OH ME, OH MY, O'MEARA!

Mark O'Meara survived some of the toughest holes in golf to win the AT & T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
February 06, 1989

There are three rules at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Never eat the cashews in your room at the Lodge at Pebble Beach. (They are $10 ajar.) Never expect to get Jack Lemmon's autograph on Sunday. (He has now missed the cut 25 years straight.) And never bet against Mark O'Meara. He won the California State Amateur at Pebble Beach in 1979 and the final edition of the Bing Crosby there in 1985. On Sunday, as he unwrapped his lucky sandwich on the 10th fairway, tied for the lead with Tom Kite, O'Meara's baby face had a chubby but hungry look, as if he were about to swallow somebody whole, which he was.

To be sure, O'Meara would not have been in position to win with nine holes to go without a couple of strokes of luck. While playing the 12th hole at Cypress Point on Thursday, O'Meara ricocheted an eight-iron off the noggin of a spectator named Bill Spaeth. The ball bounced not into the unplayable bushes it had been homing in on but 20 feet in another direction, landing 50 feet from the green. O'Meara then saved par. It was a very gracious gesture on the part of Spaeth, who continued to follow O'Meara the rest of the day while holding an ice pack to his swollen skull. "You play 72 holes and win by one shot," said O'Meara. "Don't tell me there's not some luck involved. That was the best bounce I got all week."

O'Meara also got lucky because Curtis Strange took the week off. That meant Strange's caddie, Greg Rita, who's a walking rabbit's foot at Pebble Beach, was available. He had caddied for Strange at Pebble last November when Curtis won the Nabisco championship and $360,000. Rita made another good buck last week for hauling around O'Meara's bag. O'Meara's purse was $180,000, and figuring a caddie's 10% tip, that's $54,000 for two weeks' work—more than Andy Bean, another player Rita has caddied for, made in all of 1988.

The problem is that Strange wants Rita back beginning in late February. O'Meara told Rita to go. "How can you turn down the best player in the world?" said O'Meara. But he would like to keep Rita. "After this," said O'Meara, not three minutes after winning, "maybe he'll decide to stay." So many checks, only one shoulder.

Maybe Rita should see what Lemmon would be willing to pay for one week of heaven at Pebble. Golf's one-man version of the Chicago Cubs vowed that he and his pro partner, Peter Jacobsen, would make the cut. Lemmon even tried to disguise himself from the gods of golf by growing a mustache. Unfortunately, he said, "every time I look down I think I'm in the rough."

Alas, the gods found him anyway. Still, when he reached the 18th green at Pebble on Saturday, slumped and defeated again, about to miss the cut by 13 strokes, somebody had taken down a name on the leader board and inserted a card that read LEMMON WINS!

Honestly, what chance did Lemmon have, considering that the four hardest holes on the entire PGA Tour last year happen to be among the three courses that make up the good ol' AT&T clambake (chart, page 16). First is the 9th at Pebble Beach, followed by the 16th at Cypress Point, the 8th at Spyglass Hill and the 8th at Pebble. What's more, three other AT&T holes are among the Tour's toughest 18. Welcome to Hell Week.

"The four hardest?" said Lemmon. "Well, that makes me feel a lot better."

On these seven holes, thundering surf goes unheard. Six-point bucks standing under 100-foot Monterey pines go unseen. Sixteen whales could do an Esther Williams water ballet 20 yards offshore and nobody would notice.

Look at the way the top two finishers fared on the four toughest holes. Kite went through them in four over par, O'Meara in two over. O'Meara never did par the 9th at Pebble. Kite never parred the 8th or the 9th.

Everybody has cried hosannas to the 16th at Cypress, the world's most beautiful triple bogey, the 231-yard par-3 that requires you to knock the ball over a good deal of the Pacific. The place gets so windy, players have knelt to putt. Three years ago Brett Upper was ready to execute his second shot off the beach below the green only to have a wave roll in up to his knees and wash away his ball. All right, Brett, I'm away. No, wait. Now you 're away.

However, the most underrated, underpraised, underwritten golf hole on earth must be the 431-yard, not humanly parrable par-4 8th at Pebble Beach. You play this hole with a driver, a three-wood and frogman's gear. You face an uphill drive to the precipice of a 100-foot sheer cliff. Then you have a 150-yard cavern between your ball and the next sighting of land. The itty-bitty green is flanked on the right by a bunker, the blue-green ocean and white beach, on the left by a bunker and in the back by another sand trap. Luckily, the putting surface only has slightly more turns than San Francisco's Lombard Street.

This is the most dramatic second shot in golf—and, if you're not careful, the fourth, sixth, eighth and 10th. For the pros, it's a four-or five-iron. For mere mortals, it's a three-wood and two novenas. And it's almost always into a crosswind. Are we having fun yet?

Hit your drive as close to the cliff as you dare, but too close can be dangerous. No fence protects you from falling off the cliff—or from throwing yourself off it. Legend has it that while playing on a foggy day two Japanese golfers never saw the cliff and drove their cart right over it. Pebble Beach officials say that only some unattended carts have rolled over the edge.

"There's a real majesty in that second shot," says Sandy Tatum, a former president of the USGA. "It awes people. It's 200 yards to a very small green, with absolute perdition on the right or over." But there is an upside. "If you hit a really good shot," says Tatum, "you can stand and admire it for a long, long time."

Unfortunately, playing this hole is like warming up for Ali by fighting Frazier, because, sooner or later, you have to face the 464-yard, par-4 9th. If number 9 were a pinball machine, it would read TILT, and worst of all, the tilt is all toward the drink. "The farther you hit your drive," says Hubert Green, "the worse shape you're in." Which is to say, if you hit a long drive, your second shot comes off a downhill lie. If you want a flat lie for your approach, you've got 210 yards to a green that's smaller than many Carmel bathrooms.

This assumes, of course, that you want to hit your second shot at all. The water is closer on the right than you think, with greedy little fingers of ocean pawing out to swallow your Surlyn-covered offerings.

Number 8 at Spyglass is easier than the 8th and 9th at Pebble—it only makes you feel as if you're playing up the side of a skyscraper. The hole is 395 yards long and, because the trees block the sun, 100% wet. To handle the change in altitude, it's best to bring your own Sherpa. Fuzzy Zoeller has been playing Spyglass since 1975 and has never parred the 8th hole. God forbid Tip O'Neill should play it.

By the way, if someone had awakened on Friday from a 30-year sleep and the first thing he saw was the leader board, he might have thought Vic Damone was still going strong and might turn up on Ed Sullivan next week. There was Jack Nicklaus, 49, only four shots behind O'Meara, who was leading after two rounds. There was Dave Stockton, 47, only one shot back. George Archer, 49 and previously presumed buried under a bunker somewhere, trailed by seven shots. Nicklaus hadn't won a tournament in three years, Archer in five years, Stockton in 13. Any minute you expected Herman Keiser to show up.

Stockton had a new swing on things, thanks to a healing back and a new guru-herbalist-scientist-channeler, Mac O'Grady, who, Stockton says, helped 10 winners on the Tour last season.

Nicklaus didn't go to O'Grady. He went to San Diego "anatomical functionalist" Pete Egoscue, who describes himself as a self-taught kinesiologist. Egoscue has brought Jack's back back. Nicklaus stretches for an hour in the morning and another hour at night. "I used to get up in the morning and be about four-foot-eight going into the bathroom," he says. "Now, I get up and I'm five-eleven."

Ah, but Senior Citizens' Week ended shortly thereafter. Nicklaus shot 80 on Saturday, Stockton 78 and Archer 75. In their place came two guys who needed a victory the way the old guys needed Doan's pills. Nick Price hadn't won on the Tour since 1983, and O'Meara hadn't won since 1985, when he finished first at the Crosby and the Hawaiian Open in consecutive weeks. Price was the dragon Seve Ballesteros slew in last year's British Open. On Saturday, his 32nd birthday, Price shot 67 at Pebble to tie O'Meara for the lead at nine under.

The round was made safe by the Secret Service. Agents disguised as marshals escorted former secretary of state George Shultz, who was playing with Hale Irwin, while Price was paired with Shultz's old pal Stephen Bechtel. Price admitted being nervous. No, sir. Takin' out the big artillery is just an expression.

Sunday dawned as a golfer's paradise—60°, just a breath of a breeze, sunny and very Pebble. Nonetheless, Price went cold fast—he would wind up in a three-way tie for third, three strokes off the pace—but Kite, who holds the course record of 62, took his place. Starting two shots back, he birdied the 2nd and 3rd holes to tie O'Meara, who was playing just behind him, at nine under. Kite birdied the 6th to take the lead, but then turned chances for birdies at the coffee table-sized 7th and the cliff-hanging 8th into three-putt bogeys by charging his putts. He bogeyed the 9th to make it three in a row.

O'Meara got past the back-to-back beasts of 8 and 9 with a par and a bogey, and seemed to relax. Waiting on the 10th hole—he had to wait on most of his shots during the five-hour, 20-minute round—O'Meara unwrapped the turkey, Swiss and tomato sandwich his wife, Alicia, had packed for him, hit his approach and went back to his repast.

O'Meara can be quirky. In the backyard of his Escondido, Calif., home, he has a golf hole with three separate tees, and he enjoys hitting shots there. But he's such a perfectionist he hates the divots he creates. He is certainly the biggest palm-tree tycoon on the Tour. He owns eight acres planted with queen palms, which are used in landscaping. It's a business he says produces $200 per tree per year.

If Bernhard Langer could have made a putt on Sunday, he might have turned the Kite-O'Meara dance into a trio, but how much of a threat can a guy be when he plays with his left hand on the putter and his right hand on his left forearm? This yip grip was Langer's latest attempt to cure his fickle putting. Watching him is kind of like watching an old heavyweight champion wrestle bears. Langer finished tied for 12th.

But Kite rallied with a birdie at 11 and another at 13 from 18 feet. A six-foot birdie putt at 14 gave him the lead—for eight minutes. Then O'Meara hit a 106-yard wedge two feet from the cup at 14 and birdied back. Touchè. "All week," said Rita, "Mark and I had talked about just getting to the end with a chance to win."

Both players parred 15, 16 and 17. Kite played his first two shots perfectly on the par-5 18th, laying back about 95 yards from the green. He left his sand wedge 15 feet above the hole and missed the birdie attempt.

On came O'Meara, who had perfect position in the fairway from which to hit his approach and to watch Kite miss his birdie putt. "Let's just hole this," said O'Meara to Rita. "Then we won't have to worry about putting." He didn't hole the wedge, but he did drop it just over the front bunker. The ball stopped 10 feet from a 4¼-inch cup full of money.

As he was waiting to putt, he leaned over to Rita and said, "You know, this is what it's all about, a 10-footer to win." O'Meara hitched up his belt, walked a full circle around the hole, consulted Rita, decided the line was left center of the cup, took two practice swings, stepped up to the ball, waited five seconds and stroked it into the hole. Oh me, oh my, O'Meara!

"I can't explain what this means to me," said O'Meara afterward. "This win is very dear to me. You go through so much uncertainty. You're thinking, Was that the last victory of my career?"

As for Kite, who was done in by those bogeys at 7, 8 and 9, couldn't we give him some kind of Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for consistent high quality? He's third alltime on the money list with $4,342,413, but he's No. 1 in better luck next time, kid. He has never won a major, and he has come in second more often than the Washington Generals. Last year alone he was runner-up in three tournaments, one of which was the Nabisco at Pebble. "Finishing second the second time around is much tougher," said Kite. "God, it's disappointing."

But there's always next week on the PGA Tour, on which the winner's champagne goes flat in a hurry. Two hours after his victory, O'Meara was packing himself into his car, bracing for the seven-hour drive down the coast, through L.A. and on to Escondido. Did you think he would go to Disneyland?

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Westchester

Westchester Classic

15

4

4.349

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)