The weather Channel never said anything about it getting ready to rain 1976 at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, but rain it did. A young Nicklaus made the cut. A vintage Arnie broke 70. An older-edition Pate fired a 66. On Sunday a young-swinging Miller was one shot behind the leader. A young-thinking Watson two. Who said bell-bottoms ever left?
Of course, the young Nicklaus was 30-year-old amateur Steve, not Jack, playing as his father's partner in the pro-am. And Arnold Palmer and Jerry Pate ended up missing the cut. But this Miller and that Watson were the valuable collector's originals: Johnny Miller, 46, and Tom Watson, 44, two guys who dominated the 1970s but pretty much skipped the last decade while their putters were out of town.
Legends both, each man had won only one PGA Tour event in the last 10 years—Miller the 1987 AT&T and Watson the 1987 Nabisco Championship (now called the Tour Championship). Since then it has been filling out freshly pressed NBC blazers for Miller and holding up Ryder Cup trophies for Watson.
Miller will get back in his blazer plenty, but after last week he'll start packing his spikes a little more often. Impossible as it seems, a man who has entered only five tournaments in the 1990s, and had planned to enter only one this season, made a simple two-foot par putt on the 18th hole on Sunday to finish at seven under and beat Watson, Corey Pavin, Kirk Triplett and Jeff Maggert by one stroke. "I guess this changes my plans," said Miller, who looked as shocked as a Publishers Clearing House winner. "I guess I have to play the Masters now and the Tournament of Champions and...." Rotten luck.
February 14, 1994
Watson, vanquished and dejected, nonetheless greeted Miller on the fringe of the most scenic finishing hole in the world. "Congratulations," Watson said. "Now get back in the booth."
Miller gave up playing the Tour four years ago and became a color announcer on NBC's golf telecasts. Actually he gave up everything except this tournament, which he hasn't missed since 1970. "I play young at Pebble Beach," said Miller. "Nobody in the field has played more rounds at Pebble Beach than I have. Nobody. Not even Jack Nicklaus."
Indeed, Miller is building a house in Pacific Grove, just a drive and a few two-irons from the 1st tee. "I've always called Pebble his girlfriend," says Miller's wife, Linda. That's a heartbreaking thing, always having to check for poa annua in your husband's pockets.
Miller, though, appeared to have little faith in his chances. Chilled fans spent the week looking up from their Thermos bottles of caffè latte to holler, "Johnny, you're going to win!" But Miller, the reluctant star, wasn't buying it. "I don't know," he said after shooting a 67 on Saturday, which put him one stroke off the lead, "I can barely picture myself winning.... I came here to have fun, not win."
Uh-oh. Anybody who came to Pebble to have fun seemed doomed. Take comedian Bill Murray, the best thing to happen to this tournament since Jack Lemmon discovered the shank. In his three years at the AT&T, Murray has made the serious mistake of trying to make a game fun. Last week he pounded on a San-o-let and yelled, "Hurry up, we're on the tee!"; played golf in a sport coat from the House of Dumpster; and skulled a chip shot and ran after it yelling, "Wait up!"
Obviously this is not the kind of stuff you want fans to, say, enjoy. PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman labeled Murray's behavior "inappropriate, detrimental and [it] will not be tolerated in the future.' " Murray, head down, finally responded. "[I am] asking for the resignation of Deane Beman."
Murray will probably not be asked back, and good riddance. Who needs a guy who draws huge crowds and who, in the words of his pro partner, Scott Simpson, "signed a thousand autographs this week and shook a thousand hands"?
Fun wasn't much to come by either for an angular 20 handicapper with a backswing you could fit into a chimney flu—George Bush. The former president and his former vice-president, Dan Quayle, became the first White House battery to ever play the tournament. Bush was perfectly brutal. He missed the cut by six shots and was so exhausted from having to endure six-hour rounds that his caddie began carrying a shooting stick for him. Afterward Bush announced, "I'm coming back with one proviso: I don't have to play golf."
Most of the Family (Shot) Values came from famous golfing families. Not only the Nicklauses but also the Floyds (Raymond played with his 19-year-old son, Ray Jr., while his 18-year-old son, Robert, teamed with Dudley Hart to win the pro-am), the Faxons (touring pro Brad and his father, Brad Sr.) and the Pavins (pro Corey and brother Fletcher). When it came to togetherness, though, none of these clans could compare with the Stocktons of California. Senior tour star Dave Stockton paired with his son Ron, while his other son, Dave, a PGA Tour rookie, was also entered. Plus Ron's caddie was a familiar face—his mother, Cathy. Now, Ronald, how many times have I told yon to replace your divots?
What's weird is that the fun meter looked as if it might bust a spring there for a while when Lemmon and his pro partner. Peter Jacobsen, sold the soles of their sand wedges to the devil and shot a 10-under 62 to nearly lead the pro-am competition after the first round. This is the same Jack Lemmon who had never made the cut in 21 tries. "This is the year!" yelped Jacobsen that night on the practice range.
The next day, after he and Lemmon had struggled to a 71, leaving them 10 shots off the pace, Jacobsen said, "Now is when the pressure starts!"
The third day, after he and Lemmon had missed the pro-am cut. Jacobsen said. "Next year. Definitely next year."
But for Watson and Miller the talk was all this year, this chance. With the wind whipping balls and swings on Sunday, the field started falling backward. By the 16th hole Watson led Miller by a shot when Watson suddenly started playing in the Ipecac Open, with throw-up three putts on not only the 16th (three putts from 15 feet) but also the 17th (two from three feet). All Miller had done was stay erect, and he had himself a gift-wrapped, one-shot lead.
Watson had one last chance, with an eight-foot birdie putt on 18 that would have tied Miller. He left it one roll short. "Coming down the stretch." said Miller, "I was thinking, Oh, geez, Tom Watson, he always beats me down the stretch. He's usually so tough with the putter, but today he putted like a guy, well, our age." Miller merely had to par 17 and 18 to win, and that's exactly what he did.
For Watson you had the feeling that having tried and lost again was almost as bad as not having tried at all. As much as nobody wants to hear it, it's true: The yips are back. Boy, the yips are back. "I lived by the putter earlier in my career," a downcast Watson said. "I died by it today."
With the victory still only moments old, Miller wasn't even sure it existed. "This is not happening," he said. "This is a time warp. I do not play more than 25 rounds of golf a year. I do not practice. I'm Joe Announcer. I guess it shows you, if you're in the right place at the right time, magic can happen."
Just then Miller noticed his NBC colleague Roger Maltbie in the back of the room. "Hey, Roger," he called, "you want to be the color man? I'm quitting."