In the Stockton household, Junior has never been known as a listener. In fact, nine years ago Dad nearly got his son vanity license plates that read I KNOW, because that was Junior's standard response to fatherly advice.
On Sunday, however, Dave Stockton Jr. found out how little he knows, and how much his father knows, when it comes to winning golf tournaments. While Senior took a five-stroke lead into the final round of the Senior Players Championship in Dearborn, Mich., and finished with an airtight, step-on-your-neck 68 to secure a six-stroke victory, Junior, a 25-year-old PGA Tour rookie, quickly lost contact with his final-round lead at the Greater Hartford Open before rallying to salvage a tic for third. "I made some definite rookie mistakes today," said a humbled but encouraged Junior, whose $57,600 payoff nearly quadrupled his earnings for the year. "But it was a great learning experience."
His father, meanwhile, had given a clinic. "This was very satisfying," said Senior, who has finished first, second and first, respectively, in the last three Senior tour events and is 51 under par over that span. "I told you I was going to close out this tournament. I never made a mistake."
All in all, it was a terrific week for the Stocktons, who appear to be the best father-son tandem since Tom Morris Old and Young dominated the first dozen British Opens more than a century ago. Last Friday marked the first time a father and son led simultaneous events on the Senior and regular tours, and chances are it won't be the last.
At 52, Senior is in his second prime. In 1993 he had five wins and earned Player of the Year honors on the 50-and-over circuit. Junior, on the other hand, is just getting started. In December he earned a share of first place at the PGA Tour qualifying school, and though he has been erratic this year, missing the cut in 10 of 17 tournaments, he is a long hitter who shows flashes of his father's magic around the greens. Most important, he seems genetically stamped with Senior's greatest gift, a belief that he's indomitable. "I'm a positive thinker," says Junior. "My dad would kill me if I wasn't."
Both Stocktons started their tournaments with 66s, and when each duplicated that score on Friday to take possession of the top spot, all those 6's made people wonder what the devil was going on. While Senior was thrilled with his son and kept in regular telephone contact with him, he never let go of the cool that he would need to win the Senior Players Championship. "I can't think about Junior when I'm playing," he said before the third round. "Not on this course."
However, after his 71 in wet conditions gave him the five-stroke lead, Senior could not feign indifference when the telecast of the Hartford tournament came on in the interview room. "Timeout," said Stockton, who then, along with number 2 son and caddie, Ron, rooted for Junior as they watched. A TV announcer noted that the Stocktons' putting strokes were alike. Next the broadcast revealed that Dave Stockton was 165th on the Tour in putting. "That's not the old man," said Senior. Still, Junior hung on to a share of the lead with a 67.
Then came Sunday, the end to what would turn out to be a less than perfect Stockton week, but one that was pretty good nonetheless.
On the 1st tee in Dearborn, the father-and-son theme is prevalent, for each member of the final threesome—Stockton, Jim Albus and Jim Dent—has a son caddying for him. Stockton, who is determined to shoot in the 60's, hits a thin but straight drive, knocks his second shot onto the green and, using the same Ray Cook mallet putter with which he won two PGA Championships in the 1970s, makes par. But Albus, his closest pursuer, hits the pin with his approach and makes birdie to cut the lead to four shots.
Stockton nearly sinks a 30-footer for birdie and then watches Albus hole a 10-footer for birdie. Stockton's lead is now three strokes.
After Stockton hits a drive and a three-wood on the 547-yard par-5 3rd hole, play is suspended because of an electrical storm. Stockton goes to the locker room, where he admits he is worried that his lead will soon shrink to two.
Play resumes, and a determined Stockton punches a sand wedge from 60 yards to within six inches of the hole. "It's not like I didn't have a while to think about that shot," Stockton tells an appreciative gallery. After he taps in his birdie putt, Senior's lead is back to four.
When a fan asks Ron Stockton, "How's your brother doing?" Ron knows Junior is more than likely fighting butterflies. "Well, since he doesn't tee off until 2:14," says Ron, "I imagine that right now he's doing real good." The gallery laughs.
After pushing his tee shot on the par-3 4th hole into the right bunker, Stockton gently lifts his ball onto the green and watches it roll in for a 2. The lead is back to five, and Stockton will later call the sand shot the turning point. As he walks off the green, a scorekeeper says to him, "I hope two Stocktons win today." "Thanks," says Senior.
Albus ignores a darting purple martin that buzzes him ;is he is over the ball, and makes a six-foot birdie putt on the fifth to pull back to within four shots of the lead. Senior sees that Jack Nicklaus has gotten to six under par for the day and thinks, If he can do it, I know I can do it.
On the 1st tee at Hartford, Junior rips his drive down the middle and acknowledges cheers with a clenched fist.
Junior holes a 10-footer for a birdie to go 12 under and take a one-stroke lead over playing partner David Frost.
Frost birdies the second hole, and Junior pars. They're tied again.
Senior drains an eight-footer for birdie on the 9th to go 5 up. He's now 16 under for the tournament, and Ron tells his father to try for 20 under.
As his dad holds firmly to his lead, Junior begins to see his slip away. He misses a 15-inch tap-in, bogeying the par-5 6th hole to fall one behind Frost at 11 under par. "I should have marked it," he will say later. "I kind of rushed it. I hadn't done that all week."
Junior drives into a bunker on the par-47th hole. "Dammit," he says.
"No!" Junior yells after he hits his recovery weak and to the right, the ball burying in rough short of the green. Up ahead a cheer for a Greg Norman birdie erupts as the Shark reaches 12 under.
After pitching to within 20 feet of the pin, Junior runs his first putt four feet past and then misses the comebacker. A double bogey leaves him at nine under, three strokes off the pace. He will never get closer.
Senior makes a 20-footer on the 13th for birdie. "Now he's going to be asking Rossie [ABC on-course commentator Bob Rosburg] every minute how Junior is doing," says a spectator.
Aware that their tournament is over, both Lee Trevino and Bob Murphy give Senior thumbs-up from the 16th green. Senior asks television cameramen what they know about Hartford and is told that at last report Junior was one under on the day and tied for the lead.
"No peeking," Junior says to the gallery as he takes off his shoes and socks to wade into the pond alongside the 13th fairway so that he can play a shot from the adjacent cart path. Remarkably, he will par the hole.
On the 18th tee Senior is told by an ABC cameraman that Junior is trailing Frost by three through 12 holes. Senior nods impassively. "That's O.K.," he says.
Junior bogeys the 14th to fall to seven under. He's five strokes behind Frost, who will go on to win by one stroke over Norman, and is seemingly headed for a mediocre finish.
Saving par yet again with a deft chip from off the green, Senior holes out and hugs Ron in celebration of "their" six-stroke victory.
Junior hits a good drive on the 17th hole and raises his right arm in mock celebration of a fortunate bounce that kept him out of a bunker on the left. He follows with a pitching wedge to within 10 feet of the pin and makes a birdie.
Senior tells the press. "I think it was awesome what he did. This is going to be something to build on. Being my son doesn't hurt him. It hasn't hurt Ken Griffey Jr. or Barry Bonds. David deserves to be up there. He just doesn't know it yet."
On the 18th tee Junior is informed by a fan that his father has won in Michigan. After striking another good approach, this one to eight feet, Junior tells a reporter, "I made some dumb mistakes, but this is great. This is what it's all about, right here. This is what's going to make me a better player."
Senior takes a quick call from his wife and Junior's mother, Cathy, who is on a plane from Southern California to Chicago. His own flight to Chicago, where the whole family will gather for a corporate golf outing, is scheduled to leave in exactly one hour.
As Senior rushes to pack in front of his locker, three other players, Rives McBee, Jay Sigel and Tom Shaw, call him to the TV to watch Junior's attempt for birdie on the 72nd hole. Senior runs over just in time to see his son make his putt for a two-over 72. When the ball trickles in, Senior yells, "All right," and punches the air. It is the biggest show of emotion he has made all day.
An ovation on the 18th green helps rid Junior of his disappointment. "I almost cried coming up 18," he says in the scoring tent. "That's the best I've ever been received."
The son is becoming a listener. And if he succeeds at following his father's silent but eloquent example, he, too, will become a winner.