On television, golf is all glamour and suntanned players—Tom Watson earning half a million dollars and Jack Nicklaus arriving by private jet. But last week at Pensacola, the tour's second-and third-class citizens chased after the tailings of the year's $13 million in purses. For the desperate ones, golf is a bottom-line business, and on the PGA tour, the Pensacola Open was the last chance to improve the figures before everyone quit until January.
And so glamour was in short supply at the Perdido Bay Inn and Golf Club, a course laid out on a refilled swamp. Signs cautioned the golfers to take heed of snakes and alligators. Pensacola is somewhere at the end of pro golf's world. But for the rabbits and dew-sweepers of the tour—those who have not met various PGA-established minimums during the season—Pensacola is the biggest tournament of the year. Last week, as Dan Halldorson played toward the $36,000 first-place check, others at several different levels were struggling desperately to squeeze a few final drops from the money pipeline.
The big prize was qualifying for exempt status—automatic qualification for next year's PGA tour events, which is accorded the Top 60 money-winners. Going into Pensacola, people like Terry Diehl, George Archer and Rex Caldwell (58th through 60th places, respectively) fought for that 60th spot like dogs over an old shoe.
Others were worried that they might be thrown off the tour. To keep their playing privileges, veterans like Stan Altgelt had to finish 160th or better on the money list, while rookies like Jon Chaffee had to earn at least $8,000 in their first season. Altgelt was No. 161 on the money list, $27 behind Rod Funseth, while Chaffee was $352 short of earning his minimum. "This looks like the survival of the worst," Altgelt said.
October 19, 1980
He had been down this road before. He played the tour from 1976 through 1978, had back surgery, lost his playing card and had to go through the qualifying school again last year. This season had produced only $9,970 in 25 tournaments. It costs about $30,000 a year to play the tour, and Altgelt sponsors himself. His wife, Lani, teaches school and works nights as a hostess in an oyster bar back home in Dallas so the checks don't bounce. Now, a month shy of his 32nd birthday, Altgelt was saying, "I'm here to make some money. If I miss the cut and lose my card, that's incidental. I live with an extreme amount of pressure every day." At Pensacola, Altgelt played well enough to keep his card, shooting a 68-76-69-71—284, a finish worth a check of $1,360. That moved him up half a dozen spots on the money list.
Chaffee's view of tour life is markedly different from Altgelt's. Chaffee is 24, single and comfortable with his group of financial sponsors back home in Austin, Minn. In his first 17 tournaments this year he made a grand total of $138.47. He missed qualifying in 11 events, including five straight. It was not until mid-June that he got cranked up, and since then he has been respectable. Last week he was only $351.36 short of the $8,000 he needed to keep his card. But if he failed to earn a check he would have to wait until next spring's qualifying school for another chance. Thursday Chaffee had a first-round 74 that put him right behind the $8,000 ball. And so his last nine on Friday afternoon was nervous time. He figured he needed at least a 70 for the round, two under par, to make the 36-hole cut. Walking along after him was a lone spectator, his girl friend of nine years, Shari Kearns, who had gotten up at 3 a.m. in order to fly from Austin to Pensacola.
Chaffee was three under par standing at the tee on the last hole, a short par-4 with water down the left side. He took out an iron, aimed well to the right, and swung. The ball headed toward the water. Shari was standing 10 feet away when it plopped in. "Oh God," she said.
Chaffee is fair and blond with bright rosy cheeks. Now his face flushed crimson. "O.K.," he said. He dropped away from the water, hit his third shot on the green and carefully two-putted from 25 feet. Then he walked to the scoreboard to see if his two-round total of 144 really would make the cut.
"I was choking so bad out there I couldn't believe it," he said. He had not slept the previous night. "I was trying so hard. I think I made it. If I don't, I'm going to die." An hour went by before it was announced that the 36-hole cut would be at 144. Chaffee was in. In the next two days he shot 67-69 and finished in a tie for 10th worth $4,150.
The race for the last spot on the Top 60 list was surprising because several names involved are often found on the tour's leader boards. Right behind Diehl ($67,636), Archer ($66,675) and Caldwell ($64,859) were Lanny Wadkins, the 1977 PGA and World Series of Golf champion, and Mark Hayes, who won the TPC title that same year. Wadkins' money total was $63,628, while Hayes had $62,385. Both pursuers were exempt for 1981 by virtue of their major titles, but Wadkins found some dark humor in the situation. "I can make those other guys sweat," he said smugly.
Caldwell, for one, should never have been in the position of looking over his shoulder at Wadkins. At the Buick-Goodwrench Open in late August, he had a four-stroke lead but shot a last-round 75, and finished tied for fourth.
Diehl also felt that bad luck was hounding him. A week earlier he had skipped the Southern Open to attend his sister-in-law's wedding. No money there. And the week before that, at the tour stop in Napa, Calif., he had a very bad time. During the second round there, Diehl was bemoaning his poor play when Jeff Goodwin, the head professional at the Napa course, approached him.
"Don't worry, things aren't going to get better," Goodwin said.
Diehl looked puzzled.
"Remember all the stuff you used to own?" Goodwin said. "That condo you were staying in doesn't exist anymore. It just burned down."
In Florida both Diehl and Caldwell went up in flames. They were paired during the first two rounds, and Diehl dubbed their group "The Heartbreak Twosome." They both collapsed and badly missed the cut, Diehl by five shots, Caldwell by six.
Afterward, they were sitting side by side in the bar. "I never gave up trying to make every thin dime, and I came up $1.98 short," said Caldwell, painfully aware that Wadkins and Hayes probably would move past him.
"Who missed the ashtray?" asked the barmaid, cleaning up some spilled ashes.
"I missed everything all week," muttered Caldwell.
In the second round at Pensacola, Wadkins shot a 65 and jumped into a tie for fourth place. "Did I strike terror into Rex's heart?" he asked later, recognizing that to pass Caldwell he needed $1,232. Which meant he was going to have to finish at least 27th at Pensacola.
Also worried about Wadkins and Hayes was Archer, 41, the winner of the 1969 Masters. For safety, Archer figured he needed $962, at least 34th-place money, which would edge him past the sidelined Diehl. "I know I'm at the end of my career," said Archer. "I'm just trying to prolong it."
Hearing this, an elderly fan handed Archer a business card and said, "George, I'll give you a job tomorrow."
"I might take it," said Archer.
On Saturday, with a morose Caldwell packed and gone home and a still hopeful Diehl hanging around the scoreboard, Archer had a good round going before he bogeyed two of the last three holes and settled for a 72 that left him tied for 59th place in the tournament. Hayes birdied five of the first six holes, then sagged on the last nine and finished with a 69, which tied him for 12th, a position also held by a now glum Wadkins after a lackluster 72. Everybody had his calculator out. "It always goes down to the last nine holes," said Diehl.
And that is what happened. First Archer went out on Sunday and shot a so-so 72. His $488 check raised his season total to $67,163, still $473 behind Diehl, and it left their fates in the hands of Wadkins and Hayes.
Wadkins finished first. His drive on the 18th hole kicked dead left into a bad lie. Wadkins bogeyed and dropped back to a tie for 10th worth $4,150, which moved him past both Archer and Diehl into 58th place. Then came Hayes. His last iron shot left him 12 feet from the cup. He practiced his stroke, lined it up—and missed, an error that cost him $1,850. He also finished tied for 10th, receiving a check that boosted his earnings to $66,535, still $628 behind Archer, who had now become the 60th man, with Diehl No. 59.
But wait! Playing in a final group was Gary Hallberg. If he birdied the 18th, he would have second place and $21,600 and would move well up the money list, bumping Archer. Hallberg studied a seven-foot birdie putt. As it went into the hole, the youngster raised his fist in exultation, but the ball inexplicably spun out. George Archer knew the feeling. As he said earlier, the whole game is nothing but a lot of sweat.