Surrounded though I was by more than 4,000 fellow contestants at
the DuPont World Amateur Handicap Championship in Myrtle Beach,
S.C., I found myself yearning for the company of a couple of
buddies who couldn't make it. A virgin when it comes to
tournament golf, I had no idea how lonely and frightening the
game could be when one is forced to play without Messrs.
Mulligan and Gimme.
How badly did I miss them? After shooting 101 on Monday, I came
back to earth in the three remaining preliminary rounds, with a
trebly grotesque 119-108-110. Having dispatched me to the
planet's largest delegation of duffers precisely because I am
the sorriest golfer on SI's masthead, my editor nonetheless
seemed a trifle alarmed upon learning that I was bringing up the
rear of my flight.
"You're not gonna end up DFL, are you?" he asked.
"Dead last," he said, or words to that effect.
He seemed concerned that I retain at least a shred of honor for
our magazine. But if I learned one thing at the WAHC, it was
that there was honor in the scrupulous counting of all one's
strokes. Sure, we hackers spent a lot of time kvetching about
alleged sandbagging in the ranks, but for every inflated
handicap, there were 10 examples of heroic honesty. Take, for
example, the man who disqualified himself after playing a round
with 15 clubs--even though the extra, illegal weapon had been
mistakenly placed in his bag by his playing partner.
Or take 37-handicapper Diana Brown, who charged out of the gate
in Friday's championship round, in which the winners of the
WAHC's 44 flights fought for the tournament's overall title.
Brown had a six-under-par net 30 on the front nine of The Dunes
Golf & Beach Club, but on the back nine she was unceremoniously
expelled from the Zone--and contention--after a snowman, two
hangmen and a Laurel and Hardy (an 8, two 9s and a 10). She
could have taken an 8 on 18, but she unhesitatingly busted
herself for having struck the ball twice while blasting out of a
Brown's noble collapse flung open the door for Dennis Connors, a
three handicapper from Miami Lakes, Fla., whose lights-out net
66 earned him a two-stroke victory. The last person to have a
crack at Connors was retired Army sergeant Henry Scott, a 23
handicapper who needed to drain an uphill, 22-foot par putt on
the 18th hole to force a playoff. Succumbing to the pressure of
the moment--he lined up the putt in the shadow of an electronic
leader board, just like the ones they have on the PGA Tour, and
before a gallery of nearly 100, just like the ones they have on
the Nike tour--he left it a good nine feet short.
Asked if he had ever experienced such pressure, Scott reflected
for a moment, then said, "I guess having artillery fired at you
would have to rank right up there."
Having faded from contention rather early in the week--I finished
90th in my flight of 92 (Jack Chapman and Ronald Fisher: You
don't know us, but my editor and I are grateful to you)--I hadn't
been feeling much pressure since ...
MONDAY MORNING I am in danger of missing the 8:30 a.m. shotgun
start at Beachwood Golf Club, it having taken me approximately
40 minutes to hack my clubs out of the box in which they
arrived. Actually, they are my mother's clubs. My sister's
boyfriend had borrowed mine without permission, making it
necessary for my father to ship my mother's clubs to my hotel.
(Dad, thanks for handling that. For future reference, the third
roll of duct tape was probably one too many.)
As club pro Wayne Weldon runs over some ground rules for us, I
cop a covert look at the men of Flight 22, whose handicaps range
from 23.3 through 24.9. A lot of gray hair here, and a lot of
discordantly striped shirts stretched by formidable guts. By the
end of the round I realize that every one of these guys is
better than me.
The tournament, billed as the world's largest, costs $375 to
enter and is composed of 4,007 players--3,656 men, 351
women--broken down into 24 flights for men, 13 for seniors and
seven for women. After four rounds played on 52 different
courses throughout the so-called Grand Strand, the golf
course-rich country stretching the 60 miles from Georgetown,
S.C., to Southport, N.C., the flight winners play a fifth 18 to
determine the overall champion. This year the remnants of
tropical storm Jerry have turned the Grand Strand into a grand
sponge. The good news: The lift, clean and play rule is in
effect today. The bad news: The rule applies only to balls that
land in one's own fairway.
That would exclude my maiden tee shot, a gruesome slice that
ends up in the short grass of an adjacent hole. My embarrassment
upon uncorking this abomination is lessened by the drive of Don
Snyder, bless his heart, who had gone first and fungoed his tee
shot into some trees on the right. Snyder, a pilot from Naples,
Fla., had a hip replaced three years ago. To minimize his
discomfort, he spends the round puffing cigars, popping Naprosyn
and pounding the Bud Lights he has stashed in a cooler in the
cart. He is not the first WAHC contestant to drink and drive, as
it were. Two years ago the tournament was won by retired Air
Force major Jim Low, a 28 handicapper who blunted the pain of
his chronic arthritis, tendinitis and prostate condition by
downing nine beers and smoking seven cigars en route to a
final-round net 66. This morning Snyder offers me a pop, but I
demur, telling him I'll hold out till at least 9 a.m.
TUESDAY Foursomes are rejuggled daily. Today I share a cart
with Terry Swanton, a restaurateur and raconteur from Aspen,
Colo. Also in our group is Dave McIntyre, from Shelby, N.C.,
just 50 miles up the road, and John Stewart, one of 47
Australians to make the trip to Myrtle Beach for the tournament.
In all there are 196 foreigners here from 20 countries,
including France, the Netherlands, Italy, Malaysia, Spain and
When McIntyre mentions that he brought his wife along, I ask if
she is playing.
"She's playin' bulldog, settin' around and growlin' at me," he
says. Later he explains their trade-off: While he tortures golf
balls, she shops and hits the beach.
The good people of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, the consortium of
Grand Strand courses and hotels that puts on this 12-year-old
tournament, encourage such tradeoffs. An economic impact study
calculated that during his stay in Myrtle Beach, Joe Hacker
drops close to $200 a day on food, lodging, rental cars and
entertainment, although under entertainment, the study
presumably did not include cash spent on table dances at such
upstanding local establishments as Derrieres and Thee
Dollhouse, to which World Am contestants flocked in large
numbers, SI has learned.
Today we are loosed on the Green course at Bay Tree, known
locally as the Green Monster. It is long, narrow and rife with
sand and water. Club pro Sam Timms tells me the Monster was the
site of the PGA's qualifying school in the mid-'70s.
My daydream of someday testing my skill against the big boys
lasts until the 13th hole, where I put my second shot in the
water, take a drop, fire another ball into the drink, drop,
dribble a seven-iron shot to the edge of the water, pitch on and
three-putt for a routine sextuple-bogey 10. After my third 8 of
the day, on the 17th hole, I am spent and beyond caring. On the
18th tee, I pull out my mother's Billy Club driver, a Callaway
knockoff she bought for $39.95, and crank the ball 280 yards,
winning my flight's long-drive competition. I dwell heavily on
this during that night's phone conversation with my wife,
failing to mention the day's other 118 strokes or the fact that
there were 43 additional long-drive winners. I tell her that I
would appreciate being addressed from now on by my new
honorific: Dr. Long Ball.
WEDNESDAY Before playing a hole at the Azalea Sands Golf Club,
Terry has an opinion about the place. "No driving range, no
bar," he says. "Two strikes and you're out."
We return to a clubhouse abuzz with scandal: one of our own,
Adrian (Les) Merton, who wears thick-framed spectacles and a 23
handicap, shot 75 today, this following his 82 on Monday. Some
of the guys are beginning to suspect that Les might be playing
off a bogus number.
I catch up with Merton that evening at the Myrtle Beach
Convention Center and broach the subject as delicately as
possible: Some of the guys--not me, of course; I have no doubts
as to your integrity, Les--have actually had the temerity to
suggest that it is not within the realm of possibility for a 23
handicapper to shoot a 75. He tells me he's playing the golf of
his life, and if people think he's sandbagging, "the hell with
'em." A month ago, he says, he bought some Taylor Made
"Bubbles," and they have made all the difference. "It's been
amazing," he says. "Absolutely amazing."
Most of the contestants gather at the convention center in the
early evening to review the day's results, fill up on gratis
food and drink, wander among the merchants' booths, ogle the Bud
girls and search for some poor sap who'll listen while they talk
about their round. It is a festive time ... for most. Above the
cheerful din, a series of names are called out over the P.A.
system. These people are instructed to report to room 101, where
klieg lights are trained on their faces and tournament officials
ask pointed questions about their handicaps.
Actually, there are no klieg lights. But the rest is true. The
tournament's Achilles heel is people who submit inflated
handicaps--the moral insects who, in the words of executive
director Bob LeComte, "are taking the gentlemanliness out of the
game." Tournament officials fight sandbagging with every means
at their disposal. Contestants must submit a current handicap
index and a list of scores used in its calculation. While we are
out gouging the earth each day, tournament director and chief
'cap cop Bill Golden and five gumshoes are working the phones,
talking to pros at the clubs of players who turned in suspicious
rounds the day before. And after every round, handicaps are
adjusted up or down. (Merton, who arrived a 23, will be a 14 by
While I am talking to Merton, we hear his name called over the
P.A. system. He is instructed to report to room 101. "I'm just
gonna tell them the same thing I told you," he says, miserably.
After the interrogation, I seek out Golden, who says, "We went
over his previous tournament scores, and he's all over the
place. The 75 was an aberration--a dramatic aberration--but an
aberration. He's clean."
THURSDAY In another aberration, I am thrown back together with
my old friend Don Snyder for the last round. Also playing with
us at Myrtle West Golf Club is 54-year-old Dennis Worrell, a
retired Navy officer who provides you with his recent medical
history while he shakes your hand: "Had a stroke last May. I've
got blood clots all up and down my left leg. But some things are
To supplement the blood thinners he must take, Worrell indulges
in the odd can of lager, which quickly endears him to Snyder. In
the clubhouse at the turn, he puts Snyder's cooler on the bar
and says, "Give me as much beer as this thing'll hold."
Before we play the 18th, Worrell approaches the rest of us and
says, "If I drop dead on this hole, I just wanted to say: This,
today--it's what it's all about."
All of us par the hole.
FRIDAY His tournament victory secure, Dennis Connors reflects
on the day's darkest moment. Off the tee of number 13 at the
Dunes Club, the other players in his group put six balls in the
water. One of his playing partners, David Lesco, took a 16 on
the hole. Asked to spell his name, Lesco says, "Sure: E-l-m-e-r
Recounting that grim hole for a television reporter during the
trophy presentation, Connors says, "My jeans tightened up very
tight." With such a low handicap, Connors says, he never thought
about winning the tournament. "I just figured I was out there to
If fun had been the measurement, I may not have won my flight,
but I wouldn't have come so close to ending up DFL, either.