Among those who choose to teach golf at America's country clubs for a living you will not turn up an excess of free spirits. Most of them are hardworking men, short-haired, clean-shaven, courteous, who have disciplined themselves to serve their members. They itch to play but seldom have the chance. So put 252 club pros together in their own tournament, dangle an unprecedented $100,000 in prize money before them, throw in Sam Snead and you've got a scramble unlike just another humdrum installment of the regular pro tour.
Actually, it was unlike the sedate, old-fashioned Pinehurst Country Club to be holding a pro tournament at all. This was the first since 1951—too commercial, thought Pinehurst's then president, Dick Tufts, of the Boston Tufts, and vowed never to have another. Then last December Pinehurst—the club, the town, the works—was bought for $9 million by Diamondhead, a bustling New Jersey-based development corporation. So what's commercial? Certainly not the PGA Club Professional Championship.
For purposes of the tournament, a club pro was defined as someone with a legitimate club job who had not played in more than 11 tour events since the beginning of the year. Of course, not everyone at Pinehurst last week was the friendly neighborhood club pro. In addition to Snead there was on hand, briefly, Touchy Tommy Bolt, who stalked off the course in the middle of the second round grumbling something about a sore shoulder. There was Jerry Barber, the 1961 PGA champion, and Mike Souchak and half a dozen others who, not so long ago, were better known for winning tournaments than giving lessons. Most of those in the starting field, however, hardly counted on picking up the $15,000 first prize. They seldom get a chance to play enough to be able to produce good golf for 72 holes.
A prime example at Pinehurst was Ed Rubis. Rubis, 46, is short and stocky. He is the head pro at the Chicopee Country Club, a public course in the industrial city of Chicopee, Mass., and he has problems.
October 24, 1971
"I'm lucky if I can sneak in nine holes late in the day twice a week," said Rubis on the eve of the tournament. "There's no such thing as a quick nine holes at my course. We had 42,000 rounds played by Labor Day. It takes so long that people come out with a picnic lunch and a six-pack. They've gone to a department store, bought a few clubs and they play in sneakers. They'll shoot something like 85 for nine holes. I say to them, 'Eighty-five for nine holes, isn't that enough golf for one day? Whyn't you go home?' No. They want to go on, and they finish with a score of 180. One day we had to take action. This girl came out to play with a friend. She shot a 65 on the first hole! We sent someone out to lead her off the course."
While it may stand as a world-record high for a par-4 hole, this sort of thing seemed to have had a debilitating effect on Rubis' game. He shot a 72-76 and missed the 36-hole cutoff.
Souchak and Barber seemed to have lost their competitive edge almost as thoroughly as Ed Rubis. Souchak is diligently at work becoming the Super Club Pro. In the summer he heads a staff of seven at the illustrious Oakland Hills Country Club in suburban Detroit, where the members are chiefly high-rollers from the auto industry, very few of whom play in sneakers, brandish department-store clubs or shoot 65 on a single hole. In the winter he is the pro at Innisbrook, a resort on the west coast of Florida.
"One morning in 1966 I woke up and realized how hard I'd been working on the tour all those years," said Mike, over a highball in the Carolina Hotel bar, interrupting himself to shout greetings at friends. "I knew I'd never be able to keep it up. Now I suppose I could play more than I do, but I'm too busy. I think it's important to get out to a couple of tournaments a year, especially if it's a great place like this, but I can't expect to do too well. I feel like a rookie, a regular rabbit." Unfortunately, he played like one, too, shooting a 15-over-par 301 to finished tied for 85th.
Barber, 55 years old, is head pro at the Griffith Park public course in Los Angeles, and he is busy turning himself into the superhustler of golf, merchandising division. Jerry arrived with two dozen putters of his own creating. He missed the cut, but off the course he had a very profitable few days. Since the second round of the Westchester Classic last July, where he finished with scores of 68, 68 and 277, Snead has been using a Barber putter, which seems to complement his peculiar crouching, sidesaddle style. As Snead proceeded to shoot good scores at Pinehurst and lead the tournament, the other players gathered around Barber on the practice green in front of the clubhouse as if his putters were emitting blue sparks. He sold 21 on the spot and took orders for about 150 more.
As for the tournament, Snead seemed likely to stroll off with it, and the less notable club pros settled down to see who could grab off the second-place prize money of $9,000. For the first two rounds the field of 252 alternated between Pinehurst's 7,051-yard long No. 2 course and its short 6,129-yard No. 1. After the cut had reduced this mob to 97 the final two rounds were played on No. 2.
That Snead is classified as a club pro this year is not to say he spends an awful lot of time giving lessons or hawking merchandise from behind a pro shop counter at the Greenbrier, his club in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. At home the 59-year-old Snead plays as much golf as any tournament regular and at Pinehurst he started out with a 67 on No. 2, followed by a 65 on No. 1. When everyone had played both courses and the relative scores could be shaken into place, there was Snead, with a three-shot lead. On the third day, his knobby face one continual scowl, he played some loose iron shots, made poor use of Barber's putter, shot 74 and so led by only a stroke over Stan Thirsk, a long-hitter from Shawnee Mission, Kans., who scored a 69.
Thirsk didn't think too much of his chances for first place. "I'll tell you," he said. "I'm just trying to get second, because there's no way I'm going to beat that old buzzard."
For a few moments on the third hole the final day, when Snead floundered from one trap to another on a 345-yard, par-4 hole and then three-putted for a double-bogey 6, it seemed that Thirsk might be wrong. But from then on old Sam hit some fairway woods that positively whirred, downed some good putts and pulled steadily away. Three groups up ahead was where the fight for second place finally settled. Thirsk. spraying his irons into rough sand and pines, began to make bogeys, and suddenly there were two New Yorkers, Jerry Steel-smith and Ron Letellier, playing the last hole for what Snead had left for the rest. Steelsmith parred the hole, Letellier birdied it with a seven-iron and a 10-foot putt and they tied for second at 280. Both players have served time on the pro tour, but their checks for $7,800 each were the largest either had ever earned in a tournament.
Snead was not apologetic about his victory. "Hell, I've been a club pro since before most of these fellows were born," he said, just before pocketing his check, climbing into a waiting Cadillac and heading off toward White Sulphur Springs.