"Win or lose, I knew I had played pretty well. And I had grinded it out all day."
Like the name of the nine-hole course in Yuma, Colo., where he first played golf—High Plains Recreation Association—there was something missing in Steve Jones's career. But on Sunday on the shimmering Monterey Peninsula, Jones exorcized his 72nd-tee demons and drained a 20-foot birdie putt in sudden death to win the A T & T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am over Bob Tway.
Jones is the fellow who blew a one-stroke lead at last year's Heritage Classic by slicing his drive 70 yards off-line and out-of-bounds on the final hole. At Pebble Beach he came to the Pacific Ocean-hugging 18th, a par-5, tied with Tway after a roller-coaster round that had begun with Jones leading by three shots but that had quickly left him trailing by three. After birdies at the 9th and 10th, he one-putted four straight greens to get back into it. At 18, Jones gulped, made an aggressive swing, which produced an adequate drive, and parred to get into a playoff. On the second extra hole, the par-3 17th, he hit a seven-iron 20 feet below the hole and drilled home the putt. When Tway missed from 18 feet, Jones, a pro who twice lost his PGA Tour card, had gutted out the first victory of his six-year career.
For Tway, who followed his four-victory 1986 season with a winless 1987, the finish was at least encouraging. "I played as well as I can," said Tway, who had finished third at the Bob Hope two weeks earlier. "I think a win could be coming pretty soon." The same might apply to Greg Norman, who finished one stroke out of the playoff at 281 after a closing 66.
Jones had rounds of 72-64-70-74 on four of the most pleasant days the tournament has seen in its 44 years as The Crosby and its three years as Not The Crosby. There is no denying the A T & T is a faster-tracked, less intimate affair than the Crosby. The old-guard celebrity pool no longer runs as deep; more of the amateurs now come from the corporate ranks than from California celebrity circles. Still, the Pebble Beach pro-am remains more casual than the average tight-jawed Tour event.
Pop singer Huey Lewis, a 16 handicapper making his pro-am debut with Mark O'Meara, was among the ams, and Lewis, who called one of his albums Fore!, fit nicely into the golf subculture. He played his harmonica while waiting on the 14th tee at Cypress Point, but when Jack Nicklaus introduced himself on the 16th, Lewis smoothly segued to a discussion of golf esoterica. Living proof that it's hip to be square.
The relatively high winning score of eight-under-par 280 was confirmation that the rota of Pebble Beach, Cypress Point and Spyglass Hill is the most challenging cluster of golf courses in the world, not to mention the most breathtaking. Of the 30 toughest holes played on the Tour last year, 10 could be found at the A T & T. For the last five years the most difficult hole of all has been the famed 231-yard par-3 16th at Cypress Point. Since the Tour began keeping track in 1983, the pros have averaged 3.67 on it. Though the final round of the tournament is played at Pebble Beach, the 16th at Cypress Point is often a pivotal hole. It was more than coincidence that this year Jones parred it, while Tway bogeyed and Norman doubled.
In order to play the hole the way it was designed, a golfer must carry his shot 215 yards across a churning inlet of the Pacific Ocean to a green set on a small peninsula with cliffs that fall steeply to rocky beaches 50 feet below. Those allergic to double bogeys can play safe by hitting an iron to a strip of fairway that runs to the left of the green and then wedging on. Ben Hogan in his best years nearly always took this route.
The story is told that when the course was being designed in 1926, architect Alister MacKenzie fretted that the hole would be too difficult, until he watched Marion Hollins, a top woman amateur and one of the club's founders, make the carry with a wooden-shafted driver. "Fair enough," said MacKenzie, and ever since the 16th at Cypress has epitomized the "heroic" style of golf architecture, which emphasizes dramatic carries over picturesque hazards.
Not everyone thinks it's a great hole in the strictest sense. "If God had known we were going to play golf here, he'd have moved the peninsula in 20 yards," says Nicklaus, who missed the cut in his first appearance of the year.
Der Bingle himself once made a hole in one at 16, and Jerry Pate put a then trendy orange ball into the cup with a one-iron during the 1982 Crosby. Then there are the horror stories: Ed (Porky) Oliver shot a 16 there in the 1954 Crosby; Hans Merrell took a 19 in '59.
Fatalism seems the best way to explain Norman's attitude toward the 16th. Fresh from winning a tournament in Australia, he hurried out to the ice plant that guards the right side of the green and started hacking practice shots. "I have a great affinity for this stuff," said Norman. "I couldn't wait to get there." When he arrived at the 16th tee during the nearly windless first round on Thursday, he was seven under par and sounding the bugle call that the Shark is back. His two-iron faded into the ice plant as if drawn by a magnet. He escaped with a double bogey 5.
Meanwhile, Clint Eastwood, a 15-handicap player whose psychic load got lighter last week when he announced he will not run for reelection as mayor of Carmel, Calif., drilled a four-wood four feet from the cup. He missed the putt, but the shot definitely made his day.
The first-round lead was shared by Jim Booros, Jim Gallagher and Mark Calcavecchia, who had 67s. On Friday, Jones exploded with a 64 at Cypress, which tied him with Calcavecchia at eight-under 136. On Saturday, Jones shot a solid 70 at Spyglass Hill for a 54-hole score of 206, which gave him a three-shot lead over Bernhard Langer and Craig Stadler. It was the first time Jones, 29, had ever led a tournament alone after three rounds. But he said he had gained confidence after his victory, with Jane Crafter, in the JC Penney Mixed Team Classic in December.
A former all-state high school basketball player in Colorado, Jones liked the pro-am format, in which every pro teams with an amateur for a competition that runs in conjunction with the main event. "I think that's why I might be playing well," he said. "It takes some of the pressure off to play for my partner." The team of Jones and Dr. James Rheim, a four handicapper, shot a 31-under-par 257, to finish just two back of winners Dan Pohl and Dan Marino (a long-hitting 16 handicapper).
Jones had played explosive golf with 15 birdies and two eagles in the first 54 holes. "When I can minimize the bogeys, I usually play well," he said.
But Sunday, when the field returned to Pebble Beach for a second time, Jones began with bogeys—at the 3rd, 5th and 8th—and dropped three strokes behind Langer. He steadied himself in mid-round, one-putting six greens as Langer and Stadler fell back. Ahead, Tway birdied the 18th to finish with 280. After Jones bogeyed the 15th and 17th, then left his seven-footer short on 18, the two went to the 16th hole for the playoff.
"Win or lose, I knew I had played pretty well," said Jones. "And I had grinded it out all day. I've never looked at myself as a future great player. I'm skinny, and I don't feel that good when I hit the ball. But one thing God has given me is that grinding attitude."
Last week, that was enough to make a career blossom.