There it was in the dream of every Sunday hacker who ever waited for a starting time on a public course with the dew crawling up his trousers. A shank, a fat four-iron, a couple of sprayed tee shots into the trees and dirt; even a forgetful flirtation with a disastrous two-stroke penalty. This was Tom Weiskopf coming home against Jack Nicklaus—and himself—and somehow surviving to win the richest golf purse of the year. Amid the exotic surroundings of another Florida condominium community last week, Weiskopf, in some magical fashion, turned all of the bad news into $52,000 and everybody but Nicklaus said for the seven millionth time how sweet it was.
This was a new tournament called the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic. It began with the celebrity status that one would expect from the very name given to it, like all of those Glen Campbells and Bing Crosbys and Bob Hopes and Andy Williamses and Dean Martins on the professional tour, and then it lay quietly for a day or two, as many events do. But on Sunday it exploded with the excitement and drama of the occasional spectacular that breaks the routine of the seemingly endless tour.
Over the final nine holes it became a man-to-man conflict involving two of the longest hitters in golf, Weiskopf and Nicklaus, but their minds were in different places. Nicklaus, the favorite, knew he would win because he always gears his game to reach a Sunday peak; Tom Weiskopf only hoped he might win because, after all, he had the task of beating Nicklaus.
"I'm not afraid of Jack," Tom had said without much conviction after moving into a tie for the lead on Saturday. "If you play better than Jack does, you can beat him."
March 6, 1972
The peculiar thing was, Weiskopf did not play spectacularly well, especially on the closing holes when he was fighting himself and all the pressure. But more than one tournament has been decided by how a golf ball behaves on a green after it has been rapped by a putter. When it came right down to it, Jack Nicklaus had a putt prove it could roll on thin air, and Weiskopf saw one of his own putts bounce straight up and back down into the hole.
The Nicklaus putt was for a birdie and it missed on the final green. The ball, mysteriously, rolled right over the cup. "I could see the cup on both sides of the ball," said Nicklaus in disbelief. Weiskopf's putt was for a birdie, too, but on the 17th hole. It was a 30-footer that looked as if it might be heading for Miami Beach until it struck the back of the cup and went skyward before plopping down into darkness, igniting Weiskopf's jubilation. It was enough to give him a one-stroke win at 278.
Earlier, Nicklaus had missed a simple two-footer for a par on the 16th hole, another stroke that kept him out of first place. But things worked against him all week long. He could look back and see six three-putt greens, two balls out of bounds and a couple of disastrous double bogeys on the first two holes of the tournament on Thursday. It just was not his week to win, no matter how hard Tom Weiskopf worked to help him out.
As the tournament unfolded there at the last, after Weiskopf had eagled the 15th hole with one of his eight one-putt greens of his final-round 68, the winner seemed to try every conceivable way to lose. He hit a terrible four-iron on the 16th, but dropped an eight-foot putt for a par. And he finished with a bogey 5 on the last hole after shakily driving into the rough of perhaps another condominium unit. In between he even tried, unwittingly, to lose the whole thing by penalty.
That was at the 17th, following an awful drive. Weiskopf was in ground under repair and entitled to a free drop before playing his approach. To the absolute horror of tour commissioner Joe Dey and PGA tournament director Jack Tuthill, who know the Rules of Golf like they know their phone numbers, Weiskopf strolled all the way up to the 17th green, traipsing through a bunker—then raking it as he left.
Under the Rules of Golf, this constitutes improving your situation on the hole. Had Weiskopf then hit his approach shot into the same bunker, he would have faced an automatic two-stroke penalty—and he would have thrown away the difference between the $52,000 first-prize money and the $29,640 for second.
"If you wanted to be hypertechnical, you could penalize him two strokes whether his ball went into the bunker or not," Dey explained. "Actually, anytime a player walks up ahead of his ball, he might be improving his situation. Suppose he tops the shot. It can roll over the grass he's tramped down, can't it?"
The key to not penalizing Weiskopf for walking through the bunker was the direction he took. He walked to the right of the cup; to the right, he insisted, of what he intended the line of the flight of the shot to be. Later he drew a map for officials to show exactly where he walked. Fine, said Tuthill. No penalty. But there would have been no recourse but a penalty had Weiskopf's shot landed anywhere in the bunker he had raked. So much for the rules. The ball did sail safely over the bunker and onto the green, and Weiskopf then sank his long putt that became the final, killing blow for Jack Nicklaus.
"I guess I didn't know the rule as well as I thought I did," said Weiskopf later. "I did a lot of choking out there. Playing safe is sometimes the hardest thing of all. I wasn't thinking too clearly, I'll admit. But I was trying. I was proud of myself for trying so hard."
For his part, Nicklaus thought that he was going to be mystified about his own putt on the last green for quite a while. "I didn't know a ball could roll on air," he said.
With this quixotic send-off the annual "Florida tour," which has grown more and more prosperous, was memorably under way. After tournaments in Los Angeles, Pebble Beach, Tucson, San Diego, Honolulu, Palm Springs and Phoenix, the players at last could do some settling down and compete for the modest sum of $835,000 in Florida alone.
Jackie Gleason's role in this rich Florida beginning was strictly that of a promoter. He did not part with any of the whopping $260,000 purse, and like most others who were around all week, he probably did not even know what Inverrary meant. All he knew was that the owners of the 1,000 acres being developed in condominiums and town houses around the Inverrary Country Club had given him a TWA terminal building and called it a house. His name then helped to promote both the property and the golf tournament—and the tournament was mainly a gimmick for the land development, with charity thrown in to hold the community interest.
From the beginning the talk was of Gleason's house and whether anybody had seen it yet, that thing over by the 8th hole with the 14 rooms, a pool-shooting arena and only one bedroom. And everybody quickly started saying, no, they hadn't actually been inside but their DC-10 had landed there.
Gleason had been talking about a golf tournament for years, and finally a couple of chaps named Burt Haft and Jack Gaines, who built Inverrary, decided to produce one for him. The fastest way to promote condominiums and town houses these days, it seems, is to first get yourself a golf course or three with fairway frontage, courses preferably designed by someone known, like Robert Trent Jones, Inc., then throw in a marina perhaps and some tennis courts, and maybe even an executive layout. If you are smart enough—and prosperous enough—to build all that first, the dirt is going to be easier to sell. A rich tournament, Haft and Gaines reasoned, was not going to hurt either, any more than the tony name they gave their club. "I think it's the name of a county in Scotland," Haft said, "but it really doesn't matter. We just like the sound of it, like Baltusrol. Baltusrol doesn't mean anything either." (It did to Mr. Baltus Roll, a landowner after whom the club was named.)
The Inverrary Country Club is about as close to Fort Lauderdale as it is to the state of Georgia. One reaches it by fighting endless traffic jams, always a part of the Florida season, turning left and right at various piles of dirt and gravel, crossing over canals and motoring past plot upon plot of open fields with signboards proclaiming that off in the distance lay—or soon would lie—another unique community called Sunlight Village or Tuna Marina or something.
The holes of the golf course, characterized like most Florida courses by a vast flatness and emptiness, meandered through condominiums and town houses, some finished, others under construction. It boasted the usual modern length—7,128 yards—and, actually, was designed by Rees Jones, one of the two architect sons of Robert Trent Jones himself. It was typically Jones-tough, even tougher because the tee markers were further back than the architect himself had planned.
Interestingly enough, Florida tournaments, despite all their money, are noted for not drawing many spectators. But Inverrary did draw, partly because the sponsors worked hard at it, and partly because of celeb day on Wednesday. The place was jammed with nearly 20,000 fans. A lot of show biz pals of Gleason's came to participate, among them Glen Campbell and Vic Damone, Robert Stack and Bob Hope, Joe Namath and Mickey Mantle. There were a couple of novelties this time, Mickey Rooney for one, Muhammad Ali for another. Ali did not play golf but he attended a function known as Jackie Gleason's birthday party on Wednesday night in the club, and his presence seemed to dwarf everyone else's. Earlier, Rooney had put the golf in perspective by doing foolish stunts on the greens. And Glea-son rode around in a red cart. It was all very fitting for an area that derives immense pride from the fact that Jackie Gleason calls it home.
The tournament began on Thursday with the big names looking as if they thought first place was worth 52¢. Lee Trevino had a 76 and Arnold Palmer a 74. Nicklaus took 73 and Gary Player 72. All such scores were a mile behind the leader, Gene Littler, who played like 76 but scored an astonishing 65, seven under par on a course that was so long it would be unthinkable that anyone could break 280 over four rounds.
Littler did his 65 the way most 65s are done—by chipping in twice and coming out of no less than three different bunkers for pars. But he used up all his luck that first day. From then on he drifted slowly back into the heap, although on Friday he still clung to a share of the lead. But those names with whom he was tied looked about as comfortable chasing the largest purse of the year as would most of the spectators on the course with their fishing hats and little stools with aluminum legs. They were John Schlee, Brian Allin and Dick Lotz.
Saturday was the day the tournament began to make more sense. As Schlee and Allin fell out of serious contention, Weiskopf and Tony Jacklin came along and joined Nicklaus and Gary Player among the true contenders. The only surrealist who hung in there was Mac McLendon, who had never won on the big circuit. He shared the top spot with Player and Weiskopf.
There is a saying on the tour that anyone who finishes among the top 15 could have won. Any week. The scoreboard as Sunday got started in bright, good Florida weather showed a horde of people in contention. Only three strokes separated the first 15 players. Jacklin took an early lead, and there were three-way and four-way ties for a while, but by the time everybody reached the back nine it was pretty well down to Nicklaus and Weiskopf.
When Weiskopf eagled 15 he took the lead all to himself. He still had a host of bad shots to hit, and he had already holed more saving putts than the law generally allows. He had made an eight-footer at the 2nd hole, a 14-footer at the 3rd, an 18-footer at the 4th, a 15-footer at the 9th, a five-footer at the 12th, and the 20-footer for the eagle at the 15th. He had no reason to expect anything more from his putter on the 16th or 17th, but they were going into the cup just as surely as he was going to walk into that bunker on 17.
Nicklaus had no chance. He never had a chance. Weiskopf had the magic. Why, when Tom walked through that bunker his feet didn't touch anything but air.