Gay Brewer had the resigned awkwardness of a pachyderm among gazelles at the World Series of Golf, for certainly he wasn't expected to be a major figure of the weekend campaign. After all, Brewer came to Akron with only one victory over the past five years on the American tour, the win standing like a sun-bleached skeleton on a desert of disappointment and illness. Now 40 years old and graying, Brewer could be excused whatever pangs of discomfort he suffered while the crowds shouldered past him for a glimpse of the real stars. It almost appeared as if Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Lee Trevino had asked ol' Gay along to fill out the foursome.
After all, here were three guys who among them had won six U.S. Opens, six British Opens, five Masters and four PGAs and this year so far had earned, in nice round figures, about $570,000. Against this was Brewer with his one Masters title in 1967 and $75,000, a tidy sum by mortal standards but hardly in the same income bracket with his playmates.
It would be fun to report that David slew the three Goliaths, but in truth just the opposite happened. Player, with a two-over-par 142, took the $50,000 first prize, while Nicklaus and Trevino were tied for second at 144, each earning $11,250. Brewer was last at 145. For that he picked up $5,000, which keeps his overall earnings in perspective.
Brewer actually had arrived at the world series through a rear entrance. The winners of the four major championships—The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA—are invited to the world series, but since Nicklaus won two of the big four titles, Brewer was summoned because of his victory in the Canadian Open.
From the beginning, the fans looked upon the phlegmatic Brewer as if he were a plate of unsalted, lumpy mashed potatoes at a gourmet feast. Although he won that 1967 Masters, Brewer's swing has a pronounced loop which might compel the naive, upon seeing it initially, to recommend a visit to a professional for a lesson. Early in the week he practiced for the most part in solitude, taking exacting pains during an occasional interview to point out that he could win. If I'm playing good, I can beat anybody," he said.
Last April, Brewer was involved in a match play of a different sort. He was near death in an Augusta hospital, growing weaker from a bleeding ulcer. "My hemoglobin count was down to five," he said. "Four can be fatal. They gave me eight pints of blood. Actually it was a relief to find out what it was and that it could be cured. It took a lot of pressure off me. I'd been having stomach cramps for 2½ years but I was afraid to go into the hospital. I'd get over a shot and be ready to hit it and get a stomach cramp and feel like throwing the club away."
Brewer was in the hospital for 10 days and upon his release the doctors put him on a diet that excluded alcoholic refreshments among other things. For years Brewer's eyes had resembled a plate-glass window after a baseball had gone through it, part of the reason his fellow pros call him "hound dog." But the new regimen agrees with him. Since returning to the tour, he has finished in the top 10 five times, and prior to the world series the $75,000 he had earned assured him of his best year financially.
Another teetotaler, Player, arrived in Akron Tuesday night after the arduous, 38-hour, 10,000-mile trip from his home in South Africa. A physical-fitness zealot, Player instantly plunged into a routine of jogging, leg exercises and long practice rounds. By Saturday morning, fit as usual, he seemed more than normally determined. It rankles him to hear Nicklaus routinely granted the title "best golfer in the world." Privately he indicates that Arnold Palmer's fall from the top perhaps was hastened by worry over Nicklaus.
"I don't consider that Nicklaus is the best player in the world," said Gary. "The only way to judge who is the best player is not by what's happening right now, but by waiting until the end of our careers. I just can't understand Lee Trevino saying Jack Nicklaus is the best player in the world 'by a mile.' When you say things like that it means you are striving to be second-best and I'm not striving to be second-best."
Player was halfway to his goal after Saturday's round, shooting the final nine in even par for a round of 71. Whatever Brewer was striving for, he was hardly noticed in second place, two strokes back, even though he also had shot par on the incoming nine.
The first day started out badly for Hound Dog. Shortly after dawn he was aroused from a sound sleep by an eager and early-rising journalist who telephoned him in his motel room, and proceeded to conduct an impromptu press conference. On the golf course later that day Brewer's problems were of an equally unexpected nature. His tee shots, vastly improved since he acquired a new driver several months ago, were straying into Firestone's heavy rough. But, stoically, Hound Dog hung in there, getting a needed boost with an eight-foot putt that fell for a par at the eighth hole, a fine wedge shot out of the rough and a two-foot putt for par at the ninth. Those two putts were the start of eight one-putt greens over the final 11 holes. Brewer finished with a three-over-par 73, two shots behind Player, but a stroke in front of Trevino's 74 and two strokes ahead of Nicklaus' 75.
Brewer started the final round hopeful of catching Player, who made things easier by bogeying the opening hole. For a change, Gay was driving the ball into the fairway and seemed pleased to make pars on the first few holes. But then he faltered on the long fourth and fifth holes, historically his nemesis at Firestone. Brewer drove into the fourth's fairway bunker and bogeyed and picked up another paralyzing bogey on the par-three fifth when his tee shot went into a trap. He was on his way to another front-nine 38 while Player was getting the ball up and down for pars from everywhere and shooting a 36 to break a four-stroke lead. "I just can't get by the fourth and fifth hole," lamented Brewer.
On the incoming nine Brewer gave a better exhibition of his true ability. He birdied the 10th hole and went on to shoot a 34, one under par, although missing birdie putts of under 12 feet four times. Player had no such misfortune. He one-putted the 11th through 15th and assured himself of victory with a gutty par on the 625-yard 16th hole. Meanwhile Brewer was even with Nicklaus and Trevino on the 17th tee, but when they both dropped birdie putts, he fell to fourth, and the $5,000.
Ah, well, look at it this way. When he turned professional in 1956, it took him two years to earn that much.