Deane Beman was standing in the driveway of his Sawgrass home last week, a sentimental tear in his eye. His baby, the Tournament Players Championship, a wandering, renegade waif in its infancy, later criticized as unmanageable and unfair, then grown and settled into the Tournament Players Club, had finally nudged its way into the major league section of the record book. Now the commissioner of the PGA Tour won't have to leave his porch light on at night.
What Calvin Peete did in the TPC at the TPC in Ponte Vedra, Fla. was not merely win a tournament for a lot of money against the best field that will tee off all the year on one of the most unrelenting, terrorizing courses the pros play. No, as the implacable Peete tightrope-walked over the dark lagoons, threaded his way through the pine and palm trees, and figured a way to putt on greens that had the consistency of burnt toast, it became clear that this performance, in this setting, made the TPC worthy of recognition as a major championship, precisely what Beman had sought when he established the tournament in 1974.
Midway through the final round Sunday, Beman recognized that something special was happening as he trailed along in Peete's gallery. Peete, 41, one of 19 children, a man who had never touched a club until he was 23, shook off an official's warning for slow play and put the finishing touches on a masterful performance, shooting a six-under-par 66.
His splendor over the TPC's 6,857 yards produced eight birdies and stunned Hale Irwin and D.A. Weibring, who began the day tied with Peete for the lead. All told, the new champion missed only two shots all day, both drives. On the 10th hole he hit into the trees to the right, and at the 15th he found a waste bunker. Both times, Peete saved par, hitting a seven-iron through the foliage at the 10th and making a nine-foot putt on 15. If there were any doubters, Peete took care of them at the 17th, the 132-yard par-3 that is surrounded by water. There Peete jammed an eight-iron four feet and made the birdie.
"I thought if I shot under par on the back nine I could win," shrugged Weibring, who fired a 32—four under—coming home. "I did what I wanted and still lost by three shots. That tells you something about the way Cal played."
Peete's rounds of 70-69-69-66-274 put him 14 under par, as he smashed the '84 record of Fred Couples by three shots.
You must drive the ball straight on this Pete Dye design that popularized the term "target golf and you must hit the greens, or there's a price to pay. With his weak grip and slow backswing, Peete does that better than anyone. He is acknowledged as the best player tee to green over the past several seasons. In 1984 Peete won the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average (70.56), and since 1982 no one on the PGA Tour has matched his nine victories. By comparison, Tom Watson has taken eight titles in the same period.
For Peete, Sunday's victory was special. True, the $162,000—almost 100 grand more than he made in his first three years on tour—was a nice reward for someone who, by his own estimation, would be toiling in a Florida sugar mill were it not for golf. But what really was on Peete's mind was prestige. Leaving the final green, he said to his wife, Christine, "We finally won a major."
And off to the side, Peete's 70-year-old father, Dennis, was wearing a hat with this inscription:
3 BIGGEST LIES
THE CHECK IS IN THE MAIL
I LOVE YOU
I'LL BE HOME AT 5:00
Dennis Peete, who still reports to work every day at a sugar mill back home in Pahokee, Fla., could have added another line to his hat: CALVIN PEETE CAN'T PUTT. "Whoever says that just doesn't know what they're talking about," scoffed Weibring. But Peete himself would be the first to admit that putting has been his nemesis, the most elusive element of his game. So the touch he has recently developed with his putter surprised some people who haven't been paying close attention. Peete needed only 12 putts on the last nine holes, a wonderful stretch considering that almost everyone was appalled at the state of the greens. Assessing one player's poor putt earlier in the week, Lee Trevino had shrugged and said, "You can't read dirt." Trouble was, the harsh winter had kept the newly seeded bent grass from filling in, leaving the greens in poor shape.
With his Sunday 69, Weibring finished second and took home $97,200. That's more than the winner receives in all but seven events on the tour. "I'm still proud to be known as the winner of the 1979 Quad Cities Open," he said, citing his single Tour victory. "I was trying to prove all week that I can play this game, and I think I did."
Even though conditions were mild—clear skies and light winds every day—only five players broke 70 on Sunday, which proves just how tricky the TPC course is. A player can master it for a few holes, but, sooner or later, it's going to retaliate.
Irwin, for example, went four over par on the first five holes Sunday and finished out of the hunt with a 75. He came away impressed with Peete's rock-steady performance. "I could have had every good bounce and break there was, and I couldn't have beaten Cal," Irwin said.
Irwin has been trying to regain the old form that has quietly put him in fourth place on the alltime money list behind Jack Nicklaus, Watson and Trevino. His last Top 10 finish came at the 1984 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, where he took a one-stroke lead into the last round only to shoot 79. In fact, since that Open, Irwin had made only $21,671—a mere $3,040 this year. "I've been on a mental sabbatical," Irwin said after his opening-round 67 reacquainted him with the press room and gave him the early lead.
Of the 144 players in the field, 52 shot par or better in the first round, an indication that the course might not be as tough as it had been for its three previous TPCs. But, as noted, the Players Club fights back. Ask Morris Hatalsky. After nine holes Friday, Hatalsky was on the leader board at six under par. Nine holes and 45 strokes later, he had shot a 79 and missed the cut of 146.
Meanwhile, Weibring was shooting his second straight 68, taking the lead and picking up the sympathy vote. It wasn't only that his mother, Estella Mae, was back home in Quincy, Ill. with heart and blood-pressure problems, or that D.A. himself was coming back from a doleful spell that included a wrist injury. It was that Weibring, with a chipmunk's face and ready smile, seemed to be a pretty regular fellow. In the second round, when a fan yelled at Arnold Palmer, D.A.'s boyhood idol, that Arnie's play "wasn't bad for an old guy," Weibring stuck up for Palmer by telling the fan, "Age is all attitude. Arnie looks like he's 25 to me."
Weibring also had a comeback for those who wanted to know what his initials stand for. "Don't Ask," he said. But the way he was hitting the ball, they might just as easily have been short for Darn Accurate. In the first two rounds he missed only one fairway and three greens. In fact, the D is for Donald, the A for Albert.
For a time it appeared the winner might be Bernhard Langer of West Germany. In the TPC, Langer had opened with a 68, and then he went out in 31 on Friday. When he birdied the 1st hole (his 10th hole), he was leading the tournament at 10 under par.
But things—including a warning about slow play—started to get under his skin, and he bogeyed four of the last seven holes. He also was informed by PGA Tour official Glenn Tait on the final fairway that he was being fined $500 for slow play. In the press room, steaming, Langer said, "I couldn't protest. If I had talked to him for 20 seconds, he could have fined me again." Then he added, "This will definitely affect me tomorrow"—a prediction that appeared painfully accurate on Saturday when, still in contention at six under, Langer hit two balls in the water at the 18th. His third one bounced off a wooden piling onto the fairway, but he still wound up with a triple-bogey 7 which took him out of the tournament.
That left the battle to Peete, Irwin and Weibring. After D.A. (Darn Awful) bogeyed 17 and 18 Saturday, they were tied at 208, eight-under, with Gary Hallberg and Dan Halldorson another two shots back.
Before going out to practice Sunday, Peete was in the locker room, and someone asked him if he ever had a special feeling, before a final round, that he was going to win a tournament.
"You get a feeling you're playing good enough to win, but then it's up to you," Peete said. "And I'm playing good, better than I've played in a long time."
"He acts like a hungry golfer," says Dolphus (Golf Ball) Hull, Peete's caddie for the last two years, explaining his man's talent. On the first hole, Peete served notice that he was going to chew up the course. He fired an eight-iron that stopped two feet from the cup. Birdie. On the par-5, 511-yard second, he hit the green with a pair of woods and two-putted for another birdie.
Irwin, meanwhile, was headed for the tall grass, swiping at the ground in disgust, upset because he could not find his swing. Weibring hung close for a while, but after three straight bogeys on the 5th, 6th and 7th holes, he was three back. He never truly threatened after that, even though he made four birdies. "I was trying to put the full-court press on him, but he went to the four corners," said Weibring. Peete, ever cool, made back-nine birdie putts of 25, five, six and four feet. Later he called his play "my best round ever."
It gave him his best win ever.