Jim Thorpe has dimples, a dainty way of tipping his cap to applause and a preference for knickers and pink shirts, but he also has one of the most powerful games in golf, and he could give his namesake, the legendary Olympic decathlete and football player, two a side in the muscle department. On Sunday, Thorpe won $150,000 playing "Beman Roulette," the name some golfers have given the Seiko-Tucson Match Play Championship. The tournament is the brainchild of commissioner Deane Beman, who keeps trying to vary the formats on the PGA Tour.
If the commissioner is looking for new stars, he might have one in Thorpe, a protégé of Lee Trevino. A resident of Buffalo, N.Y., Thorpe, 36, has come into his own after a decade of trying to make tournament cuts. His victory moved him into fourth place on the year's money list with $379,091, all but some $44,000 of it earned in the second half of the season. Thorpe also won at Milwaukee, his first title, and at the Western Open in August he collected first-place money of $90,000 after losing a sudden-death playoff to amateur Scott Verplank.
The Seiko-Tucson tournament was held at Randolph Park, a public course in the middle of town. Thorpe must have felt at home in the muni surroundings. He's not a country club kind of guy, having grown up in Roxboro, N.C., the son of a greenskeeper who had 12 children.
That the final of this tournament would come down to an 18-hole sprint between Thorpe and Jack Renner, with Thorpe winning by 4 and 3, or that South Africa's Harold Henning would beat Dan Sikes in the senior division final by an identical score, was no surprise. Match play is a little like computer dating—there's some blind luck involved. Thorpe, for instance, got off to a flying start in each of his six matches when his opponents bogeyed the 1st hole. In the two finals Sunday, only three birdies were made, all by Thorpe. "I'm not saying I played the best golf this week," said Thorpe, "but I won the most holes."
Despite the $750,000 purse, some stars skipped Tucson—among them Curtis Strange, Ray Floyd and Hal Sutton. Unlike last year, when the top players were seeded into the round of 16, the stars who showed up did not stick around long. Craig Stadler, Mark O'Meara, Fuzzy Zoeller, Andy Bean, Johnny Miller, Payne Stewart, Fred Couples, Hubert Green and Player of the Year Lanny Wadkins all lost in the first round. The last two Ryder Cuppers, Peter Jacobsen and Tom Kite, were gone after the third round.
This left the tournament to the likes of Bob Tway, whose gallery was nicknamed Tway's Twoops, and Renner, a quiet pro who wears a Ben Hogan-style cap. On Saturday, when PGA Tour media man Ric Clarson announced Renner's press room arrival, not a soul stirred. Renner sat at a podium in front of the empty chairs and discussed his round, then later said, "I don't care. These guys aren't doing me any favors."
Then there was Mac O'Grady. In the normally conformist world of pro golf, O'Grady sticks out. His real name is Phil McGleno, but for a variety of reasons he changed it. O'Grady has a variety of reasons for a lot of things. He does not talk to the press because assorted articles have detailed his quirks, including a spell when he lived in a storage cabinet. But he can play. On Saturday, O'Grady beat the tournament's last remaining star, Tom Watson, one-up, in the quarterfinals, shooting a 66.
Thorpe derailed O'Grady one-up in the semifinals on Sunday morning. O'Grady was three down with three holes left, but birdied the 16th and 17th before Thorpe shut the door by saving par out of a bunker at the 18th.
In the other semi, Renner needed two birdies on the 18th hole—the first a 12-footer, and four sudden-death holes later a 20-footer—to get past Tway.
That afternoon Renner was up against a different opponent in Thorpe, who out-drove him all day, often by up to 50 yards. Thorpe won three of the first four holes against Renner. From then on, Thorpe could play conservatively. That's match play. It's not how you play the game. It's whether you win.