shoulders.

Within 10 minutes I had ordered breakfast, met three members who were about to tee off and were willing to let me join them, canceled the breakfast order, changed into my golf shoes, walked down the steep path to the first tee, taken a driver that was offered by a caddie named Whitey and been told to go ahead and hit one. Somewhere in the mist below was the first fairway.

Jimmy Demaret would have been proud of my drive. It wasn't much, just a low liner that faded dangerously close to some trees on the right, but considering I had not touched a club in six months, it was a classic. Hunter, who had come down the hill to observe the launching, seemed pleased to see that what he was inheriting for a week was a little more than zero.

And so we were off, Hunter wishing me luck. When I reached my ball near the right edge of the fairway, Whitey already had pulled out a three-wood, but I was having none of that. The green, lying out there in the heavy morning mist, looked unreachable with any club, so I took a conservative four-iron, swung easily and knocked the ball well down the fairway.

"Nice shot," called one of my companions, a fellow named Sid Bernstein. "You cleared the barranca."

Barranca? Yes, barranca, which is Spanish for ditch, and one was lying out there in the mist, something Whitey had not bothered to mention. Just as well. I learned that the barranca runs not only across the entire width of the first fairway but comes into play on many other holes.

I hit a seven-iron onto the green and two-putted. To be honest, I hit one nervous putt about a foot and a half from the hole and one of the fellows knocked my ball away for a gimme. O.K., not a bad start, I thought. Bogey 5.

"Nice par," said Bernstein as we headed toward the second tee. Another very pleasant surprise. The 1st hole at Riviera is a par 5.

On the 2nd hole I sliced the ball—this was no fade—over some trees and into a practice area. Taking a three-wood, I sliced again, so that now I was back in the first fairway where I had been just minutes before, about 170 yards and two avenues of eucalyptus trees away from the green. Whitey whipped out the four-wood. "Go for broke," he said.

The instant I hit the ball I knew I had gone broke. The ball took off toward the green, but then it started slicing in the general direction of the clubhouse. I never saw it land, but Whitey said something about not worrying because balls always roll back down from the hill there. Not mine. We found it halfway up. A lot of shots followed, mostly wedges and putts, and I took a 9. What a perfect start, I thought, an absolutely typical Bingham performance after only two holes.

It was at the 7th that Hunter came racing up in a golf cart bearing Hotfoot Jimmy Harris, the club's celebrity caddie. Harris, a jaunty man with a Gilbert Roland mustache, took my bag from Whitey, who had been carrying double. I was feeling pretty good, having just hit a six-iron 14 feet from the pin at the par-3 6th for a near birdie and easy par. The 7th was one of those holes with the barranca cutting across it and, sure enough, with Hunter watching, I topped a drive right into it. Hotfoot produced another ball and just as quickly I did it again. And a third time, too. Shades of Demaret. I finally succeeded in getting one over and after an assortment of shots, including some from sand, I recorded a 12. Hunter departed, whereupon I parred the 8th. Three holes—two pars and a 12. That was what I had come to California to eliminate. I finished the round with a 58-45—103, including six pars, a bit better than normal, and that 12, that 9 and an 8. If I had merely bogeyed those three holes, I thought, I would have shot 90. I was confident that week of lessons with Mac Hunter would make that possible.

I am not going to get too technical about what Hunter did to my game during the course of the week, but the only thing he did not change was my grip. As for the rest, it was left arm straight, weight shifted left and back toward (but not on) the heels, right knee cocked, hips square to ball, bring club back without breaking wrists, pivot, coil, keep head still, come off left heel, keep right side rigid, swing through and out. Searching through my notebook, I find that I scribbled these Hunter Laws: relaxed grip...regard the club as an instrument, not a bludgeon...eyes communicate distances, fingers feel...the finish of a swing is a reflection of what preceded it...hips lead the way on the downswing...turn shoulders against hips...learn to visualize the plane of your swing.

Hunter also changed my putting stance and stroke. I was a wrist putter but under pressure wrists do funny things, so Mac had me stroking the ball pendulum style, wrists locked, hands forward of the club head and out from the body.

He taught me how to get out of a sand trap. I am now an authority. Open your stance so that you are facing the green, take a nice full swing and hit the sand somewhere behind the ball, making sure to follow through. How far behind the ball? Hunter said it was senseless to pick out one grain of sand an inch or two away as a target. Just make sure you hit the sand, not the ball. And one last thing. Before swinging, waggle the club loosely with a relaxed grip. The correct mood for a sand shot is a carefree one. Using this method, I, who never had come out of a trap without blood on my hands, lined up a dozen balls in the sand one afternoon and knocked them all smartly onto the green within a minute.

Enough expertise. If I thought I was going to have a lark in California—an hour lesson, a couple more hours of practice, then off to the hotel swimming pool for the rest of the day—I was mistaken. From the start Hunter acted as if his reputation as a teacher depended on my rapid improvement. Whenever he had a free half hour, he was at me—left arm straight; pivot, damn it. Sometimes we would play four holes, or nine, with Hotfoot Harris lugging the bags, but mostly he had me hitting balls on the practice range or putting on one of the club's three practice greens. On a typical day I would be at Riviera for 10 hours, from seven till five, and half that time I would be with Hunter. His moods rose and fell with my performance. When I hit a good shot, or a series of good shots, he seemed truly excited. "There's no doubt you can play in the 70s," he would say. "If I just had you out here for a few more weeks...."

And there would be the depressing moments, times when perhaps because of fatigue—and that did become a factor as the week wore on—I would lose the way with terrible results. At such times Hunter was almost angry. "No, damn it, you're giving way on the right side." He would slap my right hip hard to emphasize the point. One time he said, his voice rising, "If there's one thing you're going to learn this week it's that you can't learn golf in a week."

There were times I felt I could not escape Hunter even when I was alone. I had the feeling he was up in that fortress of a clubhouse on the hill, looking down on my every move. One day, tired of hitting balls on the range, I noticed that the 10th hole was open. Hunter had said it was all right to play the course when I wanted, so I slipped over to the 10th tee and hit one. It was a poor drive, a low screamer into a fairway trap, leaving me a shot of some 120 yards to the green. I hit a nine-iron out, but barely, so that I still had about 90 yards to go. Oh well, I thought, a nice wedge and I'll still have a chance for a par or, at worst, an easy bogey. I had just finished hitting some good wedges on the range, but I sculled this one, which meant I had made three horrible shots in a row. Suddenly I heard a noise, turned and saw Hunter careening across the fairway in a cart. "Drop another one," he yelled and proceeded to make me hit seven wedges until I had it right. I don't know how long he had been watching me or where he had come from.

When I became too tired to practice any longer, I would climb the steep hill and try putting. To keep interested, I often resorted to fantasy. I was not at Riviera but Augusta and had to hole out to win the Masters. Or maybe get down in two from 40 feet. "Bingham has put his second shot well past the pin, folks, and has to two-putt to defeat Gary Player." I'd set myself up for the pendulum stroke. "Bingham strokes the putt and here it comes, down the hill, past the cup and, oh my, he's left himself an ugly 15-footer coming back." It didn't matter if I missed the next putt. There was always another Masters in a minute.

During the week I got to know a number of Riviera people besides Hunter. The first day there I met Art Rios, a leathery Mexican-American from El Paso, Lee Trevino country, who is in charge of the practice range, runs a taxi service from the range and 18th green up the hill to the clubhouse and, when he has time, gives a few lessons. Rios joined Riviera years ago as a caddie, worked himself up to the golf shop and now is an assistant pro.

Once when I was hitting wedges Art came over and told how as a boy he had owned one club, a two-iron, and how he had hit balls in a field until he had learned to hit any kind of shot with it. He once bet Dean Martin, a Riviera regular, that he could par the 408-yard 9th hole using only a two-iron.

"I told Dino just how I'd do it," Rios said. "Drive, hit the second just short because I can't get home from therewith two-irons, chip up by opening the face of the club and sink a short putt, closing the face." Rios drove precisely where he said he would, but his second shot drifted off to the right, inches short of a trap. "Dino raced ahead in his cart and kicked the ball into the trap," Rios said. "He didn't think I could see him. When I got there I said: 'Dino, that's the greatest favor you could have done for me. It's a much easier shot now.' I just opened the face of the club, knocked the ball out about three feet away from the pin and sank the putt."

Rios took the wedge from my hand. "It's really such a simple game." With that, he swung the club one-handed, hitting a ball stiff to the pin. He will never know how much that discouraged me.

Late afternoons I would turn myself over to Steve Mircetic, the club masseur. Mircetic came to the U.S. from Yugoslavia in 1957, lived for 10 years in Chicago, his favorite city, and then moved to Los Angeles because his wife thought it would be better for her health. Golfers are not big on massages, he says. He joined the club a year ago after losing a lot of money in a physiotherapy business. After my first massage, being without a wallet, I told Steve I would pay him in a few minutes, after I showered and dressed. "No rush," he said forlornly. "I've already lost so much money, a little more wouldn't hardly matter."

One day when Hunter was giving me a nine-hole playing lesson he told Hotfoot Harris to show me a moncado. As Jimmy approached my ball in the fairway, he took the bag off his shoulder so that the lower part of it swung forward along the ground, knocking the ball a good 10 yards farther. A caddie, walking 150 yards ahead of the players and blocking their view with his body, could probably get away with it.

The moncado was named in honor of General Hilario Moncado, a memorable Riviera figure. Hotfoot Harris said the General, a Filipino, was captured by the Japanese at the start of World War II, lined up against a wall with some other hostages and shot. Except that somehow the General was not killed and managed to escape from under a pile of bodies. Hunter had never heard that version, but said the General did arrive in the U.S. just after the war with lots of money and a love of golf. He was not a bad player, but by the simple means of playing with amenable companions he would record all sorts of remarkable scores.

You'd finish a hole and ask, "What you get, Bill?"

"Four."

"Harry?"

"Five."

"General?"

"Three."

General Moncado even worked his way into the 1949 U.S. Amateur. In those days a 36-hole qualification round was necessary. The General teed off early and shot something like a 61. Yes, indeed, said his playing partner. In the afternoon the USGA staff accompanied the General, who then shot 88, but his 149 total was good enough to qualify him for the championship. He had a bye in the first round and was eliminated in the second.

The first time the General ever played at Riviera, accompanied by friends, he had one of his normally brilliant rounds and when he completed the 18th and his score was added up, it was found he had a 64, a new course record. The General was ecstatic. Up the hill he went and into the pro shop.

"I just shot 64," he shouted for all to hear. "New course record, 64."

Mac's father was on the other side of the shop and when he heard this he came over.

"General," he said, looking the Filipino dead in the eye, "my name is Willie Hunter. I'm the club professional here and I hold the course record at 65."

There was a moment of silence. Then the General said: "I just shot 66."

By the end of the week there was no doubt in my mind that my golf game had improved. For the first time I knew what had gone wrong when I hit a bad shot—I finished the swing on my toes or did not swing through and out. And it seemed I was hitting a lot of shots that did not look too different from some I'd seen on the pro tour. At the beginning Hunter had said that all he hoped to accomplish during the week was to build a rock that could serve as the foundation of my golf game. By Saturday I thought he had certainly done that.

But could I translate this into a better performance Sunday? Hunter arranged a game for me with two of the men I had played with the previous Sunday, Sid Bernstein and Stu Krieger. Both were low 90s shooters who did not hit the ball too far but rarely got into much trouble—exactly the kind of golfers I expected to be able to beat. My single worry was fatigue. Despite the efforts of Steve Mircetic, my muscles ached. I tried to taper off Saturday, spending little time at the range, and I made sure I would get a good night's sleep.

Except I didn't sleep. I got to bed early, but my mind kept wandering like the barranca—have to hit a good drive off the 1st tee and maybe I can reach the green in two for a birdie. Wouldn't that be a way to start?

I was at the club by 6:30 a.m. Hotfoot Harris was waiting for me. He had managed only three hours sleep, he said, because he had chauffeured Jim Backus, the Mr. Magoo man, to a party and back. Hunter was in the pro shop.

"I'm going to say goodby now," he told me. "I won't watch you tee off and by the time you finish. I'll be gone. No matter what happens today, it's been an enjoyable experience."

I took my clubs and went down to the range to hit a last bucket of balls. Sid Bernstein came down, tried a few, and then we both went up the hill to putt a little. It was on the putting green that I suddenly realized I was nervous. I had managed to turn the round I was about to play into a combination Ali-Frazier, Super Bowl and World Series. "Walter Bingham now on the 1st tee. Fore, please. Stand back, photographers. Please, no autographs until after Mr. Bingham has hit."

I felt better on the tee, hidden from the clubhouse by the hill. As I took my driver from Harris, I looked around to see if Mac Hunter wasn't somewhere nearby. He wasn't.

Stu and Sid hit and then it was my turn. I set up—left arm straight, right knee cocked, the complete checklist. I swung, felt solid contact and had an instant of satisfaction until I saw the ball hooking violently toward a fence at the left edge of the fairway. Out of bounds. Great start. Stu and Sid insisted I hit a mulligan. This one sliced through the avenue of trees on the right. Now I was faced with a choice between hitting an immense four-wood over the trees and past the barranca or chipping back on the fairway short of the barranca. Before I could really consider the wood, Harris was putting a seven-iron in my hands. I knocked the ball through the trees about 20 yards short of the barranca and 180 short of the green.

Now came the four-wood. As it turned out, it was the highlight of my round. The ball took off straight toward the pin with not the slightest trace of a hook or slice. I lost sight of it—my distance vision is poor—but there were shouts of "nice shot" from Stu and Sid, and Jimmy gave me a grin. "A perfect shot, sir." he said.

So I was on the green, I thought, and who knows how close to the pin. Just might get that birdie. I really felt good. The four-wood was a direct product of the week's work and I expected to hit quite a few shots like it during the day.

It was, therefore, a blow to find my ball not on the green but over it. Not barely over it, but 50 feet over it. Bye, bye birdie. Harris hauled out the wedge. Here was the shot I had practiced most. Open stance, weight left, no wrists. I swung, or guess I swung, and it was terrible—wrists, look up, the whole deal. The ball was on the green, but 40 feet from the pin. And with that hideous shot the nerves came back like crazy. As I took my putter, I noticed two golf carts charging up the fairway behind us. One of the occupants had on a bright pink sweater. It was Dino. Also in the group was Buddy Hackett and a fellow named John Miles, an advertising man who happens to hold the current course record—the real record, not a moncado—at 64. Swell. Now they were all sitting in their carts 20 yards away watching me putt.

I couldn't get the putter back. It just wouldn't go. When it finally did, I hit the ball about 15 feet, less than halfway. I looked up in time to see a curious expression on Sid's face, as if he thought maybe I had been taking a practice stroke and had tapped the ball by mistake. I apologized for the shot, admitted to both men that I was nervous and quickly hit the next putt two feet from the hole. Before I could butcher that one, Stu knocked it away. A neat little 7.

That is pretty much the way it went. Not until the back nine did my nerves subside. Dino and friends were right there the whole round. On par-3 holes, where there was always a jam-up, they would be on the tee with us. I slashed my way to a 55 on the front nine, three strokes better than the previous Sunday, but with no pars at all.

I rallied somewhat on the back nine but my most disappointing shot of all came at the final hole. I needed a par 4 for a 43 and a 98. I had paired the hole the Sunday before, so it was not as if I was hoping for a miracle this time, even though it is a tough hole. I hit a respectable drive, then a good four-wood off a severe sidehill lie, so that I was perhaps 20 yards off the green. Wedge time. I was completely relaxed, Dino was way back down the fairway. There was no way I could fail to knock the wedge right up to the hole.

I sculled it. A line drive over the green and only the hill kept the ball from rolling into the clubhouse. I chipped back, but not close, took two putts and that was it—a double-bogey 6 for a 45 plus 55 for one-oh-oh. A simple bogey would have made it 99. A week of lessons, more work than I had ever anticipated, and all I had to show for it was a sculled wedge at 18.

I said goodby to my playing partners, thanking them for their sense of humor, and to Hotfoot Harris, who seemed even more disappointed than I. Quickly I changed my shoes and left Riviera. So much for the instant wonder. I guess it does take more than a week. Sorry, Granddad. Sorry, Dad. And, most of all, sorry, Mac.

FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS