What a harmless, inoffensive affair the PGA Championship at Shoal Creek in Birmingham turned out to be. There were no marches, no bomb threats. No redneck governors blocked the clubhouse door. Highway vendors offered SOUL CREEK COUNTRY CLUB T-shirts, and that's about as deep as the social commentary went. Voices were raised, to be sure, but most of them belonged to gallery show-offs, who are a growing irritant at televised golf tournaments.
A 33-year-old Australian won the trophy, and that was good too. Wayne Grady has toiled too long in the shadow of countryman Greg Norman. On Sunday he tied Norman's career total for wins in majors—one—and crept closer to the Shark in overall wins, trailing now by a mere 63 (Norman, 68; Grady, 5). By shooting par or better for four days on a course judged by most of the field to be the harshest PGA setup in two decades, Grady also accomplished two more feats:
Number one, he gave non-American golfers a three-out-of-four-series victory in this year's majors, the first time that has ever happened. Number two, he silenced the tiresome drone of pros who complained all week that deep rough made Shoal Creek unplayable.
Not that Grady didn't harbor a few antirough sentiments of his own. "It's not fun having to hack it out sideways every time you go a few feet off line," he told the press after Sunday's round. "You guys should try it."
August 19, 1990
How deep was the rough at Shoal Creek? Hard to say; Bermuda grass doesn't square its shoulders and stand up straight. PGA of America president Pat Rielly said 3½ inches, but the grass was deep enough in spots to hide a golfer's shoes and soak his pant cuffs with dew.
"I'd like him to take a ruler out there and measure it," said defending PGA champ Payne Stewart, who was outspoken in his criticism.
"There's nothing to practice," said the Tour's alltime leading money winner, Tom Kite. "You just grab a sand wedge and chunk it out onto the fairway."
This is what passes for controversy at most golf tournaments, and in other years tournament officials might have been annoyed. This year the gripes and whines fell like birdsong on ears toughened by weeks of controversy.
Shoal Creek founder Hall Thompson touched off a national debate in June with his remarks about the private club's no-blacks-allowed membership practices. In the face of TV sponsor boycotts and threatened picketing by civil rights groups, the club relented the week before the tournament and extended honorary membership to black Birmingham businessman Louis J. Willie.
The PGA of America jumped on board last week with a new site selection policy. "The PGA," the new clause reads, "requires that prospective host courses which are clubs rather than public facilities have demonstrably open membership policies and practices prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin or gender, and that the maintenance of such open membership policies be contractually guaranteed."
Having thus officially established that golf will be colorblind, the PGA started play on Thursday with one black in the 151-man field—41-year-old Tour veteran Jim Thorpe. By Friday afternoon the Shoal Creek rough had sent Thorpe packing, but he had plenty of illustrious white golfers for company. The once-feared Seve Ballesteros, for example, shot 77-83-160 and was gone. Shoal Creek's designer, Jack Nicklaus, shot eight over par and missed the cut by a stroke. Mark Calcavecchia, Bernhard Langer, Curtis Strange and Tommy Armour III went away muttering. Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino—golf's richest minority member, who won the 1984 PGA at Shoal Creek-failed too. They headed back to the Senior tour, where the rough isn't so.
Still around after two rounds was a 33-year-old Englishman who made no secret of his interest in joining an exclusive club. The club Nick Faldo wanted to join, restricted to golfers who have won three modern majors in one year, has just one member: Ben Hogan, who won both Opens and the Masters in 1953. Faldo, with wins in the 1990 Masters and British Open (and with only a lipped-out putt on the 72nd hole separating him from the U.S. Open playoff won by Hale Irwin at Medinah), stood poised on the brink of golf immortality. That, in hindsight, may have affected his stance.
America doesn't quite have a handle on Faldo yet, but we're working on it. The Birmingham Post-Herald took a stab last week, noting that Faldo "bares [sic] a slight resemblance to Harrison Ford, the actor...."
Faldo did emerge from the dark cave of his swing thoughts now and then. When a butterfly bothered one of his playing partners, Irwin, on Thursday, Faldo joined Payne Stewart in a putter-waving bug drive that amused the gallery. At other times he mocked himself with sardonic shakes of the head or made crowd-pleasing gestures over holed putts.
These may be concessions to stagecraft, but Faldo needs only a hint of warmth and wit to broaden his appeal in this country. While British golf writer Peter Dobereiner described him recently as "a loner to the point of stand-offishness, consumed by ambition, arrogant, self-centred and obsessively driven by the impossible dream of technical perfection," Faldo is not the robot golfer he's often made out to be. He is, however, a man who has learned, like Indiana Jones, that snakes can't bite what they can't reach. On Thursday, for example, Faldo drove into the left rough on the 9th hole, leaving himself 170 yards to a green fronted by water. After numerous practice swings, Faldo addressed the ball with an eight-iron, but he backed off before swinging. Disgusted, he exchanged the club for a sand wedge, blasted safely into the fairway and took his bogey.
"I had half a lie," he said later. "I had half a chance of getting there. Every time I put the club down, the grass closed over the ball. I thought, Well, I've seen this movie...."
Compared with the wide-open Old Course at St. Andrews, where Faldo lapped the field by five strokes—or even with Augusta National, where he has won two Masters in a row—Shoal Creek must have seemed confining, if not downright claustrophobic. Each hole, carved by Nicklaus out of dense pine and hardwood forest, is defined to the point of isolation. For the week of the championship, woolly collars of rough were allowed to flourish around greens already guarded by wide bunkers. "There's no finesse," said a worried John Simpson, Faldo's agent. "There's no practicing for it."
"It's a perfect Faldo golf course," countered Tom Kite. "He's long and he's very, very straight."
As it happened, Faldo wasn't so straight on Thursday, but he scrambled around in one under par. In the second round he shot 75 and admitted to a gradual leaking of self-assurance. "I kind of lost my confidence about where to aim," he said, blaming greens that treated iron shots capriciously, accepting some and rejecting others. "There's a bigger bounce here than at St. Andrews after three months of drought."
He shrugged and added, "A good whack around the back of the head and I'll be ready tomorrow."
Somebody must have whacked him too hard, because Faldo vaporized on Saturday. Still in contention after birdieing the 3rd hole, he began missing short putts. His temper rising, he threw caution and control to the winds and wound up hitting for the cycle (par, bogey, double bogey, triple bogey). The triple came at the par-4 10th, where Faldo pushed an iron shot into the creek and then tried to play from a ragout of mud, pinecones, rocks and poison ivy.
"Well, I ruined my Best-Dressed Golfer of the Year chances," he said afterward, lingering his mud-spattered shirt.
The ball, alas, had hit the top of the bank and toppled back in, leaving Faldo in the soup in more ways than one. By the time he reached the 16th tee, he knew it was over. That was where he offered to give his clubs, pants and shirt to a youngster behind the ropes.
Finishing with an unsightly 80, the bemused Brit allowed that he might cut his American trip short and skip this week's International in Colorado. Joked Faldo: "I might have had enough brain damage for August."
Faldo's performance at Shoal Creek was nothing to shout about, but there was still an excess of shouting. Some tournaments are decided by the yips; this one was influenced by the yelps.
Scott Verplank, leading the field at four under on Thursday, lay in the 17th fairway when an impatient fan bellowed, "Hurry up and hit the ball!" The usually placid Verplank, who was still blinking from a time-consuming meander deep into the woods, responded with a seven-iron to the green and a 20-foot putt for double-bogey. Coming off the green, he shouted, "Where's that bigmouth now?" No one responded, and Verplank apologized later for losing his cool. But it was Grady, whose 67 on Friday gave him a one-shot lead, who got stuck with the worst of the shouters. Paired with Fred Couples on Saturday, Grady shot 72 to stretch his lead to two over Couples and Stewart. Through most of the round he had to endure a fan who yelled, "You're the man, Freddy!" every time Couples hit a shot. "I like Freddy; Freddy's a great guy," Grady said. "But I got sick of hearing his name."
None of these distractions kept good golf from being played. Dr. Gil Morgan, the nonpracticing Oklahoma optometrist with seven Tour wins and perennially aching shoulders, needed only 29 putts on Saturday and jumped into contention with a tournament-best round of 65. Former Masters champion Larry Mize shot 68 on Friday, and boyish second-year pro Billy Mayfair shot two sub-par rounds and tied for fifth. Even the weary Faldo had some sparkle left at the end—a final-round 69.
But it was Grady who proved that Shoal Creek wasn't too rough for a player in championship form. The angry-eyed Queenslander is the forgotten man from last year's British Open playoff, won by Calcavecchia and lost by Norman (hereafter to be known as "the other Aussie"). Grady travels with his wife, Lyn, and three-year-old daughter, Samantha, a Down's syndrome child. "He suffers many sleepless nights, but you never hear him complain," said Australian journalist Andrew Both. "He really deserves to be Father of the Decade."
Sunday, Grady was more a Mother of Invention, withstanding early challenges by Couples and Morgan and the nonchallenge of his rattled playing partner Stewart, whose hopes of repeating vanished with a triple bogey at 11. Couples took the lead briefly with a birdie at 12, but the long-hitting pro from West Palm Beach, Fla., apparently switched to a rubber putter; he missed three-to four-foot par putts on the next three holes.
"They weren't gimmes, and they don't look far," Couples said, "but when you need to make 'em, they're very, very tough."
Grady was not perfect. He played six shots from the rough on Sunday and caromed his drive on 15 off a tree and into the fairway. But four birdies and smart course management kept him under par. He walked up to the 18th green with a three-stroke lead and no challengers left. "After Fred got in trouble, all I wanted to do was keep it in the fairway," said Grady.
How would Grady remember Shoal Creek?
Grinning, he said, "This thing will go to my grave with me."
Buried, too, if we have learned anything at all from the weeks preceding the PGA Championship at Shoal Creek, will be golf's discriminatory practices. Sometimes the best shots are played before the tournament even begins.