If you only looked at it casually, through the normal rain, sleet and wind of the Monterey Peninsula, or around the fireplaces where the usual quota of actors and singers gathered to thank Bing Crosby for inventing golf, it seemed that another year for the professional tour began last week in pretty much the same old way. There would be another $8 million out there to play for at tournaments named for celebrities, hotels, industries, amusement parks or some locale known intimately to its friends as "Greater." Like Jacksonville, New Orleans or Greensboro.
This was not the case, however. There was a new excitement in the air, a new sort of talk going around, and a lot of fresh words were entering the vocabularies of everybody concerned. Words like Beman and Designated Open and Crenshaw and Mahaffey and some other words that have been around a while but suddenly are used with more frequency. Weiskopf and Miller and Wadkins, for examples. Three very big words.
What the sport has on its hands is a new era, actually. And it looks as if it is going to be every hook, slice or shank as thrilling as the late 1950s, which brought on the Palmers, Nicklauses, Players, Caspers and Littlers, or the late 1930s, which turned out the Hogans, Sneads, Nelsons and Demarets.
Last week's Crosby was a perfect time to dwell on all this because the 1974 tour was beginning with the best and most orderly schedule in history, the game had a new commissioner in Deane Beman, and very clearly Jack Nicklaus had some keen-eyed competition moving up on him in the form of Tom Weiskopf, who has entered the superstar category, and Johnny Miller and Lanny Wadkins and Ben Crenshaw, the best of the most recent wagonload of child heroes to roll in from Sesame Street. It was also convenient to dwell on all this during the Crosby because for several days there was very little golf played.
January 13, 1974
Thursday's round was both washed and blown away, Friday's was played in a damp, gray breeze and Saturday's was jolted by rain, wind, hail and, finally, darkness that stranded 50 guys in the woods with the deer. The third round was played Sunday, though it was cold and soggy, but by Monday the greens had become rivers and the final round was put off. Johnny Miller led by four strokes, but it looked as if it might take until February for him or anyone else to win it.
You ordinarily would not think that Miller, Weiskopf, Wadkins and Crenshaw had much in common. Two of them are tall and two are short. Their ages range from 31 to 22. And they come from Ohio and Texas and California and North Carolina. But the things they have in common are the following: superb golfing skill and style, the ability to hit the tee shot about seven thousand miles, different but refreshing and distinctive personalities, and a furious desire to beat Jack Nicklaus—by wrestling or fistfighting if necessary.
They also fall into a nice group that might be labeled the non-moaners. Most golfers tend toward pessimism and complaint, and there is nearly always something wrong with their game. If not their putters, then their aching shoulders. But Miller, Weiskopf, Wadkins and Crenshaw, not just last week but last year when they were "arriving," spoke a different language. Their confidence practically oozed.
"I'm playing better than I've ever played in my life," Miller said, prophetically, just before the Crosby began.
Weiskopf said, "Everybody said I ought to have a letdown after the British Open, and my life would get complicated. I'm playing great. I don't see why I ever have to play bad. And I love attention. Man. so far I think the heat's fun."
Wadkins said, "You can just get ready for me to win a major championship."
And Crenshaw said, "I'm just gonna try to make 30,000 birdies and see what happens."
Just behind Nicklaus but still slightly ahead of this group of extra special talents are the palace guards, Lee Trevino and Gary Player. Their games have not exactly gone south. And pressing Crenshaw closely in youthful potential are John Mahaffey, Len Thompson, Tom Watson and Tom Kite, plus a few others the public will hear a lot more about.
In no minor way, last year belonged as much to Nicklaus as it did to these new stars who shoved their way into our consciousness. Nicklaus, after all, won that record 14th major championship when he took the PGA in Cleveland. But he captured seven other tournaments as well, counting the World Cup in Spain when he teamed with Miller for the good old U.S.A.
Nor were the other crowd pleasers idle. Player won on three different continents—as usual—Trevino sneaked in a couple of victories in Florida, Billy Casper, who seemed not to be around much, got a win. Arnold Palmer even won a tournament. But none of these made the year, or caused the excitement and anticipation about the future.
Weiskopf's streak over an eight-month period was the biggest news. It turned him into the player he had shown so much promise of becoming. It gave him a major title, and thus a loftier social status on the circuit. It also gave him more unofficial money—close to $350,000—than anyone had ever won in a single year, including all of Nicklaus' best years. It made Weiskopf a career millionaire (by world golf standards) along with Nicklaus, Palmer, Casper, Trevino, Player and Bruce Crampton.
"Maybe that's why everybody thinks I'm a better guy now," he jokes.
Weiskopf's streak never really got the attention it deserved. Starting in mid-May and ending in early December, here in order is what he did:
Won Colonial, finished second in Atlanta, won Kemper, won Philadelphia, finished third in the U.S. Open, fifth at Akron, won the British Open, won the Canadian Open, finished third at Westchester, sixth in the PGA, third in the U.S. Match Play, won the World Series, finished third in the John Player Classic in Scotland, finished third at Cincinnati, third in the Piccadilly, and won the South African PGA.
The startling statistics one can get out of all this are just that—startling. Weiskopf won seven of those 16 tournaments, never finished worse than sixth, was 14 times in the top three, and won in four different countries.
"The British Open was the big thing," he says, "but next best thing was beating Jack a few times."
Weiskopf and Nicklaus had quite a battle, thinking back on it; the champion was out there punching with a tough contender. Jack won four tournaments Tom was in, and Tom won three tournaments Jack was in. They each got a major championship, and they each wound up with some kind of Golfer of the Year award. But probe deeper and it is discovered that in the 15 events both entered, Weiskopf finished ahead of Nicklaus nine times.
"I didn't know that," Weiskopf says, "I gotta tell the Bear he's over the hill."
Johnny Miller did it all pretty much in one week, or in one day, when he shot that 63 at Oakmont and won the U.S. Open. Well, let's say two weeks, for he nearly won the British Open in a battle with Weiskopf.
The same was true of Crenshaw. He exploded at the end, coming out of the PGA's qualifying school to win the first tournament he entered, and then following that up with a near-miss, second place at Pinehurst.
Wadkins was a little different. He won two tournaments, all right, but he was also the practice round champion of the Western world, and his pleasingly cocky attitude, matched with this, earned him the reputation among the other players as a mini-tiger.
"All through my streak," says Weiskopf, "Lanny was beating my brains out on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday."
Wadkins is also a fairly good needier. He went up to Arnold Palmer at one point last year and said, "You must have been a hell of a player in your day."
For all of these bright talents, and the old standbys as well, there is a new stage for their act. There are still eight tournaments named for show-biz types, and four named for companies, and two for hotels and two more for amusement parks, but it will all come to a sensible conclusion by Nov. 3. Good. Two months off.
Five tournaments have been lost—St. Louis, Robinson, the Match Play, the Atlanta Classic and the L&M Open—but what has been gained is a solid plus. Besides the new Tournament Players Championship, which is being called the "backup PGA" and which will be rotated around the country, and besides the rebirth of the National Team Championship at the Walt Disney World layout in Orlando, golf now has a thing that is likely to gain the name of the Designated Open.
There will be three Designated Opens this year, at Colonial in Fort Worth, at Kemper in Charlotte and at the World in Pinehurst. A Designated Open is something that everybody who matters to the public "must" play in, or they will be sent to prison by Joe Dey, the outgoing commissioner, or Deane Beman, the incoming commissioner.
Why those three tournaments?
"Because they are well-run events on great golf courses," Joe Dey explains, referring to Colonial, Quail Hollow and Pinehurst.
The hope of Beman, as it is of Dey, is that there eventually will be 10 Designated tournaments; class events, in other words, putting up a minimum of $250,000, and for which a Nicklaus and a Weiskopf and a Trevino and a Palmer will be guaranteed to the sponsor.
Obviously, a lot of tournaments are never going to be among the elite and might feel like stepchildren, and might—maybe—decide they do not even want to be tournaments anymore. Immediately, one would have to wonder about Memphis. It falls exactly between Colonial and Kemper, two of the three "musts." Memphis is not a "must." If Memphis draws anybody other than Harry Vardon and Old Tom Morris, the sponsors will deserve a ticker-tape parade.
Beman says, "We have to be progressive and we have to be realistic. We want good tournaments on good golf courses, and to get that the sponsor wants a good field. I think we'll always have the smaller tournaments, enough at least, because they want the circus to come to town once a year."
One thing the pros did not particularly want was Deane Beman as commissioner. Or any other player. They were almost unanimous in the feeling that the selection of a player or former player as their leader would be difficult because it would be impossible for that fellow ever to gain the respect of the other players.
For more than two months they all talked about replacing Joe Dey with a "high-powered businessman" who could tell them what to do and make them like it. How hard the PGA looked for such a person is not known, but the only people who were actually interviewed by the 10-man board were Deane Beman, Dan Sikes, Jay Hebert, all players; Jack Tuthill, the PGA tournament director; and a lawyer and a broadcasting executive whom Dey prefers not to name.
In Beman they chose a young man, 35, a man who won a tournament last year, a man who admitted at Pebble Beach that he had never made many close friends on the tour other than Bert Yancey, a man noted more for his accomplishments as an amateur, and, incidentally, a man who had never joined the PGA.
"Look," Beman said. "I'm sure some of the guys are disappointed, and it was hard for me to give up playing. I think I know what's good for the game and what's good for the tour. I'm going to be fair and go by the rules. I hope to earn the respect of the players, if I don't have it now."
Beman paused, then added: "I'll say this. I hope there aren't too many fellows out here who are that deeply disappointed. Because I am the commissioner."
Joe Dey couldn't resist a little joke, having not quite retired as yet. He smiled at the young man who will replace him.
"Deane," said Dey, "actually, you're still just a commissioner trainee."
And Joe Dey thought of something else. He looked across a room in the Del Monte Lodge at Johnny Miller and Ben Crenshaw. He looked out the window at Pebble Beach, which holds its charm even in a dark sky. And he looked back at a confident Deane Beman.
"My goodness," Joe said. "This game is in splendid shape."