Forget Nick Nolte, nobody was more down and out in Beverly Hills this week than the PGA Tour. Hey, Deane Beman, you want to talk tour-moil? Start with this three-putt:
1) The best golfer on the planet, Seve Ballesteros, is planning to play in three straight tournaments in the Southeast. Unfortunately, those three are not Doral, Bay Hill and the TPC, but Lake City, Fla., Savannah, Ga. and the prestigious Wiregrass Classic in Dothan, Ala., at which first prize is about $18,000 and a month's use of the greenkeeper's Chevette.
2) The second-best player, Bernhard Langer, may have to reconsider his commitment to the PGA Tour in order to avoid being taxed by two countries—West Germany and the U.S.—thus putting him in the somewhat undesirable 90% bracket.
3) The hottest player extant, Mac (Attack) O'Grady, continued his one-man assault on Mount Beman. Somewhere in there, O'Grady may have had something to say, when he chose to speak, but most of the time he was publicly likening Beman to Hitler and railing against the tour for giving too much money to charity and not enough to him. For good measure, Mac the Knife cut up historic Riviera—site of last week's L.A. Open—calling it "a cheap public course" and "a good runway for LAX." All of which made you wonder if Mac wasn't starting to lose a bit of his luggage.
"There is an uneasiness on the tour right now," says Hal Sutton. Yes, and the Bay Area had a spot of rain last week. At the University of Golf, Deane Beman is roped to his chair and a few of the students are looking for lighter fluid.
It's nobody's fault—and everybody's. Golf is stuck in an awkward age. Nobody wants to admit that the Jack Nicklaus era has reached December—because nobody wants to see what waits on the other side. It's like the moment in a movie when the babysitter hears a noise in the basement and starts toward the cellar door. Don't go down there!
What will come out? A decade of floppy disc printouts—Cooks and Kochs and Hochs, tan accountants with backswings and a lot of pastel shirts—or a new D'Artagnan, swinging in to save us all? What's keeping him? Whatever happened to Ben Crenshaw? Or Jerry Pate? Or Bruce Lietzke? The way things are going, Herb may win before Tom Watson does again.
Q: What do Donnie Hammond, Bob Tway, Doug Tewell and Corey Pavin have in common, besides needing IDs to write checks?
A: They've all won this year on the tour.
The list of recent PGA winners is as anonymous as the guest registry at the No-Tell Motel. In the last two years 17 pros won their first tournament. To win $100,000 now is an honor equivalent to having your name in the phone book, yet no one seems to want it in heavy lettering. In the '80s no one has won five tournaments in one year; it happened eight times in the '70s.
Quick! Who won the Vardon Trophy last year?
If you guessed Don Pooley, you get it this year.
Take the L. A. Open last week (please):
The first-day leaders, Jay Delsing and Dennis Trixler, were typical of the current menu. Delsing was 126th on last year's money list, but made the 125-exempt list for the year when Ballesteros got bumped. Trixler, who is as funny as his name, didn't even make the top 125. He was 41st at the qualifying school and got a tee time at Riviera only because enough guys decided to stay home and defrost the fridge.
The second-day leader, O'Grady, was so shy at seeing his name atop the leader board that he literally sprinted from reporters. When he was feeling better, he spoke to a writer for the Los Angeles Times and gave Hogan's Alley a good paving over.
The third-day leader and eventual winner, Tewell, spent most of his off-season deciding whether to play golf or put on a Brooks Brothers suit and look for a regular 9-to-5. He hadn't won in five years.
And now for the bad news. "It's going to get worse," says Ed Sneed, "not better." Which is to say, don't look for the New Nicklaus to arrive by next Tuesday.
"People keep asking me, 'Who's going to be the next superstar?' " says Sutton. "And I know that what they mean is, 'When are you going to be it?' I resent it because I'm working my butt off to become that person. We're hanging on to the idea that you have to have a guy win seven or eight tournaments a year. That's yesteryear. Winning is so much harder today. Our superstars change every day. Now, if somebody does win seven or eight, then he'll stand above any other superstar that came before him."
That's quite a mouthful, including as it does Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Nicklaus, etc. But Sutton isn't the only one spouting such new-world ideas. "If Hogan were out here," says Sneed. "he'd probably win two or three tournaments a year. Do you think golf is different from track? The time for the mile keeps coming down, but people won't believe the players today are that much better than the old ones."
Johnny Miller agrees. "Whether we like it or not, there are a lot of faces out there who are great players," he says. "But the galleries would still rather watch me than some of these other guys who can whip the pants off me. They pour out even now to watch Palmer, when it's become pretty obvious he can't really compete out there anymore. Las Vegas used to take a bet—Palmer, Nicklaus and Player against the field—and not lose money. I'll say one thing. I'd like to have that bet now."
Players to public: Scale down your expectations.
Public to players: Bag it.
If the players are so much better today, why hasn't the best stroke average been under 70 in the last four seasons? Pooley's tour-leading 70.36 last year was a full stroke higher than Hogan's 69.30 37 years ago.
The irony is that here on The Other Side of Nicklaus, the tour has never been deeper in money. It has come at a price. When the Bing Crosby became the AT & T this year, it left only a handful of tournaments without commercial billing. The L.A. Open, one of the few that are left, is a pretty accurate indicator of how sentiment runs these days. On today's tour, money talks and tradition walks. This year, the once-mighty L.A. had one of the smallest purses on the tour ($450,000, and only an $81,000 first prize) and, perhaps not by coincidence, had no Zoeller, Langer, Norman, Watson or Nicklaus. Not to mention no network television coverage and a deadly date on the calendar (after Hawaii and before the tour moves east to Florida). And all because it isn't called the Doritos Open or some such.
"The L.A. Open—that has such a nice ring to it," says tournament chairman Ted Grace. "What would I do with all the mugs and sweaters I have at home if I changed it?"
Yet Grace admits that he is entertaining proposals from more than one elegant commercial sponsor interested in attaching its name to the tournament. He will almost surely have to give in next year. What the tour is today is Zingo events like the Panasonic Las Vegas Invitational (a purse exceeding $1 million and a $207,000 first prize), which, in only three years, has network TV, a choice date and will draw more players than a free-buffet line.
If only there were someone out there who could lead us from the great golf hurly-burly of money and mediocrity; if only there were a player with a huge, flawless swing, interesting looks, an occasional odd peccadillo, a golden tongue and the fearlessness to use it. If only there were someone who, say, smashed his driver righthanded, putted lefthanded, had changed his name in another life, carried bananas and raisins with him on the course, talked incessantly and could lap the field all the while.
If only there were somebody like...Mac O'Grady?
"Mac O'Grady," says Miller, "is dial-a-shot. He can hit the ball as far as he wants. He can hit a six-iron 220 yards or 150 yards. He has the best swing that has ever been seen on the tour."
That's all fine, until he gets to the press tent, which is never. Because Beman fined him $500 two years ago for calling a New Orleans tournament volunteer "a bitch," O'Grady doesn't make appearances in the press tent. "I do it to embarrass [Beman]," O'Grady says.
But for a guy who doesn't speak to the press, O'Grady sure has a lot to say. Like Martha Mitchell, he talks to select reporters after hours:
On Beman: "I told Deane... 'I'm going to rip you every chance I get.. You think you're above the game? You think you're above the Bill of Rights?' "
On the tour's top pros: "I told them if I didn't start getting some support...I would start going after them."
On Riviera's greens: "Like putting over a waffle iron."
And when Jim Colbert pondered aloud, "I wish Mac would straighten up," O'Grady rained down upon him. "Let me tell you something about Jim Colbert," he fumed in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. "He owns all these golf courses and homes and cars.... Take a look at Colbert's record. He hasn't won enough to own all of those things."
And what exactly did that mean?
"I don't want to say he's a crook," said O'Grady, "but there are some players with better records who have won more money but still can't afford what he has. He's one of Deane's yes-men. He's Deane's water boy."
Colbert, who has won $1.4 million on the tour, was taken aback by O'Grady's remarks, which he read on his flight home from L.A. to Las Vegas on Sunday night. "I was shocked he took after me like that," Colbert said. "Nobody's ever questioned my integrity. Mac's a pretty intelligent guy. He's got nothing to gain by being mad at Jim Colbert."
Although Colbert owns a company that manages golf courses, he does not own the courses. And on the subject of houses, he said, "I have two houses. I only want one, but I can't sell the other one."
O'Grady even threatened (gasp!) to bring 60 Minutes in to investigate, which they would be more than happy to do. Hello, I'm Andy Rooney. Don't you just HATE it when....
The last thing on O'Grady's mind at the L.A. Open was winning the L.A. Open, even though he led by one stroke after 36 holes. Ever try to swing with a 250-pound chip on your shoulder? Besides, "there are more important things to win," he said.
And so the minute detail of actually playing golf was left to the Edmond, Okla. tag team of Tewell and Willie Wood (whose wife is named Holly) and the cherubic Trixler, who had won all of $959 this season. One company offered Trixler more money than that just to wear its visor during the final round. (He declined.) Fame also meant taking this phone call:
Hey, Dennis, you're the greatest. I've been following you ever since we played together in Syracuse.
"I've never played in Syracuse."
Sure you did. We first met at Florida State. You 're sure doing good.
"I went to Fresno State."
You mean I've been following the wrong guy for two years?
"Sorry about that."
I could've been following somebody GOOD.
None of it mattered. On Sunday, Trixler and Wood and everybody else were taken to the Tewell shed. Tewell made a one-shot molehill into a seven-shot mountain with a final-day 63. "Good thing," Tewell said. "I'd practically spent all that money from five years ago."
Riviera's leader board on the final day resembled a list of guys in the federal witness-protection program: Tewell, Rose (Clarence), Wood, Delsing, Gallagher (Jim), Cerda (Sleeper), etc.
Maybe the current dilemma of golf is best summed up in the story of Australian Wayne Grady. Grady was disqualified Friday for playing a ball that wasn't his, a mistake he called on himself. It was the third time this season he had been dq'd for that blunder. Some guys are Long Ball. Grady goes by Wrong Ball.
But wait a second. Maybe Grady is on to something here.
The names and faces are all interchangeable. Why not the balls?