It was called the Pepsi Mixed Team Championship but it was really golf's version of the office Christmas party and all the boys were expected to bring dates. Naturally Arnold Palmer invited Sandra Palmer. Lee Trevino asked Carol Mann because he likes tall blondes and she likes short Mexicans. Other pairings were Ben Crenshaw-Judy Rankin, Texans; Sam Snead-Kathy Whitworth, veterans; and Lanny Wadkins-Laura Baugh, cutie pies. But the hit of the party turned out to be that USGA all-star team of Jerry Pate, past winner of the U.S. Amateur and Open, and Hollis Stacy, three times junior champion and current Open winner. Starting on Thursday with a remarkable 61 that gave them a six-stroke lead, the youngsters—he is 24, she 23—hung on, dropping a birdie on the 72nd hole on Sunday to win by a stroke over Curtis Strange and Nancy Lopez.
The tournament was held at the Bard-moor Country Club in Largo on Florida's west coast and was the second of its kind. The first, held at Doral in Miami, was an LPGA inspiration; the girls invited the boys. Most of the leading names accepted, the notable exception being the blond gentleman who resides on the east coast of the state. At least four women asked—even begged—him to play, but Jack Nicklaus had planned a vacation with his family. This year he was watching his sons play basketball.
Which means he missed a lot of fun, especially since the format was altered this year to keep the more headstrong couples from divorcing one another in mid-fairway. Last year both members of a team would drive from the tee and then decide which ball to play. His might be only 150 yards short of the green, hers—even with the help of the ladies' tee—180 short, but he would suggest he could nail his four-iron closer to the flag than she could her six. She begged to differ. He would insist. End of romance.
So this year both players were allowed to hit second shots with the other's drive, except at par 3s. This usually led to clear-cut decisions; one ball 10 feet from the cup, the other in a trap. No problem. And so there was harmony at Bardmoor; also a lot of hugging and mutual admiration. The men were amazed at how well the women could play. "I always thought the ladies popped the ball, chased it and popped it again," said Steve Melnyk.
December 12, 1977
For their part, the women were slightly awed by the men, marveling at their finesse. "I think we could be a lot better if we played with them all the time," Pat Bradley said. Some of the women admitted to nerves. The $40,000 first prize—$20,000 each—was routine for the men but high by women's standards.
One woman player definitely not in awe of the men was Hollis Stacy. In fact, probably not even the water moccasin that slithered up to the first tee Thursday morning would have scared her. Bouncing along the fairways, waving and winking to friends in the gallery, she was the picture of relaxation as she and Pate cruised to their stunning first-day score. For the record, they had 11 birdies and no bogeys. No fives on the scorecard. A 31 going out, 30 coming back.
And how come the two happened to be playing together? "Because we're having an affair," Pate answered deadpan. Then Jerry explained that both were young, came from large families in the South and had gone to Southern colleges, he to Alabama, she to Rollins. Fine, but did Pate actually pick up a phone and invite Stacy? Well, it was done through a friend. A friend? Well, it was Wilson, for whom both work. And that, in truth, is how many pairings came about.
In spite of the similarities between the two, Stacy and Pate have vastly different personalities. Outwardly at least. Pate is the hired gun, aggressive and cocksure. No nonsense out there, which is how you win a U.S. Open at 22, which is what Jerry did. This has been a difficult yet rewarding year for him. He won the first tournament. Phoenix, and the next-to-last, the Southern, but he was sidelined with a shoulder injury for four months, missing some of the richest events. Still, he earned nearly $100,000.
In contrast, Stacy—called Spacy by her friends, as in spaced out—is bubbly, funny, outgoing. Even the wives of the men players, their antennae up, thought her charming. Early in the first round Pate ran in a 20-footer for a birdie. "All right," Hollis shouted. "I'll keep him."
Even so, Pate was slow unbending. At the 13th, a par 3, he hit a wild tee shot, forcing him to use Stacy's drive, which was just short of the green. Pate's chip was weak, threatening the pair with its first bogey, but Hollis ran in a tough eight footer. Such heroics at Largo generally called for an embrace; Pate merely turned and headed for the next tee.
But Hollis wore him down. She dropped a 10-footer for a birdie on the next hole, and after the gallery had quieted, Jerry applauded loudly, then tossed a friendly arm around her. From then on there was a lot of hugging as they birdied the last three holes.
Another highlight of the opening round was the Trevino-Mann finish. They were one over par and, as Trevino said, on their way to spending Sunday watching Tampa Bay play football, when funny things happened. Mann: "He was in the fairway with a four-iron in his hands. He said, 'Got to get this close for my baby,' swung and knocked it into the cup." An eagle 2. They picked up a birdie and then, on the last hole, Mann hit an eight-iron into the hole for another eagle 2. Five under par in three holes. Trevino, already approaching the green, turned and raced across the fairway, arms wide. Mann, eight inches taller, leaned down to accept a kiss. Trevino is sporting a new Charles Bronson mustache these days. "Tickles," Mann reported. Trevino added, "I kissed Sam Snead on the ear yesterday and he followed me all the way to the practice green."
Friday belonged to two more youngsters, Strange, 22, and Lopez, 20. And to the rain. It began late Thursday, drenching those still on the course, continuing through the night and forcing a two-hour delay at the start of Friday's round. It remained miserably wet all day.
Out of the gloom came Strange-Lopez, she a close second to Stacy in the Open, he a skilled amateur who is just starting out on the tour. They had begun with a respectable 69, three-under, then moved swiftly into second place with a barrage of birdies, many of them on Lopez' deadly putting. At their final hole, Strange's drive was well beyond Nancy's, but Lopez trooped on ahead and hit first, knocking her approach onto the green.
"We've been doing that," Strange said. "I think it takes the pressure off Nancy." When both had hit to the green, Nancy's approach was slightly inside Strange's, but he asked her to try the birdie putt, a distance of some 25 feet. She missed, barely. "She had been putting well and I hadn't sunk one that long in five holes," Strange said.
Despite missing the birdie, Strange-Lopez wound up with a 65, 10 under for the tournament. That put them three shots behind Pate-Stacy, who were proving that 61s are rare. Early in Friday's round Pate missed two mini putts and neither player drove well, yet they managed to reach 13-under before darkness prevented them and 15 other couples from finishing.
Which is why Hollis was out there in her jeans at eight the next morning. "It was only one hole and I figured we wouldn't have a gallery," she said. She was right. She and Pate parred, returned to their quarters and reappeared four hours later.
By then the sun was hot, drying the course. There was a large gallery, most of which seemed to have come down from Pensacola and Savannah to follow Pate and Stacy. For five holes they watched apprehensively as their team parred while Strange-Lopez narrowed the lead to two strokes. But on the 6th hole, a par 5, Pate-Stacy made a birdie and, coincidentally, revealed what Pate later called his game plan for the rest of the tournament. Namely, let Hollis do the putting.
At 6, the team had the option of letting Stacy approach from about 100 yards or Pate from 130. They (Pate) chose the latter and Jerry put the ball 15 feet away. Stacy knocked it in. She dropped one from 25 feet at the 16th and from 22 feet at the 18th, both with the red eye of the TV camera squarely on her, and when the day was over they were still three strokes ahead of Strange-Lopez.
Pate-Stacy closed it out on Sunday, but it wasn't easy. After 10 holes Strange-Lopez, playing one group ahead, had narrowed the gap to a single stroke and there they held until the 17th. Then Strange, who had not been putting well, holed a 25-footer for a birdie. Tie ball game. On 18, Lopez missed a birdie try from the same distance. The two stood by to watch their rivals finish.
The 18th is a long par 5. After two shots apiece, Stacy-Pate was some 40 yards ahead of Pate-Stacy. They chose the closer ball though they would have preferred-to have Pate hitting the approach and Hollis doing the putting. Hollis responded wonderfully, knocking an eight-iron seven feet from the pin. As soon as Pate dropped the putt they approached each other and—in the tradition of the tournament—embraced. The affair had begun.