In an age when even spelling bees offer big money, there is something charming about a game whose reward is a headline—and maybe not that—in a local newspaper. Indeed, it was not the lure of $100,000 or even the gift of silver ball markers that brought 200 of the world's finest amateurs to Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles last week for the 76th U.S. Amateur Championship. It was merely the opportunity to compete for and possibly win the same title that Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus did.
While a number of great players have won this championship, there have been a few who needed lead weights in their cuffs to keep from blowing off the golf scene. Only time will measure the weight class and career of young Bill Sander, this year's champion.
Early in the week, the 20-year-old performed with the inconsistency of a player who had won little else but a few city championships. Then he found his touch, and in the 36-hole final on Sunday he shellacked Parker Moore Jr. 8 and 6, the biggest winning margin since 1961 when Dudley Wysong was beaten by this chubby kid from Columbus, Ohio. For his final 59 holes in the tournament, Sander hardly played like an amateur. He was four under par.
The final match was between players from opposite parts of the country—Sander of rainy Seattle, Moore from Laurens, S.C. Sander is a freshman at the University of Houston, having left Brigham Young after one semester. Moore, 23, is a recent graduate of Clemson and the champion of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
September 12, 1976
In the final, the younger and longer-hitting Sander never let Moore in the match, jumping out to a 5-up lead after nine holes. Moore rallied by winning five of the next six holes, but Sander took the final three with pars and made the turn a comfortable 4 up. This allowed him the luxury of playing a cautious final 18, but even so he moved steadily ahead to his remarkably easy victory.
Bel-Air was a fitting playground for the Amateur, having long been one of the golf citadels of Los Angeles. Its first club professional, Joe Novak, now 78, is still the pro emeritus there. But while the Amateur means tradition and decorum and USGA blue blazers, it can also be a launching pad for bigger things. A good showing in the tournament goes a long way toward building a national reputation, attracting sponsors and gaining confidence for a shot at the pro circuit. Here again, Bel-Air fits. Hollywood is nearby, and many of the club's members are entertainers.
The tournament opened on Tuesday, and quickly the youngsters started knocking off the smattering of veterans in the field. The 1972 champion, Vinny Giles, was the first to fall. Despite playing even par, Giles was beaten on the 20th hole of his opening-round match by Donald Reese. Former Walker Cuppers Ed Tutwiler and Downing Gray were casualties in the second round, as was two-time winner Gary Cowan.
Match play is hated by some, revered by others. It matters not so much how well you play as long as your opponent does not play better. Dick Siderowf, the two-time British Amateur champion who was bidding to win the British and American championships in the same year, was 21 over par in his first two matches but won both. His errors finally caught up to him in the fourth round Friday morning, and he was eliminated by Moore.
After Friday morning, only 16 players remained, all of them youngsters. Their average age was 21; the oldest was Wes Mohr, 29, of Houston, the youngest Frank Fuhrer III, 17, whose father owns the Pittsburgh Triangles of World Team Tennis. One of the survivors, Jim Mason, 22, had beaten Fred Ridley, the defending champion, in the fourth round.
By Saturday morning, the remaining eight quarterfinalists were not only young, but four of them had strong ties to Brigham Young University, either as active or former players. Sander had one of his finest days, shooting a 69 in the morning to beat Skeeter Heath, then whomping Mason 8 and 7 in the afternoon with a 31 on the front nine.
That left it between Sander and Moore, an extra-hole winner over Stan Souza after having edged Mike Reid, who was the first-round leader in the U.S. Open. They went off in the early morning mist at Bel-Air Sunday, playing for a cup filled not with riches but with memories.