Golf's Big Guy was in Lake City, Fla. last week, shaking off the rust and looking a little lost. Seve Ballesteros, arguably the best in his sport, had never before seen anything like Lake City, and vice versa. The town is a motel-room-and-buffet-line community in northern Florida, a rest stop on the Citrus Trail, 1-75, which runs between Florida and the Midwest. A big time in Lake City is the Olustee Festival in February, in which, according to travel brochures, the history of the Old South blends with the freshness of the new. Or something like that.
That the urbane Ballesteros should show up as a roadside attraction here seemed a bit preposterous, but there he was, playing in the $135,000 Florida Cup Classic, part of the new Tournament Players Association's 24-event tour. Headquarters for the 54-hole Florida Cup was the Quail Heights Country Club, where the initiation fee is $100, family dues are $50 a month and the clubhouse is made of cinder block.
In Lake City, Ballesteros was just another of the golfing homeless. For the most part, TPA players are men without a tour, most of them on the ascent or descent of their careers. Ballesteros was suspended for a year from the American PGA Tour for not participating in the minimum number of events (15) in 1985. Before returning to Spain last weekend because his father, Baldomero, was ill, Ballesteros played the TPA tournament to tune his game in preparation for the defense of his USF&G Classic title in New Orleans from March 20 to 23—his lone permissible PGA Tour appearance, although he can play here in non-tour events such as the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship. Lake City, thus, was a chance to tweak the nose of PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman.
The other 257 Florida Cup Classic competitors, most of whom carried their own clubs, had a slightly different perspective on Lake City. Lance Ten Broeck, for example, is a six-year PGA veteran who lost his card last year when his earnings fell short of the qualifying requirement. Ten Broeck paid his $500 TPA entry fee because, "I'm broke and I don't want to get a job. All I own are a Porsche and a suntan."
March 10, 1986
Though Ballesteros enlivened the proceedings by suggesting that commissioner Beman might be conducting a personal vendetta against him—"Deane is one-up on me now"—and by uncharacteristically predicting that he would win both the Masters and the U.S. Open this year, things in Lake City did not work out for Seve quite as the tournament promoters had hoped. Crowds did not storm the gates to see him. On Monday at Quail Heights, his gallery, after six holes, consisted of 21 people. When he reached the back side, it had swelled to 32. The next day at Lake City Country Club, described by one Lake Citian as "the high-falutin club in town," probably because it has a detached golf shop, about 130 spectators watched the Spanish star.
For a variety of reasons—he hadn't competed in two months, the courses were in fuzzy condition and wide open—Ballesteros performed indifferently, playing a hit-and-sigh game in Lake City. "Inconsistent," he kept saying. However, he did excite the local folks with a few vintage trouble shots, notably on Tuesday when he hit a 230-yard metal wood out of a fairway bunker and on another hole waded into ankle-deep water and socked his ball across an 80-yard-wide pond. He also holed a bunker shot at 18 for an eagle. Wednesday's final round was back at Quail Heights, and he wound up with scores of 70-70-73—213, a measly three under par, and tied for 22nd, worth $1,375. But hey, not bad for a TPA rookie.
The tournament was won by John Home of Plainview, Texas, who earned $19,000 for shooting 66-69-71—206 and said he would be available for Ryder Cup duty in 1987. Home was the TPA's first wire-to-wire winner, but then the Florida Cup was just the TPA's third event.
TPA commissioner Tom Kidd, a former mortgage banker from San Diego, lured Ballesteros and his caddie, Joaquin Robolledo, to TPA-land with gratis accommodations, all the motel buffets they could handle and $8,600 worth of first-class airline tickets. They arrived at 1 a.m. on the Saturday before the Florida Cup and Seve skipped the pro-pro scramble event the next day. "No competition," he told a fan.
But that was not his attitude in interviews after the tournament began. "These are good players," Ballesteros said of his new compatriots. "I'm happy to support the TPA tour because it will be very important in the future. If a few more players like myself would support it, it would grow up quick." Now won't that put a bee in Beman's bonnet.