A passerby would never have known there was a national championship being decided at the Carmel Valley Golf and Country Club in northern California last week. There were no crowds, no tents, no marshals, no programs, no leaderboards, no hot-dog stands and no Goodyear blimps cluttering up the clear September sky. Just 132 veteran golfers, 55 years or older with handicaps of 10 or lower, who played 36 holes at medal to pare their number to 32. The surviving 32 then played five rounds of match play to "identify," as the U.S. Golf Association likes to put it, a national senior amateur champion.
The winner, a 60-year-old grandfatherly millionaire from Pebble Beach named William F. Colm who looks like Alastair Sim and putts like Sam Snead wishes he did, was every bit as unassuming as the event he won. When he was congratulated on the near-perfect six-iron approach he hit to the 15th green, the hole on which he closed out his final match 4 and 3 over Steve Stimac, a 60-year-old pharmacist from Walnut Creek, Calif., Colm smiled shyly and said, "I have a good pro."
From a distance, the site chosen by the USGA for its 21st Senior Amateur Championship looked like any normally busy suburban golf club during a pleasant week in the early fall. Each morning yellow electric carts driven by gray-haired men whirred along asphalt paths, past clumps of oaks and clusters of condominiums. But the bags strapped to the backs of the carts bore the tags of places as disparate as Shady Oaks in Fort Worth, where Ben Hogan hangs out, Meadow Brook on the Long Island Gold Coast and Bethlehem Management, a steel man's fringe benefit in Hamburg, N.Y.
The oldest player in the field was Pat McDonough, 71, from the Pittsburgh Field Club. Next oldest was Merrill Carlsmith, 70, from Hilo, Hawaii, who has played in the event 14 times and won it twice. There were five former Walker Cuppers—Bill Hyndman, who won in 1973, Gene Andrews, winner in 1970, Bob Cochran, Ed Tutwiler and Dale Morey, the defending champion.
And there was Curtis Person Sr., the 65-year-old Chevrolet dealer from Memphis who won in 1968 and 1969 and held the record for low-qualifying score—143 at Tucson National in 1966—until Hyndman tied it last week. At Carmel Valley, however, Person shot an 89 in the second round and failed to qualify. "The worst day I ever had in my life," he moaned as he headed home. "You have a short life-span in the seniors. Mine just ran out."
Nobody believed him, of course. Person is indefatigable. He will play in the Memphis Seniors this week, the Chick Evans in Chicago after that and the International Seniors at Pine Valley in mid-October.
A player who did not qualify but played anyway and reached the quarterfinals was a USGA vice-president, Frank (Sandy) Tatum Jr. Tatum is a San Francisco lawyer, a former NCAA golf champion from Stanford (1942) and a Rhodes Scholar who, in 1948, captained Oxford's golf team to its first victory over Cambridge in 20 years. (Why six years between competitions? "Oxford redshirted him," said his friend Frank Hannigan, the USGA tournament director.) Tatum is a one handicapper who turned 55 this year. He attempted to qualify sectionally in Southern California in September but tied for the last spot in the section and then lost in a five-way sudden-death playoff.
Tatum was playing Cypress Point the Sunday afternoon before the tournament began when he received a call from Hannigan. A New Orleans golfer had withdrawn with a leg injury after two practice rounds, said Hannigan. Neither the New Orleans alternates nor alternates from St. Louis, Wisconsin and New York, the next three regions on Hannigan's reallotment roster, could get themselves to the Monterey Peninsula in time for a 9:09 a.m. tee-off. The next man on the list was the Los Angeles alternate who could have made it on time, but who could not be found. So that left Tatum. Shooting rounds of 77 and 76, he made it through medal play to the final 32. "Now he's impossible," said Hannigan.
Tatum, who bristles with energy and suffers with gusto when his game turns on him, won his first two matches but was finally eliminated by a three-star general, Keith Compton (USAF Ret.), from Fort Worth. Compton eats lunch every Thursday with Ben Hogan at Shady Oaks and he looks at the hole, not the ball, when he putts, a practice his friend Hogan finds esthetically discomfiting.
It is foolhardy to bet the favorites in a match-play tournament and the Seniors was no exception. Long-hitting Ed Tutwiler of Indianapolis, "the biggest Cadillac dealer in the Midwest," was the early choice. He was knocked off on the 20th hole of his first-round match by George Swift of Columbus, Ga. Dale Morey was out jogging the course at dawn each day, but he couldn't do anything about the hot putter of Henry Edwards of Oklahoma City, his first-round opponent. "He sank five putts from over 30 feet," Morey moaned. "And two of them were from off the green." Hyndman, who hits 200 golf balls a day on the practice tee of the Huntingdon Valley Country Club outside Philadelphia—and that doesn't count the time he spends chipping and putting—won his first match easily, then lost to Bob Cochran of St. Louis, 2 and 1, in the second round. Cochran fell to the eventual runner-up, Stimac, on the first extra hole of their quarter-final match, and that was the end of the name players.
There was some grumbling among the losers that the course was too short, that its emphasis on accurate iron play and putting was what brought the best players back to the field.
"I'm not buying," said Hannigan. "I think the field is much deeper in pretty good or quality players than it was five or 10 years ago." Cochran did not buy the excuse, either. "It's a good course for the seniors," he said. "The more you play it the more you realize it's harder than it looks. It takes all the shots and the greens are slick and fast and hard to read."
The final match was far from the best golf of the tournament, particularly on the front nine, but the confrontation of the two 60-year-old northern California golfers, the retired oil man and the working pharmacist, Stanford '36 vs. Cal '37, was sociologically satisfying. Both men bogeyed two of the first three holes, and though Colm began to settle down after that and made the turn two over par, Stimac bogeyed four more and was four down after nine. "I had been butchering the first nine all week," said Stimac later. "I felt I had to get even if I was to have any chance of winning. But he was too steady."
The gallery of 46 people, eight carts, two bicycles and a poodle that set out in the early morning fog with the finalists swelled as the day grew warmer. Riding with Colm as his caddie was Ernie Pieper (pronounced peeper), a pear rancher whose long and illustrious career in California amateur golf includes victories in the Santa Clara County championship in six—count 'em, six—different decades. Stimac's caddie was Morgan Barofsky, a pal from Walnut Creek, who paired with George Bayer to tie for first in the 1965 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. As Stimac began to run out of holes on the back nine, Barofsky cursed the Fates that kept his friend's long birdie putts from falling and looked as though he might cry.
The pair halved the first four holes on the back nine, parring every one. On the 14th, a par-3 with an elevated tee and a pond to the right of the green that is inhabited by a flock of perpetually angry geese, Stimac, who was four down with five to go, missed a long birdie putt. But Colm, whose putting had been commendably steady since the early holes, missed a six-footer for par. Stimac was still alive, if barely. Then on the 15th, a 363-yard dogleg par-4, Colm hit the beautiful six-iron approach that slammed the door. When he sank the final putt, he modestly touched the bill of his black-and-white checked cap as his friends and neighbors applauded. A new champion had been identified.