Hardly anyone reads Damon Runyon and Ring Lardner anymore, but if the two were still alive—and if a city editor had assigned them to cover the 1992 PGA Championship in St. Louis—they probably would have made a big deal about the two babies, Gregory and Shynah. Runyon might have opened, "Even the meanest lug gets dewy-eyed...." And Lardner could have made much of the mysterious mommy with the bow in her hair who wheeled a baby carriage through the crowds at Bellerive Country Club, following a golf pro with flowing blond locks, a wraparound swing and a game on the skids.
Alas, in the current style of colorless sports prose, we are required to report only that Nick Price won by three shots in St. Louis. Runyon and Lardner could have gone to town with the story line. See, Price is the guy who dropped out of last year's PGA at Crooked Stick to be with his wife, Sue, for the birth of their first child, which allowed an unknown pro named John Daly to enter the field as the ninth, and last, alternate, etc., etc.
That child, Baby Gregory, spent Sunday with a sitter at a friend's house near Bellerive instead of at the course and therefore missed the chance to crawl onto the 18th green to congratulate his dad for winning his first major championship. "I didn't think this far ahead," confessed an almost frantic Sue, worried that her son will one day blame her if he and Daddy don't bond properly.
The 74th PGA was, in parts, Homeric, cathartic, sophomoric and aquatic. Not to mention Antarctic—sweaters in St. Louis in August? Bellerive's greens, apparently designed by Robert Trent Jones in his CinemaScope period, seemed wide enough for a cast of thousands, and at times it appeared as if thousands were in contention. Four players, in fact, tied for second, at three-under-par 281:
August 23, 1992
•Gene Sauers, a native of Savannah, who has won two PGA Tour events in an efficient nine-year career. Little is known of Sauers because little is revealed by Sauers. To wit: "The way I feel inside?" Long pause. "I don't know."
•Jim Gallagher Jr., the Greenwood, Miss., resident who was third at Crooked Stick. "What's your father's name?" a probing journalist asked him at Bellerive.
•John Cook, the Player of the Year candidate from Rancho Mirage, Calif., who is still weary from his British Open giveaway to Nick Faldo at Muirfield a month ago. "I don't dwell on it," said Cook. He admitted, though, that he thinks about it "a couple of times a day."
•Faldo, who closed out another brilliant effort in the four majors—in addition to his win at the British Open, he was fourth at the U.S. Open and 13th at the Masters.
"It's the guys who don't make mistakes who win," said Price, and that was certainly the case at Bellerive, which hadn't played host to a major championship since Gary Player won the U.S. Open there in 1965. Sauers, trying to become the first wire-to-wire winner of the PGA since Hal Sutton in 1983, reached a tournament-low eight under par on Sunday with a birdie on number 4, but he hit into the water on the par-3 6th and subsequently sank like a stone. Jeff Maggert, a graceful swinger who topped the Hogan Tour's money list in 1990, led by one shot with eight holes to go, but he gave back five strokes to finish sixth. Faldo fired a four-under-par 67 on Sunday, low round of the day, but it wasn't enough to overcome a mistake-strewn 76 on Saturday.
All of this left the 35-year-old Price alone to sort through the debris. "So many times in the major championships, I've made the mistakes," said Price, who counts two runner-up finishes at the British Open among his near-misses. This time a mistake by Price loomed just when victory was practically in his grasp. Leading Cook and Maggert by two shots with two holes to play on Sunday, Price left his third shot on the par-5 17th hole, from a greenside bunker, 30 feet short of the pin. He then ran his birdie putt past the hole and almost off the green. "I couldn't believe it was so quick," he said. "It was like putting on ice."
Bravely, Price made his 14-foot come-backer for par, after hardly pausing to line it up. "That, right there, was the putt of the tournament," said Cook. "There was no wavering about Nick Price today."
For his patience and persistence Price, a South Africa-born Zimbabwean with a British passport and an Orlando, Fla., address, got a silver cup and $280,000—enough to keep Baby Gregory in Pampers for some time. Whatever he does with the money, Price figures to wear the mantle of PGA champion more gracefully than Daly has. The legend of Crooked Stick played kick-the-can with sudden celebrity all year long, and by the time he got to Bellerive he was damaged goods.
Having survived the cut by only a stroke, Daly teed off with the dew-sweepers on Saturday and shot a 79. Then in an interview with CBS's Jim Nantz that was broadcast after that round but had been taped the night before, he also teed off on everybody but the Democratic Congress for his year of turmoil. Can't make those putts, he said, with flight attendants, journalists, palimony attorneys, the Buick Division of General Motors and Brent Musburger hanging on my putter.
"All those newspaper guys, I would love to find out what their lives are like," said Daly, apparently in search of a sleeping aid. And he never trashed that hotel room in Jamaica. It was in South Africa!
Daly's tour colleagues have found some of his antics harmless, but they can't have been amused by his account of the airplane incident that caused him to miss the Buick Classic in June. It was tournament officials, he told Nantz, and not airline representatives, who told reporters he was drunk when he had his run-in with a flight attendant while boarding a Continental flight from Denver to Newark. "I won't go buy a Buick anymore," said Daly, a remark that will no doubt draw the wrath of PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman, and maybe a hefty fine.
It's one thing to rationalize the airplane faux pas; it's something else to rationalize bad course management. When Daly barely made the cut and wound up last at Muirfield, he said his high-ball game wasn't suited to windy, links-style golf. Fair enough. At Bellerive he noted that the course penalized long hitters. O.K. Increasingly, though, Daly's refusal to adapt seems more and more like outright stubbornness. "I can not hit a one-iron off a par 5," he said last week, referring to Bellerive's double-dogleg, number 8, a serpentine trail lined with trees, bunkers and deep rough. "I don't believe in it."
His fans, of course, egg him on. They went crazy on Friday when Daly belted one of his huge drives from the elevated tee on number 12, flying fairway bunkers and rough and nearly reaching spectators on a fairway crosswalk 350 yards away. A moment later Sutton and Corey Pavin, his playing partners, put their drives prudently short of the bunkers and a hundred yards short of Daly's wallop, drawing derisive laughter from the gallery. Daly relishes such moments, but playing to the crowd can be as destructive to a player of talent as whiskey or drugs. He must learn that the tiny triumphs, over four days, don't necessarily add up to victory.
None of this squandering of opportunity would matter if Daly were still a carefree bachelor, but he recently took on the obligations of a family man, marrying the former Bettye Fulford, his on-again, off-again fiancèe. The infant in the carriage at Bellerive was his own Baby Shynah, and if she's going to live in the manner to which she has already become accustomed, Daddy is going to have to do better than 82nd place and $2,200 at his next PGA.
Baby Gregory, on the other hand, has a paragon of stability for a dad. Price talks fast, walks fast and has a roguish smile, yet his rèsumè—which includes a two-year hitch in the Rhodesian Air Force in his teens—reveals an unusual solidness and depth of character. On Sunday he recalled his disappointment at Royal Troon in 1982, when he led by three shots with six holes to play, only to lose to Tom Watson by a stroke. "That was probably the best thing that could have happened to me." said Price. "Who knows what kind of person I would have been if I'd won a major championship at age 25?"
The question was rhetorical, but one could hazard a guess: like John Daly.
"He's a genuine guy," says Cook, speaking of Price in pretty good Runyonese. "He's not a guy who walks by you and gives you half a look."
As Price walked onto the 18th green on Sunday, he could have been forgiven for taking at least half a look forward to the trophy ceremony, or even beyond. "But I didn't," he said—at least not until he had putted out from two feet for his par and certain victory. (Sauers and Maggert, the final twosome, were still laboring behind him.) "I can't tell you what's going to happen in the next year," Price said as he left Bellerive, "but I'm going to pace myself."
So let's remember Bellerive for Baby Gregory and Baby Shynah and their Uncle Squeeky and....
Oh, my god, we almost forgot Squeeky!
Jeff ("Squeeky, with two e's," he'll tell you) Medlen is Price's full-time caddie, a scrawny guy with glasses and a high-pitched voice. He woulda caddied for Price last year, but Price was home waiting for Baby Gregory to make an appearance. So Squeeky hooked up with Price's stand-in, a certain long-haired pro from Dardanelle, Ark., who thought, Kill! whenever he took a swing with his driver, etc., etc. Now Squeeky's famous 'cause he has won the PGA two straight years with two different golfers.
Don't that beat all?