IT HAPPENED IN MONTEREY

A tragicomic last round of the Bing Crosby saw leads disappear and putts roll without end until Lon Hinkle finally won on the third extra hole
February 12, 1979

What happened on the Monterey Peninsula in last week's Crosby, pro golf's annual encounter with picture-postcard seascapes, was that some touring professionals hit some shots and missed some putts with the style and imagination of Jack Lemmon and Clint Eastwood. The result at the end of regulation play was a tie at four-under-par 284 and a three-hole playoff that looked as if it might last forever, or until Lon Hinkle finally came back from wherever he had been for 20 holes and putted like himself instead of a movie actor.

All sorts of golfing calamities and near-miracles had to occur during Sunday's final round at Pebble Beach to send the tournament into a combination of overtime and CBS prime time, which left half the country blacked out at the climax. First, to get his 284, Hinkle had to shoot a 77 and let his five-stroke lead collapse in the manner of a subsiding soufflè. Second, Mark Hayes had to shoot a 72 that would feature a four-putt triple bogey just when he was taking a grip on the $54,000 first-prize check. And third, Andy Bean, whose heroics had hitherto been confined to the pro-am phase of the event that he and his partner were leading, had to shoot a 69 to make up eight shots.

The playoff began at the 15th hole, which was where Hayes had four-putted from eight feet about an hour earlier. With thousands of fans following them just as if they were household names, all three parred the hole with comparative ease and the gallery raced on to the 16th. Here, Bean chose to take himself out of it with a bogey, after a terrible iron shot that left him far off line. As for Hinkle, after hitting as pretty a seven-iron into the flag as anyone could diagram—a tight 30 inches from the cup—he missed the straight-in putt. Pulled it left. Hayes made a routine four, and so the two survivors moved on to the 17th, one of those scenic par-3s where, behind the green, you can admire the expensive yachts moored in Carmel Bay. And now it was time for Hinkle to win it.

Lon nailed another wonderful shot off the tee, this time a five-iron that bit into the back level of the green, about 12 feet from the flag. Hayes left himself on the lower level with a real problem of getting down in two from 45 feet. He struck an excellent putt for a change, however, and got a par. Then it was up to Hinkle to make his very first birdie in the day's 21 holes of golf. At last he did it, the ball rolling slowly and truly into the cup.

For Hayes, the outcome was naturally a bitter disappointment. He had played his way into contention with a blazing 66 on Saturday, after which he said, "Lon can be caught because anything can happen at Pebble Beach." And strange things definitely did happen on Sunday. Until he reached the 15th the first time around, Hayes was shooting three-under-par golf. And while he was doing that, Hinkle behind him was methodically making five bogeys. Through the first 11 holes, Hayes picked up an astonishing seven shots on Hinkle—and he walked onto the 15th green with a two-stroke lead.

There Hayes faced an easy, slightly uphill eight-foot putt for a par when, as the pros say, his valise flew open. He hit the putt too hard and the ball went about 18 inches too far. Now he was headed downhill, and he rapped this one a godawful eight feet past the cup. Looking at his third putt, he was as far away as he had been on his first one. So he missed it, too. He finally sank his fourth putt from about a foot and a half away for the triple-bogey 7. "I lost my composure is the only way I can explain it," Hayes said.

One immediate result of this extended farce was that Bean, who hadn't been a part of all the excitement, picked up four strokes on Hayes in about 90 seconds and became an instant contender. For at more or less the same time that Hayes was floundering on 15 and 16, where he also bogeyed to lose his share of the lead, Bean was making a birdie on 17. On the other hand, Bean sounded later as if he didn't really expect to win. Marveling at Hinkle's prodigious shot-making, he wanted to know how he could be expected to beat a guy who can hit the ball from Big Sur to Santa Cruz. "Anybody who can hit a one-iron up with my driver has to be dealt with," he said, without specifying exactly how.

But while Bean was worrying about a playoff with Hinkle, Hayes suddenly got back into it with a birdie at 18. He very nearly missed a makeable putt, but it somehow fell into the hole, enabling him to get into the playoff. From six feet away, Hayes dropped what has been called a "margarita," one of those putts that runs around the edge of the hole like salt on the rim of a glass and then falls in the front door.

Afterward, Hayes said, "I was feeling kind of sorry for Lon out there, but I guess I don't have to anymore."

Indeed not. Lon Hinkle is a fine player who has been on the tour since 1972. He started winning important money a year ago and he isn't going to stop with this Crosby. He has a solid swing besides being one of the two or three longest hitters on the tour. This big, gutty 29-year-old from San Diego also enjoys a wager in practice rounds—just to keep an edge, you understand. Before he broke through with his first tour victory in New Orleans last year, he had gained a pretty fair underground reputation as the man who owned Lee Trevino all last winter on practice Tuesdays.

Hinkle prefers to think it was settling down that made him a better player. "Before I got married, I played golf 48 weeks a year," he says. "I didn't even have an apartment. I played golf and hung out in motel bars, which isn't where you improve your golf or find a wife."

True—as is the fact that there is always more to a Crosby than who wins it.

One of the problems in following any Crosby is that because the tournament is played on three courses of varying difficulty, it is hard to judge exactly who is really leading until Saturday evening, when everyone has played every course. For instance, on Thursday Jay Haas, Graham Marsh and Mike McCullough shared the lead with 68s, but McCullough and Marsh had played at Cypress Point, the easiest of the three courses, so Haas' 68 at Pebble Beach may have put him slightly ahead. Then again, perhaps the true leaders were Hinkle and Peter Jacobsen at 70, for they had played Spyglass Hill, which was so tough last week not one player was below 70 on it.

On Friday Hinkle emerged as the clear-cut leader, his 68 at Pebble putting him two strokes ahead of Curtis Strange and Leonard Thompson. Bean and Hayes were well down the list, seven and eight strokes back, and behind them came many of the players one might expect to win the tournament. Tom Watson, who had won it the last two years, was at 148, 10 strokes behind Hinkle. So was Tom Weiskopf. Hubert Green was in back of them, and Hale Irwin, Lee Trevino and Jerry Pate, all destined to miss the cut, were even farther behind. For the record—and he was coming close—it was the first time in 86 events that Irwin had missed a cut, dating back to the 1975 Tucson Open.

Hinkle looked as if he had put the Crosby away for good on Saturday when he played Cypress in 69 and increased his lead to five strokes over Hayes, who had his brilliant 66 at Pebble. Because there are no scoreboards at Cypress, Hinkle didn't know what his situation was, nor did he learn much on the ride back to the press room at Pebble, when he heard a radio report announcing that he had played at Spyglass.

"I didn't have any idea what the other guys were doing," Hinkle said later. "I just kept plugging away, trying to make birdies. Then I heard that I shot a 68 at Spyglass for a six-stroke lead. That's O.K. With Mark giving me five shots, that's the kind of game I'm looking for."

As usual, the pro-am part of the tournament was probably settled before play began—by the handicapping committee. To those pro-am veterans familiar with his golf game, giving 14 strokes to Bill Bunting virtually gave him all the Waterford crystal and other amateur prize goodies before the first man teed off last Thursday. Bunting is a real-estate developer from Tampa, Fla. when he isn't playing in almost as many golf tournaments as Gerald Ford.

Other teams who were attempting to catch up with Bunting, who was playing with Andy Bean, wondered why the tournament committee didn't just give Bunting a loaded gun and a mask instead of 14 strokes. Well, old Bill was smart enough to play to his handicap on Pebble's 18th hole while he was on television Sunday. That was where he hit all of his golf balls amongst the seals and abalone. Before that, however, he did whatever it took to get his team to the 31-under-par figure that it finished with to win the pro-am division by six shots.

For reasons having to do with the complicated handicap-scoring system, few low-handicap amateurs ever make it to the final round, which is why the 17-year-old tournament chairman, Nathaniel Crosby, was a spectator on Sunday. Nathaniel is a stylish golfer who plays to a one handicap, which is about how his daddy played the game when he was young. When Nathaniel wasn't attending to his chairman duties, he was driving the ball almost as far as his partner, Jerry Pate, and looking very much like one of the new-breed regulars on the tour. Otherwise, he was being exceedingly charming and articulate beyond his years and asking various committee members if it was O.K. if he took a nap now.

In the end, the most telling naps were taken by Hinkle and Hayes. Hinkle had to dribble away his lead with a succession of bogeys, and Hayes had to blow his lead by playing the 15th like Lemmon and Eastwood, which allowed Andy Bean to come on and make it a threesome. But then they went back out on the golf course and played like amateurs again until Lon Hinkle finally played a hole like Lon Hinkle.

PHOTOHinkle tees off at the famous 233-yard 16th hole at Cypress Point. PHOTONathaniel, 17, son of Bing, has a one handicap. PHOTOThe $54,000 Hinkle got for winning the Crosby was more than he earned his first five years as a pro.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)