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Too Hot To Handle
John Garrity
March 06, 1995
In steamy Acapulco, the U.S. Seniors blistered the Internationals to regain the Chrysler Cup
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March 06, 1995

Too Hot To Handle

In steamy Acapulco, the U.S. Seniors blistered the Internationals to regain the Chrysler Cup

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"You may call it entertainment," an amused George Archer said. "To me, it's ulcers. It's hemorrhoids."

Archer, the 1969 Masters champion, made his observation last Friday afternoon in Acapulco, in the shade of a seaside palm. He was getting his first relief from the equatorial sun in more than five hours, and his sweat-darkened shirt seemed a perfect metaphor for what was eating him: the sweat-inducing character of international team golf. Playing for the U.S. team, Archer and his partner, Larry Gilbert, had just won an easy first-round Chrysler Cup match, but they laughed edgily, like prisoners who have been given the blindfold, the last cigarette and finally the reprieve. The Cup's opening match, they had just learned, was halved when a mortified Harold Henning of South Africa lipped out a 30-inch putt on the 18th hole, costing his International team a half point. And in the last of four matches, U.S. captain Jim Colbert and his partner, Tom Wargo, were making the back nine at Acapulco's Tres Vidas Golf Club look like Dante's Inferno.

Pressure, was it? The tendency is to snicker when the 10-year-old Chrysler Cup is called "the Ryder Cup of Senior golf." True, its U.S.-versus-the-world format mimics the biennial grudge match between the American and the European touring pros. But since most of the Internationals are regulars on the Senior PGA Tour, the rivalry appears feigned. Chrysler Cup matches aren't followed by wives wearing American-flag jumpsuits. Victory by a British golfer isn't rewarded with galleryites flapping Union Jacks and bellowing the Manchester United fight song, as happens at the Ryder Cup. In fact, Chrysler Cup matches aren't much followed at all. This year, ABC-TV reserved its live coverage for the last nine holes on Sunday, when an eight-man U.S. team avenged last year's upset loss to "the World" with an easy 11-5 victory

And let's face it, the Senior pros are too mature—maybe comfortable is a better word—to pretend that playing three days of golf with their buddies is any barometer of national pride. If it were, three of the top-four money winners on the 1994 Senior tour—Dave Stockton, Lee Trevino and Ray Floyd—wouldn't have turned down invitations to play for the U.S., and Isao Aoki and Gary Player might have played for the Internationals. One kept watching first-time Chrysler Cupper Tony Jacklin for signs of the obsessive competitiveness he displayed as a player in seven Ryder Cups and as a four-time captain of the European side; but no, Mexico's midday sun exposed even Jacklin as more Englishman than mad dog. Saturday, after absorbing his second straight loss with partner Tommy Horton, of England, Jacklin simply kissed his wife, Astrid, and bounced his three-year-old son, Sean, on his knee. And Archer, who claimed to be uptight, somehow found time for some mental vacationing. During Friday's alternate-shot match, he was caught on the 3rd tee without a club or ball, thinking it was Gilbert's turn to tee off. "Hey, you were asleep all day," Gilbert kidded him later. "Go ahead and admit it."

Archer grinned, but he had made his point: Team play, for golfers, is the stuff that dreams are made of—bad dreams. The potential for embarrassing oneself is much greater than in individual stroke-play events, where ineptitude is treated tenderly and also-rans aren't seen on television. Furthermore, this year's Chrysler Cup—the first held outside Florida since 1986—was programmed to make the players feel even less comfortable than usual. First of all, instead of competing in straight medal play, a format change had the teams playing one day each of foursomes (alternate-shot), four-ball (better-ball) and individual matches, with one point awarded for a victory and one-half for a tie. And each contest was decided by medal score and not by the number of holes won. This match play-medal play hybrid stripped the Cup of some traditional strategies but forced every contest to the 18th green and rendered no lead secure. "It's not something I'd want to play every day," International captain Bob Charles, of Australia, admitted after his foursomes match.

"Especially for a living," finished his partner, Graham Marsh, of New Zealand.

The other collar-tightener was the new Tres Vidas course, a 7,082-yard Robert Von Hagge design characterized by severe mounding, parallel water hazards, huge bunkers and numerous bulkheaded greens. "It's a very tough golf course," said—well, said everybody. The best measure of the layout's volatility was Friday's foursomes match between Colbert and Wargo and the International team's Charles and Marsh. Both pairs played brilliantly for 10 holes, the U.S. leading by four shots at six under. Then everything went wrong for the U.S., to the extent that even a triple bogey by Charles-Marsh at the difficult 14th wasn't enough to prevent an International victory by a shot, par 72 to one-over 73.

"It was the damnedest thing," Colbert said later. "We were playing so well, and then we started hitting shots that weren't really that bad, but we kept hitting these fairway bunkers. And right under the lip. One hole, Tom's shooting, and the ball's so far below his feet he almost can't reach it. The next hole, I'm deep in a bunker, looking up a wall of sand at clouds in the sky." Five bogeys and a double bogey later, both Colbert and Wargo wandered off the 18th green in a daze, with their team's lead whittled to 2� to 1�. "Strange game," said Wargo, heading for the range.

Strange climate, too. On Saturday, Jim Albus of the U.S. side yanked up his shirt, a la Lyndon Johnson, to reveal big blotches of red skin, sunburned through his shirt. "Me, too," said his teammate Tom Weiskopf, pulling back his collar to reveal scorched shoulders. Temperatures on Thursday and Friday approached 100�, accompanied by oppressive humidity, and more than one player expressed the desire to emulate the famous cliff divers of nearby La Quebrada. A predawn thunderstorm on Saturday provided some relief, and that morning's overcast sky made golf shots briefly visible to spectators. Otherwise, the high Mexican sun made most balls vanish to the naked eye between impact and return to earth.

In the end it was how long a player could sustain this vanishing act that made the difference. Length off the tee is rewarded at Tres Vidas, and captain Colbert had at least one long knocker in every pairing, led by perennial Senior tour driving-distance winner Jim Dent. On Saturday the U.S. swept all four better-ball matches, with Colbert and Wargo atoning by edging Bruce Crampton, of Australia, and Antonio Garrido, of Spain, 67-68. ("This morning I woke up and figured out the mental mistake I made yesterday," the always animated Colbert said. "I forgot that the point is to win the match! Not to play your best golf.") The Bullwinkle and Rocky combination of Dent and Bob Murphy took care of Jacklin and Horton 66-67, and the other two American pairs won by four shots each, with Weiskopf and Albus shooting the day's low score, a 65. Nobody was more tickled than the short-hitting Murphy, who reached the 526-yard 17th hole in two—two drivers, that is—for the second straight day. "That's a shot we wouldn't even have tried on the tour," he told a friend over the gallery rope, "but with these new metal woods we can hit driver right off the fairway." And to his wife, who hadn't seen his tee ball. Murphy said, "That's because I hit it so far."

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