The Cubs are in trouble. That's the lesson to take home from the 71st PGA Championship, a weird but memorable event that began with a 59-year-old king in a straw hat stealing the thunder right out of Chicago's skies and ended with Payne Stewart, wearing his trademark knickers, winning the darn thing while standing inside the scorer's tent.
In between, the PGA all but belonged to Mike Reid, a short-hitting, iron-thin, 35-year-old Utahan who has a poignant appreciation for the Cubs and human frailty. Reid led the final major of 1989 for three rounds and 16 holes of the fourth round by disassembling the 7,197-yard Kemper Lakes course in Hawthorn Woods, Ill., with the kind of precision shot making that led his fellow pros to dub him Radar. Then something happened. "The Russians must have been transmitting, because my radar got zapped," said a wry but tearful Reid, who gave up five shots to Stewart over the final three holes. "It's only a game, right?" he continued, halting often to choke back his emotions. "I cry at supermarket openings. Someday I'll do it right and finish one of these."
It was Stewart who did it right, firing a 67 on Sunday to win the first major championship of his career and $200,000. Playing three groups ahead of Reid and trailing him by five strokes with nine holes to play, Stewart told ABC commentator Jerry Pate, who was following Stewart's threesome, that he might still win if he could shoot a five-under 31 on the back nine. That's exactly what Stewart did.
He parred number 10, sank a 12-foot putt for birdie on 11, and saved par on 12 and 13 after missing both greens. Then he caught fire, birdieing four of the last five holes. Dressed in the orange and navy blue of the Bears—under a promotional deal with the NFL, he wears the colors of the team nearest to where each tournament is played—Stewart chipped in from just off the green on 14, hit a nine-iron to within two feet of the pin on 15, sank an 18-footer on 16, the most difficult hole in the course, and capped his magnificent rally by draining a 12-footer on 18 to get to 12 under par.
August 20, 1989
In the process, Stewart passed eight players, but he didn't catch the leader. When Stewart completed play, Reid was still at 14 under, with three holes to play. "The last nine holes of a major, some really strange things happen." said Stewart later. "I just stood in that tent and said a little prayer."
One man's prayer is another man's Augusta Revisited. Reid led this year's Masters with six holes to go but lost sole possession of the lead, then hit an approach shot into the pond at the 15th hole and wound up in sixth place. When asked about that turn of events last Thursday, after he shot a 66 to take the first-round lead with Leonard Thompson, Reid said, "I'd rather use the Masters as a stepping-stone than a tombstone. To be honest, I appreciated the chance to choke."
The first-round leader board at Kemper Lakes was something for the ages. A stroke behind Reid and Thompson was Tom Watson, 39, who was seeking his first PGA title to complete a career grand slam. Another stroke back, at 68, was five-time winner Jack Nicklaus, who'll be 50 in January. However, the name that had golf fans rubbing their eyes and falling into lockstep behind their general belonged to Arnold Palmer.
Arnie, who will be 60 next month, reeled off five straight birdies on the front, side and was actually tied for the lead after 16 holes at six under par. He bogeyed the last two holes to end up with a 68, but that was the lowest score he had shot at the PGA—which he has never won—since 1976, when Kemper Lakes was still a marshland. Palmer eventually began to act his age, finishing at five over par and tied for 63rd, but not before infusing the tournament with the sort of excitement that the golf course was unable to provide.
Kemper Lakes played big all right, but not big time. For all its length, the course was sinfully forgiving. The fairways were wide, the bunkers were huge and benign, and the greens were mammoth and soft. When asked if he had ever dreamed he would be 11 under par after two rounds, Reid, the Tour's second-shortest hitter, shook his head and said, "No, but the Cubs shouldn't be in first place in August, either."
Reid averages only 245 yards off the tee, but he is second in driving accuracy. On Saturday he was playing so steadily that when he finally drove into the rough on the ninth hole, Thompson, his playing partner, heard thunder rumbling in the distance and said, "See that? Your ball goes into the rough and it brings lightning."
Play was halted because of the lightning at 6:20 p.m., with 39 players left on the course and the final threesome—Reid, Thompson and Craig Stadler—having finished only nine holes. The third round was completed on Sunday morning and the final 18 in the afternoon. Reid, tapping his drives down the middle and saving pars with a succession of nervy putts, held firm, while several players made runs at him. Only Curtis Strange hung tough, cutting the lead to one stroke with a birdie on 10 to move to 11 under. But Reid answered with birdies on 10 and 11 to get to 14 under, which is where he stood on the 16th hole, the PGA his to lose.
And that's exactly what he did. First, after he had avoided every water hazard all week, he pushed his drive into the water on the 469-yard 16th. At about the same time, Stewart birdied the 18th hole to move to 12 under par. Reid kept his lead, though, by dropping a 10-foot putt for a bogey, and now he needed only to par the last two holes to win. But on the par-3 17th hole, while Stewart looked on from the tent, Reid fluffed an easy chip shot and. for the first time in 71 holes, three-putted, lipping out a two-foot tap-in.
After that double bogey 5, Reid needed a birdie on 18 to tie Stewart, but redemption eluded him when he pulled a seven-foot putt left of the cup to finish with a 74. Shaken and emotionally drained, Reid had one joke left when asked if he was aware that Stewart was dressed in the colors of Chicago's beloved Bears. "Yeah, and I'm supposed to be wearing a Cubs uniform, right?" said Reid. "No way. They're not going to do what I did this year."
Cub fans can only hope.