Public-course golfers, even the best ones, are not used to being pampered, or being fed and feted and fetched here and there by smiling volunteers as 159 of them were last week at the Amateur Public Links Championship in Coon Rapids, Minn. These golfers are a self-sufficient breed, inured to hardship, to long waits and slow play, to hitting sand shots out, of footprints and to putting across wastelands of spike marks. Treat them kindly as the good people of Coon Rapids did, trail them down the fairways, applauding their triumphs and grieving with them over their failures as the galleries did at the Bunker Hills Golf Course, and they tend to go to pieces.
Frank Hannigan of the United States Golf Association was officiating at the 1st tee as the semifinal round began Friday afternoon when a young player, Victor Wolfe from Livermore, Calif., approached him. Wolfe had won his first three matches, each on the 18th hole, but Friday morning he had lost to another Californian, Gary Hitch of Ventura. Now Wolfe was on his way home and he wanted to thank someone.
He held out his hand to Hannigan, but as he began to speak his voice broke and his eyes filled with tears. He talked on anyway, his delivery somewhat hesitant but his message clear. He had had a wonderful time, he said, the experience had meant a great deal to him and he was aware that somebody had gone to a lot of trouble to make it all possible. Then he turned on his heel and was gone. Hannigan, once a public-course player himself, had to clear his throat before he went back to work. The last time the USGA threw a national championship for men was a month ago in Atlanta when the competitors turned dyspeptic upon arrival and complained about everything from the hors d'oeuvres to the baked Alaska, then left, most of them, without a good-by. But, of course, that was the famous U.S. Open.
At the APL in Coon Rapids the hosts were rewarded with more than just gratitude for their efforts. The 36-hole final match on Saturday, like Jerry Pate's finish at the Open, would have been enough all by itself. For one thing it brought together on a perfect summer day on a well-designed and well-conditioned course the two best players in the tournament, something a match-play format cannot always be counted on to do.
Archie Dadian at 42 was playing in his 10th APL Championship. His best finish was in last year's tournament in Hawaii when he reached the semis, but he lost the match when he missed a 15-inch downhill putt. He is a claims supervisor for an insurance company in Milwaukee, has four children and plays golf twice a week. His parents were Armenians, born in Turkey, who settled in Racine in 1920.
These days Dadian plays in eight or 10 amateur tournaments a year, all, except the APL, in Wisconsin. He considers the year a success if he wins two or three. Eleven years ago Dadian was out on the PGA tour and making expenses. He might still be there if he had not shattered the metacarpal bone of his left hand when he hit a rock with a sand wedge at the 1965 Azalea Open. He quit the tour and in 1968 underwent surgery that allowed him to begin playing again. In 1969, after doing three years of penance, he was reinstated as an amateur.
Dadian is short and stocky, with a gentle voice and the fierce, dogged competitiveness that makes a good match player. He drags a pull cart along behind him like a reluctant child as he barrels toward his next shot. Sometimes he breaks into a run. A spectator, watching him approach the 18th green at a dead run one afternoon, shook his head in wonder and said to no one in particular, "Look at that crazy Armenian!"
Crazy like a fox. In that match his opponent, Jim Peterson of Scottsdale, Ariz., was three up going to the 13th tee. Archie played the next six holes in two under par and won the match one up. "It was a nightmare," wailed Peterson later. "The last six holes went so fast!"
Out of the other half of the draw emerged 22-year-old Eddie Mudd of Louisville, possibly the only good tobacco-chewing golfer in the U.S. A pitcher with a chaw in his cheek is one thing, but a kid in double-knits with tobacco-juice stains on his golf shirt gives one pause. When a Louisville tournament director told Eddie to take his choice, chew or play, Eddie pointed out that he neither littered the fairways with cigarette butts nor burned the greens as smokers did and, furthermore, when he spit he fertilized the grass. "It relaxes me," he drawls. "Sometimes I mix Beech-Nut with snuff and sometimes I mix Red Man and Beech-Nut. I like that a lot. My wife chews, too, Applejack. She likes it, but she don't spit too good."
Sharon Mudd has been married four weeks. Eddie was involved in an 18-hole playoff for the Kentucky Amateur title on their wedding day. Despite that, Sharon gave up smoking at her husband's request and the decision led to Applejack. It seems safe to say that Sharon Mudd is probably the only tobacco-chewing female math teacher in the Jefferson County school system.
Eddie has one semester to go for a degree in recreation from Morehead State University, but he has no intention of teaching or coaching. "I don't want no part of school when I get out," he says. He intends to turn pro, try to play the tour, and if that does not work out, to look for a club job in Louisville. His father, Ed Sr., who watched all of Eddie's matches from a discreet and suffering distance in the company of his new daughter-in-law, has been a teacher and coach at Butler High School in Louisville for 21 years. He is a big man with a large head, a football coach from Central Casting, but his daughter-in-law calls him Daddy Rabbit. He is also a member of the USGA's Public Links Committee, a fact that, during the early rounds, led to an enormous inner struggle as he sought to maintain an impartial demeanor. It almost killed Mudd the Elder. By the quarterfinal he had doffed his telltale blue blazer and other identifying insignia and abandoned any pretense of impartiality. He shouted "Go, ball!" at the top of his lungs as any loyal father/coach would.
Eddie Mudd is only about 5'7" ("I played basketball till I got too short") but he weighs 165 and his shoulders are extremely powerful. He is working this summer at the Fairgrounds Golf Center in Louisville, a par-3 driving range-putt-putt complex, where he cuts the grass, clears the range and hits a million golf balls. "A day," says his father.
Dadian and Mudd were a wonderful sight on Saturday as they set out on their daylong 36-hole outing, the squat, powerful middle-aged man with the pull cart and the square-jawed kid with the broad shoulders who looks like any cocky young pro, except there is that bulge in his jaw. Daddy Rabbit, who had started drinking coffee in the clubhouse at 7 a.m. because he could not sleep, was now staring disconsolately at a flock of ducks on a pond near the equipment shed, as if he were trying to decide whether he had the stomach for what lay ahead of him.
Mudd won three of the first five holes before Dadian got a single one back. By the ninth Mudd had sunk putts of 30, 20 and 15 feet and again was three up. In an 18-hole match one might have been inclined to give up on Dadian, but 36 holes is a long road on which to maintain one's concentration and Dadian had the edge in experience. Archie saved par with a nine-iron from a maintenance road stiff to the pin at 10 to get one back, let two more get away at 11 and 13, then on the 550-yard 14th, the longest hole on the course, he birdied. With three more pars and a bogey Dadian picked up one hole and went to lunch even par and two holes down.
At the 21st, the third hole of the afternoon. Eddie lost his lead and at the turn Dadian was one up. Disaster set in on the final nine—topped irons, overshot greens and a conflict with a tree trunk—but the disasters were evenly distributed and the two golfers halved seven straight holes, the 28th through the 34th. Mudd was still one down and he was running out of time. He had to win one of the next two holes to stay alive.
The 17th at Bunker Hills is a 215-yard par-3 with traps left and right and the pin placed behind the right bunker. It is meant to be played into the teeth of the prevailing southeast wind, but this day there was only a slight breeze. Mudd's tee shot landed on the green 20 feet short of the hole. Dadian's was short of the green, but his chip was close. Eddie stepped up to his 20-footer and knocked it into the hole. Then he punched the air with his fist in triumph all the way to the cup. "When I do that it discourages my opponent, see," he confided later.
Eddie could have blown it all on the 18th with a bad putt that went four feet past the hole but he managed to get it down in regulation, and the match moved to the 37th hole. Both pushed their tee shots on the 390-yard par-4, Archie into a bunker, Eddie into some high rough. Archie's second advanced to the next bunker on the right. Then Archie flew the green. When he finally reached the putting surface he was lying four. Eddie was on from the rough in two. Archie took two putts to get down, and the kid had won. Daddy Rabbit threw his hat in the air and whooped.
The Amateur Public Links is not like anything else under the sporting sun. In spirit it is amateurism at its best, people playing a game for the love of it, competing for the fun of it and striving when striving is its own reward. In practice, however, it is something of a hybrid. It was invented in 1922 by a youngish member of the USGA executive committee, James D. Standish Jr. of Detroit, a decent sort who felt there should be a national championship for golfers who could not afford to play in the U.S. Amateur. The problem lay in the sport's tough amateur code, particularly its insistence that an amateur pay all his expenses. An amateur championship is a costly proposition. It requires two rounds of qualifying, transportation to the site and food, lodging and caddie fees for as many as nine days. Standish's solution was in a great American tradition—separate but equal. Public-course players, just like club amateurs, should have a national title, but to make that possible they should be allowed, without jeopardizing their amateur status, to accept expense money. Today the maximum allowed the APL qualifiers is transportation and $15 a day toward living expenses. The money comes from the tournament's $10 entry fees and is distributed by Public Links committeemen across the country.
A possible by-product of Standish's altruism was the forestalling of criticism of the USGA, its amateur code and its then exclusionary membership policies. The code is still rigorous, but where once the USGA was made up of Myopias and Merions, today its membership is wide open. Not long ago five golfers got together, called themselves a club and applied. The USGA conferred, because there was no precedent, but finally it ruled in favor of the fivesome. The Los Angeles Police Department has a golf association that is a card-carrying member of the USGA. A city like Coon Rapids that owns a golf course cannot join, but the golfers at Bunker Hills can. And have.
"When I first became involved," says the USGA's Hannigan, "I had the thing figured as an anachronism and a loser. I thought its time had passed, because of the growth of college golf and the liberalization of USGA membership requirements. I thought we would find it increasingly hard to find decent sites and replacements for aging committeemen. As often, I was wrong. The thing is vitally alive in the sense that it serves a genuine need. The people who play in it care tremendously, it remains a relatively easy tournament to place and we have no trouble in getting new committee guys."
This year there were 4,071 entries, 1,543 more than for last year's U.S. Amateur. Sectional qualifying narrowed that number to 159, and two days of stroke play on the 6,745-yard Bunker Hills course left 64 golfers eligible for six rounds of match play. Predictably, almost a third of the 64 were students. But the rest were teachers and truck drivers, salesmen and bartenders, cops and clerks, engineers and firemen, and 12 of them were 35 or older. They came from 27 states and all they had in common was their skill and a taste for competition. Each had qualified against enormous odds. In Minnesota, for instance, 503 golfers had competed for 12 spots.
The first APL was played in Toledo. The winner was an 18-year-old from St. Louis named Edmund R. Held, who played in a white shirt, a narrow tie and an enormous tweed cap that rested on rather prominent ears. A USGA account of the event concludes with the following information: "A most unusual incident occured during match play. Two players had made their approaches on a hole near the finish when a pistol shot sounded in the rear of the gallery; a thoroughly uninterested spectator had chosen that moment to commit suicide."
The committeemen are every bit as diverse as the players. Thomas Ching of Honolulu has a paper-box business. George Dressier works for Penn State University's branch in Hershey, Moreno Caso of Seattle owns a fleet of cabs. Dr. Richard Silver is a Park Avenue dentist whose passion is The Rules of Golf. Julio Campagni of Chicago owns a bowling alley. Dale Christiansen is Director of Parks for the city of Portland, Ore. Most of them have been public-links golfers themselves, yet their leader is a Connecticut patrician from the USGA executive committee, Prescott S. Bush Jr., who probably never saw a public course until he became chairman of the committee two years ago. Bush's wife is a Walker, as in Walker Cup, and his father was once president of the USGA and later a U.S. Senator.
Prescott Bush gave Eddie Mudd a medal that was every bit as gold as the Amateur champion's and the new Public Links champion said thank you to everybody he could think of. Then he grinned. "If y'all ever come to Lool'vul, stop by and we'll play 18, or nine—if you give me two strokes."