Seeing Red When John Huston heated up, Hawaii was hit with a record low

February 23, 1998

The greatest scoring week in PGA Tour history began at Sonny's
B-B-Q in Clearwater, Fla. That should tip you off that this is
not a story about Ben Hogan. Welcome, instead, to another one of
John Huston's excellent adventures. You might remember the
others. His golf shoes were declared illegal the night before
the 1990 Honda Classic, which he won. He played a crucial shot
off a cart path en route to a victory at the '92 Disney. He
putted into a lake in the final round of the '95 Mercedes
Championships, a non-iceberg-induced sinking that dropped him
from a four-shot lead to a ninth-place finish. Huston's
strangest moment, though, might have come in '94 at Doral, where
he won despite playing the first 11 holes of the final round by
himself because Fred Couples, his partner, blew out his back on
the practice range and a suitable marker wasn't immediately
available.

Now flip to Chapter 5, the best one yet: Huston, We Have a
Record. Our story begins around Christmas at Sonny's, between
the coleslaw and the ribs with the extra hot sauce. That's when
Huston asked his sister, Julie Jones, if she would like to
caddie for him in Hawaii. Sure thing, she said. Huston's regular
caddie, Brian Smith, had gotten married and decided to give up
the job (but later changed his mind). Julie, the operations
administrator at a movie theater, had never been to Hawaii.
She'd never caddied, either.

No problem. Last week at Honolulu's Waialae Country Club, site
of the United Airlines Hawaiian Open, Huston downsized to a
lightweight carry bag--easily done because, after a dismal '97
season he didn't have a bag endorsement deal. He figured his own
yardages, normally the caddie's job, although, he admitted, "I
usually got out in the 1st fairway every day before I remembered
I had to do it myself." He read his own putts. After 10 birdies
he shared the first-round lead with a 63. After 21 more he owned
a record score of 28-under-par 260, the Hawaiian Open title and
the golden pineapple that goes with it. The Tour's 72-hole
record for number of shots under par, 27, had been shared by
Hogan and Mike Souchak, whose 257 in the 1955 Texas Open still
stands as the lowest total.

What would Huston say if he ran into the 70-year-old Souchak?
"Ha-ha...finally," Huston deadpanned. Actually, Souchak had once
given Huston a few pointers on course management. "It was
important to me, but I'm sure he wouldn't remember," says
Huston, who went to Dunedin High in Clearwater with one of
Souchak's sons, Frank.

The 28 under is quite an accomplishment, but Huston would've had
to go to 31 under to match Souchak's 257, which remains the most
significant scoring record on the Tour. Waialae appeared to be a
good place to make that kind of history. "If you were going to
do it, this was the week," said Steve Jones. With El Nino
picking on California, Hawaii is experiencing a severe drought
and might face water rationing. The 7,012-yard, par-72 Waialae
course played firm and fast, and since there was little wind,
every par-5 was reachable in two shots. Tom Watson, for example,
who finished seven shots behind Huston in second, played the
four par-5s in 15 under par.

"This is the first time I've ever seen a Tour course with no
conditions--no wind, no hills, no nothing," said David Ogrin,
who opened with a 63 before drifting to a 27th-place finish. The
players feasted on Waialae from the start, making 2,020 birdies
and going 1,064 under par. The average score for all four rounds
was 69.6. The cut came at a record five under, and a final total
of 17 under, a score good enough to win 34 of the 45 official
events on Tour last year, didn't even make the top 10. When one
Tour official wondered last Saturday why the fans weren't
applauding a birdie he had just witnessed, a second official
replied, "They're probably getting tired of clapping by now."

Huston's performance was nearly as amazing as his sudden
reappearance on the scene. Last year was a lost season. He tried
to play while suffering from bursitis in his left shoulder, and
his attitude, admittedly never a strength, soured. "Last year it
was all I could do to crawl out of bed some days," Huston says.
"I'd be saying, 'I can't believe I have to go out and play
again.' On the first bad hole I'd think, Here we go again."

Huston, 36, withdrew from several tournaments. When the weather
turned cold at the Memorial, in May, his body rebelled. "I
couldn't even swing," Huston says. "I couldn't hit it 250 off
the tee." When friends would ask what was wrong, he would just
shrug and say, "It's a hard game," rather than make excuses. He
kept playing, though, because he was close to making the top 125
on the money list and staying exempt. He just missed, finishing
141st.

To play this year, Huston had to cash in the one-time exemption
available to players who rank among the top 50 career money
winners, the same exemption used by Scott Simpson, who won the
Buick Invitational two weeks ago. Forced to get fit, Huston
hired a personal trainer and began working with light weights.
His shoulder improved immediately. Swing coach David Leadbetter
introduced Huston to the magic powers of magnets, which he uses
to massage his back and shoulders. Huston now travels with a
magnet-laden mattress cover and sometimes wears shoes that have
magnets in the insoles.

A stronger, healthier and more confident Huston seems ready to
shed his image as one of the Tour's leading underachievers, a
label he doesn't dispute. "He putts well, he hits it long, he's
not afraid and he looks like Fuzzy Zoeller on the course, like
he doesn't care," says Greg Kraft, who tied for fourth, nine
shots behind Huston. "It's hard to believe he hasn't won more."

Huston might be someone to keep an eye on in April at Augusta
National. He finished third in his first Masters, in 1990, and
led after last year's opening round with a 67 that included an
eagle at the 18th hole. He doesn't think he putts as well as he
used to, but his course management has improved, and he seems
more relaxed. "I've struggled trying to let up on myself," he
says. "If you don't play well, it's hard to let up on yourself.
I really think this year is going to be good."

Huston's lead was never less than four shots in the final round.
Watson, who eagled the final hole on Saturday, closed with a 66
but couldn't gain any ground. "John's iron play on Saturday was
superb," he said. "He played far and away better than I did."

Add Watson, by the way, to the mix at the Masters. Besides
Hawaii, he also finished second at Phoenix and is tied for the
lead going into the storm-delayed final round at Pebble Beach.
At 48 he's looking like the Watson of old. In the second round
at Waialae, he sank a 45-foot putt for birdie on his second
hole, the 11th, made a birdie from off the fairway at the 12th,
then followed three mediocre shots with a 30-foot birdie putt at
the par-5 13th. "So I'm three under after four," he said,
grinning, "and I haven't hit a good shot yet." Later he boldly
ran a pair of long birdie putts eight to 10 feet past the
hole--and made the comebackers. Watson isn't missing as many
short putts these days, the only thing that has held him back
since a swing change five years ago transformed him into one of
best ball strikers on Tour. He says he began to putt better once
he started concentrating on his follow-through instead of his
backstroke. "I've figured it out a little better," he says. "It
didn't take me long. Only about 15 years."

Huston doesn't figure his scoring record will last anywhere near
that long. He could've gone even lower at Waialae. He played the
par-5s in only eight under, bogeying the 13th on Sunday when he
skulled a bunker shot over the green. "The record could be
broken next week," Huston says, "so I'll be happy with it while
it lasts." He was certainly all smiles on the 17th tee on Sunday
when he noticed that he had a six-shot cushion. "I think I can
handle it from here," he told his sister. He still needed one
more birdie for the record, but that came easily at the par-5
18th.

For Huston everything was a breeze last week. On Saturday night
he and Julie watched Caddyshack. She cracked up when John
recited all the lines--before the characters did. Hey, Lama, who
can't do that?

Probably Mike Souchak.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK [John Huston on golf course] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK TOM'S TERRIFIC Rejuvenated at 48, Watson already has a pair of seconds this season and is tied for the lead at Pebble. [Tom Watson in game]

"John's iron play on Saturday was superb," said Watson. "He
played far and away better than me."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)