Bob Impaglia was so involved in his struggle with the front nine in the first round at Cherry Hills—"grinding away," he called it—that he failed to notice the golf cart lurking near-by. In it were two tournament officials who had been tailing him for the past few holes. Impaglia, a 25-year-old pro, was only one over par for eight holes but his round had been filled with near disasters and remarkable escapes. His playing partners, Robb Pomerantz and Mark Walach, had not been so lucky and were well on their way to rounds of 87 and 82. Pomerantz had noticed the golf cart as early as the 4th hole and knew what it meant. "I think we ought to step it up a bit," he warned the others.
On the 9th hole Impaglia drove far right into heavy rough, where his view to the green was screened by a stand of pines. He examined his lie, then walked up the hill to the green to get his bearings. When he returned, he deliberated some more before hacking his ball out of the heavy grass onto the fairway. The entire process had taken three minutes and 42 seconds. Impaglia chipped onto the green and sank his putt for a gallant par. Another escape from disaster.
Or so it seemed. For when Impaglia made his way to the 10th tee, there waiting for him were the two gentlemen in the golf cart, P.J. Boatwright of the USGA and Jack Tuthill of the PGA Tour.
"Jack, how are you doing?" Impaglia said.
June 25, 1978
"Bob, we need to talk with you," Tuthill answered.
"Oh, are we behind?" Impaglia asked.
The officials told the three players that they were 2½ holes behind the threesome ahead of them and that they had taken two hours and eight minutes to complete the front nine. Boatwright and Tuthill had been timing each player in the threesome with a stopwatch ever since a USGA official monitoring the 3rd hole had reported that the 8:07 a.m. group was falling behind. As a result of the clocking, they had determined that Impaglia was the culprit. So it was that Robert Charles Impaglia of Auburn. N.Y., a husky, outgoing man whose 1977 earnings were only $455, became the first player in the 78-year history of the U.S. Open to be penalized two strokes for slow play.
The day before, at its traditional pretournament press conference, the USGA had warned that such a thing might happen. A bulletin was issued pointing out how much longer Open rounds were running in recent years than in the past; some were taking more than five hours. "The five-hour round in the Open is deplorable." the bulletin stated. "What it does is set a terrible example for golfers of all ages and skills.... We intend to monitor the pace of play.... Penalties will be assessed without warning."
It had been an eventful month for Impaglia even before he arrived in Denver. He had qualified for the Open locally in Rochester, N.Y., sectionally in Arlington, Texas, and he had gone through the qualifying school in Albuquerque, regaining the player's card taken away last August because he had failed to earn enough money. But now he was confident he could make a living on the tour, as were the group of members at the Auburn Golf and Country Club who were sponsoring him. If Impaglia made the cut at the Open, and he was playing so well he was certain he would, he would continue on to Toronto and the Canadian Open. He was pleased with his practice rounds at Cherry Hills, especially one on Tuesday with Arnold Palmer, which he termed "an experience."
Impaglia's 36 on the front nine Thursday was better than that of many of golf's biggest names—Nicklaus, Watson, Green and Ballesteros, for instance. "He was really concentrating," said his Auburn friend and caddie, Bob Tessoni. Then came the penalty.
"Don't I get a warning?" he asked.
Boatwright and Tuthill said no.
"He was shaken, to say the least," Tessoni said.
On the 10th, Impaglia hit his drive well over 300 yards. "There was a little heat behind it," said Boatwright, who was sympathetic. Impaglia knocked the ball on the green and two-putted for a par. But the two-stroke assessment made the official score 6, a double bogey. After that everything fell apart. When he drove in the rough on 11, the ball spotter could not locate the ball and it seemed Impaglia would suffer another penalty. A spectator finally found the ball, but Impaglia was shaken. He bogeyed the hole and then began spraying shots all over Denver. When he finally holed a nifty 25-foot putt for a bogey at 18, he had shot a 47 on the back nine for a total of 83. Any chance of making the cut was gone.
For the next 24 hours Bob Impaglia received as much attention as the tournament leaders. The phone in his motel room never stopped ringing, and total strangers patted him on the back at Cherry Hills and wished him well. Everyone had questions. No, he wasn't angry, he said. The last thing he wanted was trouble with the USGA or PGA. He was mildly puzzled that he had been judged the guilty member of his group when one of his playing partners had shot a 45, the other a 39. He pointed out that there had been a starter's time before his group teed off, a seven-minute gap that allowed the players in front to be approaching the 2nd green by the time he teed off.
When Impaglia, Pomerantz and Walach teed off at 12:36 p.m. on Friday, they all but trotted down the fairway and by the 4th hole they had opened a huge gap on the players behind them. On the 9th, Impaglia again drove into the right rough where he had been the day before, but this time he merely walked up and hit the ball. When it stayed in the rough, he hit it again. This time it went into a trap. He knocked the ball onto the green and took two putts. He carded a double-bogey 6, but at least he did it quickly.
When he again holed a long putt on 18, this time for an 84, the gallery gave him a warm ovation and Impaglia responded by tossing his ball to the crowd. He shook hands with everyone in sight—players, marshals, scorers. And even a couple of USGA officials, who seemed happy. Friday's rounds were nearly half an hour faster than those of the day before. They had Bob Impaglia to thank for that.