Tradition is about the same old thing, day after day, year after
year, decade after decade, or until Gordie Howe makes a
comeback, whichever comes first. That's why the ninth edition of
the Tradition, the first of the Senior tour's so-called major
championships, was so odd. It was totally untraditional. How
else can you describe an event for which the shot of the week,
the defining moment that will live on in the ESPN archives, was
an errant drive that landed in somebody's swimming pool--and was
still in play? Like Jose Canseco laying down a bunt, everything
about last week's Tradition seemed to go against tradition.
Traditionally, Gil Morgan doesn't win majors, but he did last
week, although whether this tournament should count as such is
open to debate. Other than the Tradition's trophy, which looks
suspiciously like the claret jug they give to the winner of the
British Open--have you checked your trophy case lately, Tom
Lehman?--this laid-back event is a major the way Jean-Claude Van
Damme is an actor. Therefore, put an asterisk next to Morgan's
name and add him to the list of Best Players Who Have Never Won
a Real Major.
A nonpracticing optometrist from Wewoka, Okla., with an
unremarkable swing that's remarkably consistent, Morgan won
seven times on the PGA Tour. He was still competitive when he
turned 50 last September and joined the geezers. His best chance
at winning one of the big ones came in 1992 at Pebble Beach,
where he became the first player to go 10 under par in a U.S.
Open. He got it to 12 under in the third round before backing
up, then crashed in the windswept final round and finished 13th.
"That's probably the most disappointing thing about my career,"
says Morgan. "I had a good enough game to win major
championships and played at a high enough level several times,
but didn't get over the hump. I had opportunities to win almost
all the majors, and I let them get away. There's not much I can
do about that now." Sunday's win, Morgan's second on the Senior
tour, felt good and will look terrific in the trophy case, but
it's no U.S. Open.
Traditionally, Morgan, who's a terrific ball striker but an
average putter, wins only on difficult courses where par is a
good score, not at places where you have to go low. But he
blistered the Cochise course at Desert Mountain, in Scottsdale,
Ariz. He followed a pair of 66s with two 67s, finished at 22
under and won by six strokes over Isao Aoki. Morgan effectively
won the tournament on a windy Saturday, opening a five-shot
lead. No one got closer than four on Sunday, and Morgan finished
stylishly, holing a 12-foot putt for eagle at the 18th.
Traditionally, Scottsdale has lovely weather during the
tournament. Last week the Donner party would have fit right in.
There were snow flurries on Wednesday, and temperatures were
stuck in the low 40s on Thursday when the tournament began.
Later that day it rained. The weather during the second round
was equally raw and miserable. By Saturday it had warmed up some
and was drier, but the wind kicked in. Morgan used hand warmers
between shots and for the first two rounds sported a red ski hat
with white trim. "My wife saw me on TV," he said. "She kept
saying, 'Ho, ho, ho.' I didn't know what she meant."
Traditionally, swimming pools are not considered part of the
golf course--not even on Jack Nicklaus's newfangled designs--but
they're in play at Desert Mountain. Someone should have alerted
Terry Dill to that fact. If he had been using a floater on the
par-5 15th hole on Saturday, he could've played his second shot
where it bobbed.
One of the longer hitters on the Senior tour, Dill pulled his
tee shot way left at the 548-yard 15th, into a homeowner's pool.
Since the Cochise course doesn't have boundary markers, the
houses surrounding the layout are not out of bounds, and
according to the Rules of Golf, a pool is a man-made obstruction.
The ruling was a huge break for Dill, who was fighting for
second place at the time. The homeowner invited him around to
the front door, led him through the living room and out back to
the pool--after checking to make sure Dill wasn't wearing metal
spikes. "Another advantage of Softspikes," Dill joked. Given a
free drop, he hit his second shot back to the fairway and put
his third on the green. "When we got on the green, John Jacobs
told me, 'I know I'm trying to beat you, but I want you to make
this putt because it would be the greatest birdie I've ever
seen,'" said Dill, who missed but got his par. (On Sunday,
Dill's ball was still in the pool, lodged against the drain.)
Traditionally, Nicklaus dominates this tournament. He won here
in 1990 and '91 as well as in '95 and '96. Last weekend Nicklaus
got so little out of his game that despite an opening 67, he
finished 25th. Nicklaus made six birdies in a row in the first
round but on Friday didn't make one. In his first seven holes on
Saturday, he took two unplayable lies and had a three-putt, and
he plummeted out of contention with a 75. "I'm just not very
good in the cold," he said. "I can't get my swing long enough. I
had one run the first day. Outside of that, I haven't been here
Traditionally, by the end of this event Nicklaus has his game
honed to a fine edge for the Masters. Let's face the facts:
Nicklaus is 57 and Augusta National is a young man's course.
Nicklaus, who was the oldest Masters champion when he won in
1986, has come to grips with that. "I don't really worry about
it too much anymore, to be very honest," he says. "I'd love to
get it together for Augusta, but Augusta isn't my priority
anymore. I want to play well, but realistically I don't think
I'm a contender. I don't want to go out and embarrass myself.
I'm trying to get myself ready to play well in the PGA Seniors
[the week after the Masters at PGA National in Palm Beach
Gardens, Fla.]. That's where I am now."
Nicklaus had been upbeat about his game after a series of
practice sessions with longtime pal Phil Rodgers, who knows
Nicklaus's swing as well as anyone, and with swing coach Jim
Flick. To return the favor, Nicklaus loaned his yacht to
Rodgers, who went fishing in the Bahamas.
As would be expected of a man his age, Nicklaus is on a downward
spiral in the majors. He has missed 10 of the last 20 cuts and
hasn't finished in the top 20 since he placed sixth in the '90
Masters. But he has had spurts of good play, such as his 69-66
start at last year's British Open and his first two rounds at
the '94 U.S. Open at Oakmont, where he went 69-70. "I look
forward to the majors if I'm playing well, but nobody looks
forward to anything if they're not," says Nicklaus, who has
filed an entry for July's British Open at Royal Troon, just in
Traditionally, name players contend in the majors, but in last
week's cold the spines of the usual suspects were as flexible as
icicles, so they couldn't swing well enough to get into the
hunt. Jim Colbert, the leading money winner in 1996, had even
more problems. He pulled rib muscles in his right side while
practicing the previous weekend and wouldn't have teed it up at
all if the Tradition weren't a major and if the guys in the
fitness trailer weren't miracle workers. "I still probably
shouldn't have played," said Colbert, who closed with rounds of
79-75 and finished 59th. Colbert's 89-year-old father, Jim, had
been hospitalized in Las Vegas for the third time in 10 days as
he battled a discouraging series of strokes, and Colbert's wife,
Marcia, was recovering from skin cancer surgery that was more
extensive than expected. "Other than that, things are going
great," Colbert said. "Seriously, I haven't been very good this
week, mentally or physically."
The other usual suspects--Raymond Floyd, Hale Irwin, Bob Murphy,
Dave Stockton and Lee Trevino--were also missing from the leader
board. Trevino told his large gallery that they were crazy to
follow him. Between shots, Floyd wrapped a towel around his neck
like a scarf. A second-round 75 left him out of the picture. "I
had been playing pretty well, until now," he said. "I would hope
it's the cold. I've got a couple real serious cricks in my neck.
As you get older it gets tougher and tougher. I'm not the
loosest of swingers, so it might affect me more than others. I
don't have a big swing, and when it shortens up, I get in
Floyd wasn't worried about being ready for Augusta, though. "I
generally go there and get to playing well," he said. "It's my
favorite tournament. With the course knowledge and the patience
it requires, it's probably the only tournament on the other Tour
that I could win."
Traditionally, every year since 1972 Morgan has fulfilled the
requisite hours of classroom work required to maintain his
optometry license. Yet Morgan, who won $5.2 million on the Tour
and $572,543 in his first seven months as a Senior, has never
practiced the profession and probably never will. "I worked and
suffered to get through optometry school, and I'd hate to give
up my license," says Morgan, who earned $180,000 last week. "My
wife keeps saying, 'Why do you want to do it?'"
Maybe because it's a tradition.