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STILL SWINGING

Dec. 08, 1997
Dec. 08, 1997

Table of Contents
Dec. 8, 1997

Faces In The Crowd
Special Report

STILL SWINGING

If you come across an old catcher standing on the 1st green
sizing up a four-foot putt, have some compassion. I'm still
struggling with my short game. Last month I entered the first
stage of the Senior tour's qualifying tournament at Rio Rico
(Ariz.) Resort and Country Club, where I shot a 27-over-par 315
and failed to advance to the final stage. I hit the ball well
enough. The trouble was that the hole looked like a thimble when
I had the putter in my hands. That experience reminded me of the
Carolina League, where I spent my second season of pro baseball,
in 1966. Then, same as at Q school, I had desperately wanted to
succeed to please all those who had faith in me. The difference
was that I could really play baseball.

This is an article from the Dec. 8, 1997 issue Original Layout

When you drive away from the course after failing to qualify,
you aren't certain which direction you're supposed to turn. You
might be inclined to give up on the Senior tour. That is, until
you shoot that elusive 68 or 70 and decide that you're coming
back for more. Two weeks ago I shot par at Kenwood Country Club
in Cincinnati, where I'm a member, even though I didn't hit the
ball any better than I did at Q school. I couldn't help thinking
that, given another chance, things might turn out differently.

Perhaps I should have practiced more. Maybe I should have spent
more time working with Peter Kostis, Gary McCord, Jim McLean,
Mac O'Grady and Phil Rodgers, all of whom encouraged me to try
to make the Senior tour. I could've gone to Palm Springs,
Calif., and played more. I could've spent more hours on the
practice green. Then again, when you have a son in second grade,
you understand what's most important in life.

My disappointment isn't so profound that I will give up my dream
of playing on the Senior tour. There's no shame in failure or
daring to accomplish something great. But can I hope to
compete--really compete--at one of the highest levels of the
sport? Can I handle the pressure? I remember my first
tournament, the 1971 Bob Hope Classic. On Saturday I was paired
with Arnold Palmer. The King ripped it down the 1st fairway at
Bermuda Dunes and then hitched up his pants as he walked to the
forward tees, where we amateurs were set to hit. I was shaking
so bad that I had trouble setting my ball on the tee. Arnold
said to me, "Are you all right?"

I told him I wasn't sure. Twenty-six years later, I'm still not
sure. I think back to when I was six and playing for the Little
League team my dad started in Binger, Okla. When we lost, he
said, "That's all right, we'll get 'em tomorrow." Today, I still
keep that simple piece of advice in my bag as I head to the next
tee.

Johnny Bench was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECKPalmer (right) hit a nerve with Bench. [Johnny Bench and Arnold Palmer]