YOU MAKE ME SICK.
You have no idea what it's like, do you? You sportswriters are all alike. You sit in your press tent and eat your catered lobster bisque and look up at the scoreboard and cackle. He's bogeyed three holes in a row! What's he playing with, gardening implements? If Greg Norman isn't leading the tournament, you file an official grievance. Who cares? This guy will be running the Topeka Putt-Putt inside of six months. You howl about how any pro could make a 7. For chrissakes, I could do better than that!
No. You couldn't do better than that. I know. I know because that's exactly what I used to howl in the press tent over my catered lobster bisque. But now that I'm out of the press tent and actually playing on the PGA Tour regularly...well, now that I've played in one Tour event, last week's AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am...I have only one thing to say to the whole lot of you do-nothing, late-sleeping, easy-living media swine:
Can I come back now?
It is difficult to tell exactly when I realized that playing in the AT&T was a mistake on the order of, say, New Coke, but it was probably at some point between the sight of 1) my first shot of the tournament still rising as it sailed over the first crested waves of Carmel Bay on its way into the vast Pacific and 2) Charles Schulz, the harmless 70-year-old creator of "Peanuts," beating my butt by seven shots—gross—last Thursday.
No. I take that back. I probably knew it the day before, during a rainstorm at the putting green at Spyglass Hill, when I noticed all the other caddies holding umbrellas over their players. I hollered over to my friend and caddie, "Two-Down" O'Connor, the world's most avid golf gambler, that maybe now was a good time to start thinking about getting out the umbrella. "Good idea," yelled Two-Down, who pulled out the umbrella and held it over his head. "Gettin' kinda wet there for a while."
Like the 1970s, this all seemed like a good idea at the time. This is how it happened: Boss throws out his back. Boss already shelled out $3,500 to play in the AT&T Pro-Am. Boss has no choice but to send freeloading 15-handicap writer in his place. Writer nearly pulls groin yanking invitation from mailbox. Writer immediately regrips ball retriever, buys 11 new sweaters and steam-cleans head covers. Tournament still three months away.
If you didn't have a bad back before coming to this tournament, you might get one from hauling home the loot. For the $3,500, an amateur player gets an AT&T answering machine-phone, a Waterford crystal clock, an ugly decanter with golf tees in it, invitations to three celebrity-stuffed parties and a framed picture of his foursome, which in my case included my pro, Dennis Trixler, and Schulz and his pro, Jeff McMillen. Of course, since I paid exactly nothing for this tournament—and since it wasn't really me who was invited in the first place—I realized it wasn't fair that I get to keep all these expensive gifts. I am sending my boss the ugly decanter.
The phone was nice. It made me think it would be a smart thing to go up to Robert Allen, the chairman of AT&T, one of the most powerful and busiest businessmen in the world, and say, "Hey, thanks for the phone." As though he'd actually packed it himself. As though he might say, Did you like it? I wasn't sure if brown was O.K. or what. I've got the receipt if it doesn't work out.
What I really wanted, of course, was what every Pebble Beach amateur wants: to play on Sunday. At every party and lunch and practice putting green you hear it:
"You gonna play Sunday?"
"Let's get serious and play on Sunday for once, huh?"
If you play on Sunday, it means that of the 180 teams entered, yours is one of the 25 to make the Saturday-night cut. Jack Lemmon has not made it to a Sunday for 20 straight years. At one tournament party Bill Murray, Clint Eastwood, Dan Quayle and Donald Trump went unnoticed by the poor saps who were trying to figure out the key to making Sunday. "It took me five years to learn this," one man told me. "Forget your total score. Just make 10 pars." I asked him how many Sundays he had ever played. "None."
Trixler, 35, my partner for the week, was a touring pro from San Mateo, Calif. Oh, I know, some people might want Curtis or Payne or Fred, but there are a lot of us out on the Tour like Trixler, guys who have to arm-wrestle the marshals for every birdie they get, guys who have lost their cards more often than their keys. Guys who know what a rigged game golf is. Ask yourself this: Does Michael Jordan get to shoot his free throws from eight feet? Does Kirby Puckett take his pitches from second base? Why then do golf stars get the best tee times and the "c" category players, like Trixler, get the worst? Why should a Trixler have to putt greens that look like they just hosted an Arthur Murray class?
It is such a disadvantage to be a "c" category player that this year one of the penalties the Tour will hand out for slow play is a "c" category tee time. What did guys like Trixler do to get penalized?
"Do you know how many times I've had some guy on a Toro lawnmower on my butt as the sun is going down and I'm trying to make a six-footer to make the cut?" says Trixler. "The marshals? When Greg Norman comes through, they're wide-eyed and alert, all ready to watch exactly where his ball goes. But by the time I come through at six o'clock, they're snoozing, sunburned, tired. They've had nothing to cat or drink. And you say, 'You didn't happen to see where my ball went, did you?' And they say, 'Get bent.' "
Trixler is also the funniest thing in pants. When he is playing horribly, he will say, "God, I'm playing well. I'm hitting it sooooo good. I've got tickets for the doubleheader Saturday." Once he hit a perfect shot that flew the green. Later he described it to a friend this way: "I'm pumped. I flag a four-iron. I'm posing. Every shutter in the place is releasing on me. The world at my feet. Then, goodbye, gone, see ya. Does the word alcoholism mean anything to you?"
Great guy, Trix. Besides, I tried to get Fred, Curtis or Payne. They were taken.
As tough as it is for us out here on the Tour, I have to say we are treated with a modicum of human decency. Most players get courtesy cars, usually brand-new Buicks. There is a nutritious breakfast waiting for us at the driving range. And, best of all, there arc hordes of fully grown men waiting to give us free things when we come out to play. The balls, clothes and clubs are free. A man from Titleist gave me two dozen balls free, someone from U.S.T. shafts offered to reshaft me, and some guy from Founders metal woods gave me a very fresh three-wood—all at absolutely no cost. I really considered pitching a tent on the range and leaving it at that. Two-Down was agog at all this.
It quickly became apparent that choosing an old pal as my caddie was perhaps not a wise move. Two-Down does not do bibs well. He had never caddied before in his life. The gambling jones is incurable in him. For instance, here's what he carried in his so-called rain-delay kit: five sets of dice, three minibottles of Scotch, a juggling book, moonwalking instructions, Sam Snead's guide to golf hustling, a bottle of Brain Pep and a miniroulette wheel. The man is a walking pigeon trap.
Before he even arrived in Monterey, he was talking about "subletting" the job, which would keep him fresh for the evening card games.
"Why not?" he said. "I'll just walk along with you, and when you say, 'Five-iron,' I'll turn to the kid holding the bag and say, 'Five-iron.' " In our first practice round, on Tuesday, I hit a ball out-of-bounds, then hit one down the middle. Two-Down walked with me to the fairway ball. "Aren't you going to look for the first one?" I asked.
"What for?" he said, incredulously. "The guy just gave you two dozen free ones!"
Trix gave me some pointers about 1st-tee jitters before our opening round at the Pebble Beach Golf Links on Thursday. "Just think about this," he said. "In 15 minutes not one person standing here will remember how your shot went. Actually, even right now they don't really give a rat's ass. So screw 'em and have fun."
I also thought of James Garner's secret to playing televised golf tournaments. "Set up to the ball," he advises. "Squint into the sun. Take your swing. And no matter what happens, no matter how bad you've hit it, start walking right down the middle of the fairway." Unfortunately, Garner admits, there was one time when it didn't work: "The time my ball hit the camera lens."
With all this in mind, I went out Thursday and hit two over the cliff at 10. Trixler hit one over the cliff there himself. Then I hit another one over the famous cliff at 18, and Trixler hit one off the majestic cliff at 8. By the end of the day we had searched more cliffs than the heroine in Wuthering Heights. After one hole we were two over par as a team, which meant that we were only 44 shots behind last year's pro-am team winner.
When we finally putted out on that first hole, Schulz, the creator of Charlie Brown, actually said, "Good grief."
Still, the day was not a total loss. At one point Trixler advised Two-Down and me that we could take a ball out of play as long as it was "out of round." We both found it a fascinating phrase and decided it would be quite useful in other situations in life.
Hey, Fred, I heard you're getting a divorce.
Yeah, Bob, I am. Gladys got a little out of round.
By the end of the first day, Trixler had shot a four-over 76. Our team shot 68, six behind the leaders. I say this with all honesty and candor: Linus and Lucy could've beaten us.
We Tour players sleep fitfully if we end the day on a bogey or, in my case, six bogeys in eight holes. That is why Tour players practice after their round, often until dusk. In fact, Tour players feel the need to practice after their round even if they've shot 66. I asked Trixler why. "Mostly guilt," he said. "Most of the time it doesn't help anyway. You're just out there doing penance. You see another guy out there putting, and you don't want to get passed, so you do it yourself. If Catholicism had an official sport, it would be golf."
The truly devoted keep practicing long after the sun punches out. They say Billy Casper putted so much at home that he had to change the carpet in his house every few years. Nowadays Andrew Magee may be the Tour's best hotel/motel practicer. I asked for a few tips.
"First thing you have to do is get a room with blackout curtains," Magee said. Apparently you shut those big, thick drapes and, voila, instant golf range. "Start with full wedge shots," he said. "The window won't break. You can pretty much go through all your short irons and not break the window." I had only one question: Wouldn't you break a lot of windows until you found just the right thickness of curtain? "Well," he said, "one night I'd had a few beers, and I was ticked off because I missed the cut, and I went back and started hitting full wedge shots into the curtain. I guess I didn't care if the window broke or not, but it didn't."
Magee also recommended getting a cheap hotel room whenever possible. The cheaper the hotel, the thinner the carpet pad, which means the faster and truer the putts roll. Anything over $69 a night isn't going to help your putting a damn.
On Friday, Trix and I went out to Poppy Hills and didn't knock it into the Pacific Ocean once. Instead we hit it into and off of every tree in the Del Monte Forest. I had to chip out of the trees on holes 4, 5, 9, 10, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17. It was my personal Arbor Day.
O.K., so Trix was not at his best this week, either. He threw a little six-over 78 at the field on Friday, which left him only 15 shots behind the leader. He was really playing great. Hitting it long. Putting well. He has brunch reservations Sunday.
And yet, somehow, we shot a team score of 65 on Friday. The AT&T Pro-Am is a best-ball tournament. Since my handicap is 15, I got a free shot on each round's 15 hardest holes. Pros, of course, get no free shots. So if Trix made a 4 and I made a 4 on one of my free-shot holes, then our team score for that hole was 3. Things just seemed to work out on Friday. Every time I was stuck chipping out from behind a Georgia-Pacific crew, Trix was making par. And every time Trix was finding new and inventive ways to make a 6, I was banking one off two blue spruces, a pine tree and Bambi for par. After two days we were only two shots off the cut. I could just feel Sunday morning coming down.
Schulz and his pro were still three shots ahead of us, though. Schulz not only has a great sense of humor and more money than Saudi Arabia, he also has a helluva golf game. On Friday he knocked the ball four feet from the hole on a par-5—in two. I loathe that man.
During a wait I asked Trix what he would do if he won a tournament. He talked as if he'd had his answer ready for years. "First of all, I'd cry," he said. "Then I'd hug my wife. Then I'd rent the Golden Gate Bridge and throw the largest party in the history of San Francisco. The best wines and abalone for everybody. Spend $50,000 on it. Limos. The works. And everybody would go home knowing the greatest feeling in the history of life."
There was a long pause.
"Orrrr...I'll just continue to miss cuts by 28 shots, play myself off the Tour and become the prep cook at the Des Moines Denny's."
I asked Charles Schulz if, in 42 years, Charlie Brown has ever worn anything but that yellow sweater with the red zigzag stripe. "Yes," he said. "For the first two weeks of the strip, he wore a plain white T-shirt. But then I realized the strip needed more color, so I drew the sweater." Great trivia question.
I decided on Saturday that if Two-Down got any more out of round, I was going to have to put him to sleep. First, he started hinting that if we won, he was going to be "very upset" if there was no caddie crystal. Then he began complaining about the weight of the bag. I think he purposely tried to leave my two-and three-irons behind on the range, but Andy Bean yelled, "You forgot something." I gave Two-Down a dirty look.
"Wouldn't have mattered," Two-Down said with a shrug. "You haven't used them all week."
Did I mention that the driving range for the AT&T is quite possibly the coolest place on earth? There is only one for all three courses, and so all the stars and players meet there before and after their rounds. It's like when you were kids and met at the tree house before school. It's maybe the only place in the world where, in 100 yards, you can see Joe Pesci hitting next to Davis Love hitting next to Dan Quayle hitting next to John Daly hitting next to a 15-handicap schlump like me. This can only happen in golf. I have yet to see Pesci down punting with the Raiders before one of their games.
The problem is, as you stand there on the sixth day, having already played five rounds and scaled five-story hills, you realize that if you set up over one more five-iron, your aching legs and back might decide to spasm you to death.
"The average amateur," says pro Roger Maltbie, "gets a look at these beautiful free Titleists on the range and hits 5,000 balls the first day and then walks 18. Then, the second day, he overhears some pro talking about a swing change, and he picks that up and tries it and hits 5,000 more balls and walks 18 more. Then, the third day, some Tour rep handing out drivers gives him one, and he decides he's going to use that. So by the time the tournament starts, he has hit 15,000 balls, walked 54 holes, got a new grip, a new swing and new equipment, and he's exhausted. And he wonders why he can shoot 85 at home with the boys and never break 100 here."
Sounds exactly like me.
Our final day, Saturday, was at the toughest of the three courses, Spyglass. But Team Trix felt Sunday in its bloodstream. Why not? We had it right in front of us. We were at 11 under. Most people figured 18 under would make the cut, so all we needed was seven net birdies. We had averaged that the two previous days. Besides, Trix hadn't made a birdie since Thursday. "I got seven in me today," he said. He looked like he meant it, too.
But Trix got his glove on correctly, and that was about it. He crossed up the field and threw a little 82 at them. For the week, that was 76-78-82—236, just 31 shots off the pro pace. He couldn't get a break. At the 8th hole he hit a shot just off the green, on a little hill. No problem. But as we were walking to the green, the ball suddenly decided to roll back down the hill into an impossible bunker lie. His face got all purple, and I thought he might just bite the rake in half. At one point, as he was crouched behind me reading my putt, I said, "What do you think?"
"I am quitting the game," he said with teeth clenched. "Put that in your [expletive] article." I really felt miserable for him. He was trying so hard. The thing was, we still had a chance. I came within one foot of a hole in one on the 12th hole, and we were 14 under at the turn. We had guessed that if we could make five net birdies on the back nine, we would be at Pebble on Sunday. Posing. Shutters releasing. Autograph sessions.
Instead we played like diseased yaks. We not only failed to make four more net birdies, we hardly made any more net pars. Our tournament ended on the 14th hole at Spyglass, an easy par-5. We both had 100-yard wedges over a pond to an uphill green. Trix went first and spun it back into the pond. So, naturally, I skulled mine down a 40-foot ravine to the right. We both made seven. Two-Down pulled something out of the bag and showed it to me. The bottle of Brain Pep.
Trix never did make another birdie. However, on our 16th hole of the day, he missed a five-footer for birdie, walked over to a nearby pond and very calmly deposited his putter within. Good move. His putting improved. He made a nice four-footer with his driver on the last hole for par. We finished at 12 under, seven shots from making the cut, 15 shots behind Ma-gee's team, the pro-am leaders.
I never did make 10 pars in one day for my pro. I'm not sure my pro made 10 pars for my pro. We were so bad, we tied with Jack Lemmon. Make it 21 years in a row. More bad news: Schulz missed the cut by one lousy little shot. Good grief.
There would be no Sunday services at St. Pebble for Team Trix. Still, I want to mention that we defeated Joe Montana, Orel Hershiser, Johnny Bench and Bobby Rahal, every one of 'em a Hall of Famer. Why don't you media types write that?
Next time, I've got to have 18 shots.
And Trix needs at least six.