The cashmere sweater crowd threw what must have been the second biggest party of the week, right there along the calendar-art shores of the Monterey Peninsula, and when calm finally settled on all the Titleists that were lost in the iceplant of the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am, the only unanswered question was: If Gerald Ford can get that much publicity by playing 36 holes of golf, how long will it take Jimmy Carter to start hitting wedge shots on the White House lawn?
It was perhaps the most unusual week that professional golfers have ever spent at the Crosby. There were more people, more presidents, more low scores, more splendid weather, more traffic, more Secret Service men and more eyefilling glimpses of Carmel Bay than ever before. And all of it in the name of work.
At Pebble Beach, Cypress Point and Monterey Peninsula Country Club this hoopla produced what had to be the grandest "major championship" that did not have an Open, Masters or PGA attached to its name. For the fellow who won it, Tom Watson, the Crosby might as well be listed as a major triumph, for it had all the importance, attention and drama.
What it had on Sunday was three guys battling down the stretch, making bogeys as if they were at Augusta or Merion or Oakland Hills. When Watson got to the last hole at Pebble Beach, his two closest pursuers, Tony Jacklin and Lee Elder, had already lost any real chance of catching him by making sixes at this most famous, and most photographed, of the world's par-5s. Watson hit a very long, slightly dangerous drive down the left, or ocean, side of the 18th fairway. Then he hit a four-iron second shot that he would describe as "somewhat less than desirable." It sailed into a bunker next to the sea wall. A little more to the left, and he would have been down below with the sea lions.
January 31, 1977
Although Watson was once noted for his last-round collapses, he seemed rid of that when he took the 1975 British Open. But he went all last year without a tour victory, and now here he was again—in trouble.
Not that much trouble, however. He had played such superb golf all week that even with the shaky finish he would destroy the tournament record held by Billy Casper. He blasted out of the sand and over the green, chipped long and missed the 15-foot putt. But what he had left was a one-inch stroke for victory. He still shot 71 for a total of 273, four strokes lower than anyone—Nicklaus, Palmer, Miller—had ever done in all the Crosbys of the past.
"This is not a bad thing to happen to somebody who used to drive down here from Stanford and sneak on these courses before dawn," said Watson.
The Crosby got under way Thursday with a very smart-looking leaderboard, which is how classy events are supposed to unfold. Hubert Green landed the first blows on Pebble Beach by tying the course record of 65, seven under par. He even made a bogey doing it; that was an indication of how gentle the place was going to be. Watson had a 66 at Pebble that day, and, in all, 45 players broke par across the Peninsula. When Green went the other direction on Friday with a 76 at Cypress Point, which would be his undoing over the long haul, he had a simple explanation. "I lost my roller," he said, meaning the putter.
Friday was the day of Victor Regalado, no stranger to the followers of the Pleasant Valley Classic, which he won back in 1974. Regalado began with a 67 at Monterey and duplicated the score at Pebble with the aid of three chip-ins. Regalado is from Tijuana, and he said afterward, "Trevino's not here, so I'm just trying to be low Mexican." A stroke back of him were Watson, Jacklin and Elder.
On Saturday, Watson took command with a 67 in the seclusion of Monterey, while the multitudes scurried after Jerry Ford at Pebble and ultimately turned the Del Monte Lodge and its lawns into what looked like a revolutionary campsite. Watson was 13 under par then, one ahead of Jacklin and two ahead of Elder, and their sub-par totals had none other than Jack Nicklaus scratching his head.
"If I was seven under, like I am now, at almost any other Crosby I've ever played in, I'd be leading," Jack said.
Nicklaus' first appearance of the season was what he termed "adequate." He finished 11th, eight strokes behind Watson. Actually, Jack seemed more interested in two other things last week. One was calling around to Tahoe and Vail and asking about snow as he searched for a place to go skiing, a new hobby that makes his business associates and contract holders shudder. The other was taking delivery on his new toy, a Cessna Citation, which is just like Arnold Palmer's, except for the Golden Bear logo on it rather than Mark McCormack's umbrella.
As for the golf, Nicklaus could at least say he performed better than three of the sport's younger glamour types, a trio of blonds who have been smearing the ink on Jack's headlines. In this Crosby, Johnny Miller, Ben Crenshaw and Jerry Pate missed the cut.
So did Jerry Ford, who more than Watson, Nicklaus, Crosby or the dozens of rhinestone cowboys, was the man who brought out the crowds. There were so many people tromping around the Peninsula all week that you needed a walkie-talkie to find your way back to the Del Monte Lodge. No one knew the exact head count on Saturday, which produced perhaps the largest traffic jam in the history of the 17-Mile Drive. The tournament always draws huge crowds, especially when it is blessed with decent weather, because it offers a chance to observe Jack Lemmon or James Garner raking a bunker. But with the amateur from Washington, D.C. on the premises, and the sunshine beaming down on all the whales offshore, the crowds broke all attendance records.
Jack Tuthill, the PGA tournament director, who was driving what he called "the getaway car" for Ford—a golf cart bearing not only Tuthill but also a Secret Service agent with an ominous green case, inside of which was a submachine gun—said Saturday's gathering was the largest he had ever seen on a golf course in the 16 years he has been on the tour. And at one point Clyde Mangum, another PGA official, called to a colleague on his hand radio and said, "If everybody out here tries to go to the 18th hole with Ford, it'll sink."
The Crosby was only the first of the former President's golfing appearances for 1977. His presence is not likely to create as much attention in the future, but it seems that he is going to become one of the pro-am "regulars" like, let us say, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. In two weeks he will be playing four rounds in the Bob Hope Desert Classic. He then plans to take his 18 handicap to the pro-am events of both the Jackie Gleason Inverrary and the Tournament Players Championship in Florida. In the summer Ford will be the official host for the Colgate Hall of Fame Classic at Pinehurst. Thus, as someone said, it looks as if he may participate in more PGA tournaments than Nicklaus.
The pro-am team of Ford and Arnold Palmer had little chance to do well in the tournament. Because Ford was in Washington on other business Thursday, Palmer competed in the first round at Cypress Point, counting only his own score—a 74—in the team event. Palmer's agent-lawyer-friend, McCormack, substituted for Ford in that round, but only for companionship. In the pro-am part of the Crosby, teams need to be several thousand strokes under par even to be noticed. Ford and his entourage arrived in one of the government's two Air Force Ones late Thursday afternoon, and after moving into the guest house of his friend and host, Darius Keaton, he hit a few practice shots at Monterey before dark. Keaton lives in one of those modest cottages at Pebble; the chimney of his home is, in fact, what golfers use to line up their tee shots on the 8th hole.
When Ford began the tournament at the 10th tee of Monterey on Friday morning the scene was one of predictable madness. Thousands were waiting to see what yesterday's President looked like, or maybe what a Secret Service man looked like in a yellow Pebble Beach golf cap and a red Vail Golf Club jacket with a wire running out of his ear and a bulge in his breast pocket.
Everything Ford said, wore and did seemed to become a matter of urgency to the press, and this Crosby had attracted the largest group of golfing media ever, outside of a major championship. Bulletin: Gerald Ford on Friday was wearing gray pants, light blue shirt, navy sweater and a white Thunderbird cap. Bulletin: Gerald Ford was wearing white Etonic shoes. Bulletin: Gerald Ford's golf bag was white, pro-sized, with the presidential seal on the front. Bulletin: Gerald Ford was hitting Arnold Palmer golf balls into the iceplant.
Before the leading celebrity in town struck his first shot, a Crosby official calmly announced, "On the tee from Washington, D.C., the former President of the United States, amateur Gerald Ford." Bulletin: Gerald Ford's first shot on the 155-yard par-3 10th hole at Monterey sliced into a cluster of the electorate. He made a double bogey and was on the way to a five-hour round of, by all sophisticated estimates, granting gimmes here and there, 97. Bulletin: Palmer usually addressed Jerry as "pardner." Bulletin: the highlight of his tournament came when he holed a chip at the 14th at Pebble for a birdie.
Throughout his two rounds Ford constantly waved at crowds and turned around and smiled for the hordes of amateur picture takers. He not only upstaged the serious competition itself during his visit, but he also obscured that other newsworthy circumstance of the Crosby, the entry of those two attractive and bright young women amateurs, Nancy Lopez and Marianne Bretton. They were not the first females in the tournament—Babe Didrikson Zaharias had played in the old Crosby, back in 1939—but they were the first since the event moved upstate from Rancho Sante Fe and grew into the biggest thing to hit Carmel Bay since leather patches on the elbows.
Inviting the girls had been the idea of Bing himself. He wanted the two best amateurs, and they would be Nancy Lopez, who had won the Western and several other trophies last year, and Donna Horton, who had taken the U.S. Women's Amateur. When Horton turned pro, Bing took the runner-up, Bretton, 19, UCLA sophomore, blonde, sweet and dynamite. For their $500 entry fee, the girls received everything that the men amateurs did—the same umbrellas, Scotch, equipment, shirts and sweaters. Men's shirts and sweaters, as it happened, owing to an oversight.
The conversations of the girls were peppered with such things as, "There's Tom Watson, oh, wow!" They played practice rounds with Pate and Palmer and were thoroughly dazzled. When the tournament began, however, Marianne teamed with Bel-Air pro Eddie Merrins, while Nancy played with a fellow named Jose Gonzales of Guadalajara, who used tees three inches high and carefully sculpted rounds of 82-75-84. The girls didn't do badly, especially since they had to use the men's tees. On Friday Lopez had a 73, Bretton a 78. Overall, Nancy helped her pro 26 shots, Marianne hers 27.
Summing it all up, practically in unison Nancy and Marianne said, "It's just been one thrill after another."
For an altogether different reason, Tom Watson no doubt would be the first person to agree.