The first official round of golf on the 1980 PGA tour took an average of 27 hours and 48 minutes to complete. This was because it rained so hard on Bob Hope's desert midway through last week that for a while everybody's Guccis became bathtub boats, and all those young men who normally park the Ultrasuede golf carts at Indian Wells, La Quinta, Eldorado and Bermuda Dunes had to double as valet lifeguards.
On Wednesday afternoon, during what was supposed to be the first 18 of the 90-hole $304,500 Bob Hope Desert Classic, the sky suddenly grew darker than a date milk shake, and sheets of water drowned everything from the ghosts of old movie stars at the Racquet Club to the mobile homes of Indio. For most of the field, the round was declared only half-finished. The pros marked their balls in the flood plains of Indian Wells, amid the statuary of Eldorado, around the lakes of La Quinta or on the knolls of Bermuda Dunes, which sits way out yonder apart from the others, like an outpost on the Santa Fe Trail. And, having nothing more constructive to do, the players then awarded themselves a free drop into the daily jam session at Indian Wells, where they could watch all of the hairdos by Mr. Bleach whirl around on the dance floor to this year's desert anthem, After the Lovin'.
The players were told they would complete their rounds on Thursday, and because few of them had more than nine holes to play, they were permitted a later-than-usual start. Noon. And this in turn allowed them a little extra time in the bars. So it was that a tour regular, Ed Sneed, had a conversation Wednesday evening that was not untypical of what passes for dialogue in Palm Springs between a recognizable face and not-so-knowledgeable fans. As he sat in a hotel bar with friends, Sneed found himself stared at by a strange couple. Presently the lady said, "We've seen you on television. What's your name?"
"Fred Harps," Sneed said.
January 21, 1980
"It's Fred Harps, honey," the lady said to her husband.
"It sure is," the man said, smiling.
The lady asked, "What did you shoot today?"
Sneed said, "I had a 36."
The lady seemed troubled by that report for a moment. Then, with a slight frown, she said, "What did you do with your other nine holes?"
Sneed did not stop laughing at the question until the next afternoon when he and the other 127 pros and the 384 amateurs who play the first four rounds had finished up the inaugural 18 holes of the year. For the fifth and final round, rescheduled for Monday afternoon, the amateurs would go away and the Hope would become a regular golf tournament that would see the double-knits competing against soap operas for a television audience.
One thing the two-day opening round did was give everyone a chance to contemplate the myriad statistics that the public is going to be bombarded with this year. Each week America is going to learn—down to several decimal places—who the tour's most accurate drivers are; who the longest drivers are; who the best putters are; who makes the most birdies and eagles; and who hits the most greens in regulation, along with other indices Americans have come to expect, like who is winning the most money and what Jack Nicklaus had for lunch.
However, it occurred to some of the pros around Palm Springs last week that Tour Commissioner Deane Beman had overlooked some important categories in the statistics he ordered up last month as a means of making the tour a more "viable force in the sports marketplace."
Regardless of what the new numbers show after a couple of months, the pros already know who the most accurate drivers are. They are people like Lee Trevino, Larry Nelson and Tom Kite. They already know who the longest hitters are. They are people like Fuzzy Zoeller, Andy Bean and Dan Pohl. They already know who hits the most greens in regulation. They are people like Hale Irwin, Trevino and Nelson. They already know who the best putters are: Ben Crenshaw, Tom Watson and Dave Stockton. And when 102 of them were asked who was going to win the most money in 1980, only 96 of them responded with Tom Watson. Nicklaus did not get a vote for anything, but, then, nobody was asked who they thought the low golf-course architect might turn out to be.
Far more engaging, perhaps, would be the results of statistical analysis to determine:
1. Who takes the most drops from line-of-sight obstructions. The odds would favor John Schroeder, who has intentionally hit into more grandstands to avoid water hazards than anyone. John also takes the most time doing it. Once on the third round of the Colonial National Invitation he took so much time playing into and dropping out of the grandstand at the 18th hole that the telecast went off the air before he reached the green.
2. Who requests the most free drops from holes, which are caused by burrowing animals, that turn out to be anthills. Gary Player already has an insurmountable lead.
3. Who comes up with the most reasons for not playing well, such as, the baby cried all night; the air-conditioning in the motel was impossible to adjust; it was an unusually cold fall in California; the airline lost my golf clubs; and the dog ate my homework. When Johnny Miller withdrew in the first round at Palm Springs, he explained that he had cramps in his neck that might have been caused by clearing land around his home.
4. Who comes up with the most reasons for playing better, such as, Phil Rodgers gave me a bunker tip; Ken Venturi gave me a pitching-wedge tip; Byron Nelson gave me a long-iron tip; David Graham loaned me a driver; I found an old putter in the basement of a friend's house; it was an unusually warm fall in Texas; and I have a new wife. When Nelson started off 1980 by playing as well as he did in 1979 he offered that he did not find as much pressure in a golf tournament as he did while leading a light infantry team into combat in Vietnam.
5. Who in the press tents of the PGA tour will consistently ask the dumbest questions of either a competitor or Tom Place, the tour's public information director, such as, where do they play the Crosby; how many carats are in the diamond in Cal Peete's tooth; and is there anyone on the circuit you admire more than Dave Eichelberger? The answer: any radio man.
Even as the grist for Beman's statistical mill was being gathered by lady scorers in Palm Springs, somebody suggested that the commissioner had other prizes he could award if he really wanted to stimulate interest in the game. There were various slams to win. For example, the winner of the Hope would have a leg up on the TV slam; he would only have to add victories at the Joe Garagiola Tucson, the Jackie Gleason Inverrary and the Ed McMahon Quad Cities. A Singer's Slam would go to anyone who won the Andy Williams, the Bing Crosby, the Glen Campbell and the Sammy Davis Jr. in the same year. The Corporate Slam comes up this summer with the Kemper in Washington, the IVB (Industrial Valley Bank) in Philadelphia, the Manufacturers Hanover Trust in Westchester and the American Optical in Pleasant Valley, outside Worcester, Mass.
Meanwhile, it developed that gathering all the information Beman was demanding on the driving and putting and GIRs (greens in regulation), and so forth, was not that simple. All the lady scorers were carefully briefed by PGA staff members on what to do with their charts. Write down the player's name. Write down the color of the player's shirt and pants. Fill in the blanks on each hole: hit fairway, missed fairway, trap, putts, etc. But, alas, after the first round of the Hope several of the charts did not get turned in, and many of those that were showed up with all the stats, but without the name of the player. Some contained a sartorial description and nothing more. One lady kept statistics on the three amateurs but not the professional in her foursome. And one lady calmly announced beforehand that she was not going to bother with it. After a PGA official concluded his briefing with the assurance that the score-keeping was going to be very easy to manage, the lady went up to him and said, "I'm not going to do this."
Realizing the lady was a volunteer and could not be forced to keep the statistics, the official asked, "Are you going to score in the tournament?"
"Yes," the woman answered. "Every round."
"It would be most helpful to us if you would keep the chart," said the official.
"Well, I'm not going to do it," she said and walked away.
And she didn't.
One could only speculate whether this lady's decision might eventually cost someone a precious GIR somewhere down the line.
The most readily available statistics at the Hope were the scores the golfers shot. At the conclusion of the two-day opening round the lead was shared at 68, four under par, by three men who each played a different course. Jerry Pate was at Indian Wells, Keith Fergus at Eldorado, and Bob Proben at La Quinta.
Bob Proben? Yes. Proben was so new he had never even been to California. "I'm just having a great time," said the rookie from Michigan. "I've never seen a mountain before." That got him a tie. Nobody had ever seen a Bob Proben before. And no one saw him again after he shot a 77 on the second day.
The latter half of that first round was highlighted by a roll of thunder that came from the vicinity of the 6th hole at Indian Wells. It came when a 50-year-old golfer named Arnold Palmer made a hole in one with his trusty eight-iron. "Life begins at 50," Arnold said in a free moment, when he wasn't talking to an amateur named Gerald Ford.
It was in Friday's second round that Nelson shot a 65 at Eldorado and started looking like the same guy who quietly won $281,022 in 1979, a total second only to Tom Watson's record $462,636. Nelson took a one-stroke lead on the field with a nine-under-par 135. It looked as if half the population of California was directly behind him. Breathing on Nelson were a lot of Scott Simpsons, Craig Stadlers, Victor Regalados and Butch Bairds. One reason they were close may have been that Nicklaus, Watson, Trevino, Irwin and Zoeller were not in town. The whole roster of big guys won't come together until the Crosby at the end of the month.
Nelson shot a 70 on Saturday at Bermuda Dunes, the toughest layout of the four, and continued to cling to part of the lead. Regalado's 68 at Eldorado also put him at 205, 11 under par. This, too, was the day the fat guys began moving up; George (Cuddles) Cadle and Mike Sullivan fired 65s, and Craig Stadler and Bob Murphy inched up on the lead. The combined weight of Stadler, Murphy, Cadle and Sullivan is around 900 pounds.
On Sunday the fat guys kept coming. Stadler and Cadle shot 69s, and Sullivan and Murphy 71s. One of them, Stadler, wound up tied for the lead with Nelson mainly because Nelson got a triple bogey on the 2nd hole at La Quinta. His drive landed under a tree, and from there Nelson hit his ball out of bounds. After that he settled down, making five birdies and salvaging a 71 for the day.
Nelson's and Stadler's 72-hole totals were 276, a fine, familiar number of the kind one is accustomed to seeing at the end of a golf tournament. But this was the Bob Hope Desert Classic in Palm Springs, where all things are different and where Frank Sinatra Drive is threatening to stretch all the way to the Arthur Godfrey Causeway in Miami. In the Hope they play 90 holes, so the pros had to go back out on La Quinta on Monday to decide whose GIRs would get him the $50,000 first prize.
On the last day, Nelson bogeyed the 9th and Stadler parred it, and the Hope had the fat man with the beard for a leader. Thereafter, it was a contest between a beard and a mustache, because Tom Purtzer, displaying a newly bushy upper lip, was as many under par as Stadler. A birdie for Stadler at the 16th gave him a one-stroke lead over Purtzer and he parred the last two holes to get the 67 that won him the year's first tournament with the funky total of 343.