The 18th at cypress point sometimes seems to have been designed for no other purpose than to tease and torment the young. The short par-4, one of golf's most perplexing finishing holes, bends in and up from the Pacific Ocean through a majestic gate of cypress trees—a route so cramped that an iron shot from the tee straying but a few yards in either direction closes the door. To the young warrior who has just carried the crashing surf on the heroic 16th and then whistled safely past the cypress graveyard on the cliffside 17th, the 18th says, "That's nice, son, but tuck in your shirt and wash your hands, and for heaven's sake, comb your hair, or you won't have dessert tonight."
Ted Schulz got his ears scrubbed at 18 last Thursday, during the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Schulz, a tall, boyish 30-year-old from Louisville, bounced his one-iron tee shot off a tree on the right and found his ball at the bottom of the rise to the green, his path blocked by a grove of trees. Having just played the dangerous 15th through 17th at even par despite being hit by a brief rain squall at 16, Schulz was naturally reluctant to forfeit a stroke by chipping to safety. Instead, he tried to punch a four-iron through the trees—a shot that made an interesting variety of sounds as it progressed, ending with a resounding whack at a cypress trunk. The ball, which traveled maybe 100 yards round-trip, wound up back at Schulz's feet.
A year ago Schulz might have tried the same shot again, inviting real disaster. This time he meekly chipped onto the fairway and then hit a superb wedge shot inches from the cup to save bogey. "I was lucky to make 5," he said afterward. "I deserved worse."
Schulz is one of a handful of youngish pros on the PGA Tour who appear to be breaking loose as the 1990s commence. No one knows if one of them will be to the decade what Jack Nicklaus was to the '60s, Tom Watson was to the '70s and Greg Norman might have been to the '80s, but the first candidates have asserted themselves. One of them, Ian Baker-Finch of Australia, opened the decade by nearly winning the Tournament of Champions and then explaining to reporters that he was not half-Baker and half-Finch, but the product of a long line of hyphenated Baker-Finches.
February 12, 1990
Baker-Finch won his first PGA Tour tournament last year, the Southwestern Bell Colonial, and plans to split his time between Australia and America. Last week he skipped the AT&T, in which most of the youngsters poised on the brink of sustained success found themselves swept over the brink in a storm of bogeys, double bogeys and worse.
Tommy Armour III, 30, who had won his first Tour tournament the week before, at Phoenix, got off to a good start at Cypress last Thursday. After five holes he was two under, but after 14 holes he was four over, thanks to "a couple of unplayables," he said. "It can happen real quick, but what can you do?"
Another upstart, 27-year-old Brian Tennyson, sidestepped catastrophe at Spyglass Hill and Pebble Beach, the other two courses in the tournament rotation, but couldn't read the tricky greens and missed a dozen or so makable birdie putts. "I played a practice round with Tommy Armour here two years ago," said Tennyson. "And he told me you can be playing the best golf of your life coming into this tournament and miss the cut. He said just to be patient and not get caught up in all that's going on with the weather or galleries or whatever."
Tennyson tried to follow Armour's advice, but on Saturday he played the 17th at Cypress Point in winds that gust-ed to 50 mph, and he shot a 9.
History tells us that these courses yield only to veteran pros, and even then only grudgingly. In 43 years, from the days of the Crosby Clambake to the present, only Don Massengale in 1966, John Cook in '81 and Steve Jones in '88 got their first tour wins at Pebble Beach, and those three played all their rounds under mostly sunny skies, a tournament anomaly. More typically, the young player succumbs to the many distractions along the 17 Mile Drive, which include bounding deer and rabbits, barking sea lions, posturing celebrities plunking spectators, and the infamous weather, which forces more costume changes than the Ice Capades. And because they get only one crack at Cypress and Spyglass every year, and two at Pebble—if they or their pro-am pairing make the cut—acquiring local knowledge takes several years and a prodigious memory.
What accumulates quickly is the horror stories. Schulz, who won the 1989 Southern Open as a rookie and finished 30th on the money list ($391,855), will always approach the par-4 8th at Cypress Point with trepidation because last year he vaporized there. Holding the tournament lead at four under in the third round, he hit his second shot at the flag and watched in dismay as the wind blew it left onto a dune. "I tried two times to hit it out lefthanded," he said last Thursday. "Then I took a drop, chipped on and made the putt for an easy 7."
This year the pin on 8 was farther right, and Schulz hit the green safely. Turning to his wife, Diane, who was behind the gallery ropes, he laughed and said, "You feel better now?"
She did, but only until he walked up the hill and three-putted for bogey.
Armour didn't have to strain to recall his worst moment in four AT&Ts. "I made a 9 on the 18th at Pebble Beach the first time I played here," he said. "Put a couple of balls in the water. That didn't feel very good."
Tennyson joined the club Saturday afternoon when he had the bad luck to be on the 17th at Cypress when those heavy winds blew up, bending the flagstaff almost double. "We were so exposed it was unbelievable," he said later at Disaster Central. "I've played in wind, but not in wind like this."
Fighting for his balance on the 17th tee, Tennyson reached the fairway with his driver, but his attempt to reach the green with the same club met with a crosswind that sent his ball plunging into the sea. Dropping another ball at the base of the cliff, 104 yards from the pin, Tennyson hit a six-iron that also came up short and disappeared into the Pacific. His next shot, a five-iron, went over the back edge of the green. From there he chipped on, only to watch his ball roll all the way across the green and off the front edge. He chipped again to four feet and made the putt for 9—thereby narrowly losing the hole to his pro-am partner, Nestle chairman James Biggar, who had an 8.
Is this sort of self-flagellation good for a player's development? Tennyson, who tied for second at the Bob Hope and for fifth at Phoenix before his epic failure at the Battle of Cypress Point, seemed to think so: "I have heard about guys losing their swings here because they have to overcompen-sate for the wind. But to me, that's part of the game. I think playing here can improve your game—especially mentally."
Besides, golfers on the brink of stardom have to sharpen their images as well as their swings. In that regard, Armour, whose golf bag sports a big III on the side, made the most progress at Pebble Beach. With his evocative name, his ruddy good looks and his Bogartian way of flicking aside his cigarette before a shot, Armour is destined to be a crowd favorite if he can win a few. He already signs the best autograph on tour—a grand flourish copied, no doubt, from the clubs that have borne his famous grandfather's name for more than 50 years.
Armour I, who won the U.S. and British Opens and the PGA between 1927 and '31, wound up his career as a respected teacher and author in Florida. Armour III began his in Las Vegas, where his family lived in a house just off the third green at the Desert Inn. After playing college golf at the University of New Mexico, he had modest success on the European and Asian tours—"It was more like camping than exile," he says—but it took him five years to regain the tour card he lost in '82 for failing to play well enough. Before his five-shot victory at Phoenix, his best U.S. results were a second-place finish in the '88 Centel Classic and a tie for second at the '89 Kemper Open. "Winning feels strange," he said. "What should I expect of myself now?"
Tennyson played his college golf at Ball State and, like Armour and Schulz, took his turn on the Asian tour, where he won a couple of tournaments. He's loose and chatty on the course, and he credits his recent good play to a change in attitude. "I used to be real serious, out there grinding every day," he says. "A real Ben Hogan type. I'd block everything and everyone out, and by the 13th hole I'd be worn out." Tennyson studied the players who were emerging several years ago—Ken Green, Mark Calcavecchia, Steve Jones—and decided they played more or less with reckless abandon. "They'd wail on it and see what happened. Now I try to be more outgoing between shots—look at the trees, talk to someone about the Super Bowl, take my mind off the game for a few minutes. Then I find I have more energy to put into my game."
Tennyson's new attitude was tested at Cypress, right after he made his 9. Larry Mize, playing in Tennyson's foursome, hit a drive on the 18th hole that blew into the trees on the left of the fairway. Thinking his ball was lodged in a tree, the usually reserved Mize climbed up and shimmied along a main branch, looking for the ball. He found one—but it wasn't his! Just then, the wind started whipping again and the tree began to sway. Mize stopped, hung on and yelled, "What do I do now?"
The gallery laughed, and Tennyson broke up. "It was the funniest thing I ever saw," he said later. "I was about on the ground."
Loose again, Tennyson parred the hole and signed his scorecard in good humor. "Hey, with a day like this you just laugh it off and go on to next week," he said. "It could make you crazy if you took it too seriously."
Schulz can be a kidder too—sometimes. A devout Christian, he credits his improvement to his spiritual peace of mind, and he minimizes the emotional upsets of tournament golf. A typical Schulzism: "Golf is just a series of shots, and you play 'em."
"My demeanor goes in stages depending on how I'm doing," he says. When things were going bad for him during last Friday's round at Spyglass Hill, Schulz was quiet and solemn. He finally reached a breaking point of sorts on the par-3 15th, where he drove within four feet of the hole. On the green he said, "If I don't knock this in, this club is going in the water." When a friend said, "What will you putt with then?" he answered, "My one-iron or my foot."
Schulz made the birdie putt and then birdied 16. His mood improved dramatically after that.
One traditional measure of golfing temperaments, of course, is the 16th at Cypress Point, that much photographed par-3 with the 205-yard carry over a roiling cauldron of pounding waves. Schulz played it on the first day—the same day that Tom Watson made a 6 on the hole and Paul Azinger had an 8. With the wind rising and rain pelting his umbrella, Schulz played the 16th as a par-4, hitting across the chasm to the bailout area on the left. Approaching his ball, he mocked himself by flapping his arms and clucking, but his was the prudent shot, given the conditions. He made a 4.
It was still the prudent shot an hour or so later when Armour got to the 16th, but the crowd-pleasing III never hesitated. He lashed his tee shot over the sea in a stiff wind and drew it back to the green, setting it down some 20 feet below the hole. "I've never laid up there, and hopefully I never will," he said later. "I'll hit a driver there if I have to." Armour's score: 3.
It was Tennyson's misfortune to play the 16th on Saturday, and, judging by his shot selection, he was already crazed by the wind: He took out his driver and went for the green. ("It's not like I was trying to protect the lead," he explained later.) He walloped his ball into the back right bunker, and from there he made a 4. Had he not had a 9 on the next hole, it might have been the highlight of his round.
The upstarts' 54-hole scores looked like numbers from a college invitational. Armour: 76-72-77-225. Schulz: 74-72-79-225. Tennyson: 75-72-83-230. All three missed the cut, and all but Tennyson, who played Sunday because he and his amateur partner made the pro-am cut, were spectators or passengers on outbound planes when Mark O'Meara won the tournament with a seven-under-par score of 67-73-69-72-281. But none of them would say that his time at Pebble Beach had been wasted. "You learn something every time you play here," said Armour. "The older you get, the better you get."