You probably didn't notice, but something rather tragic happened last week at the Greater Greensboro Open: The GGO lost its O. One of the oldest stops on the circuit is now known as the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic, a nod to fiscal realities. Not all has been lost, however. The—cough, cough—GGCC may have pawned its only vowel, but the tournament has hardly sold its soul. After 58 years it's still a homespun event that belongs more to the good people of Greensboro than to the corporate machinery of the Tour. More than ever, Greensboro, N.C., deserves its nickname as the Green Bay of golf, a tribute to a little town that has made good on the national stage of professional sports.
"This tournament and this city have grown up together," says Jim Melvin, the GGO's general chairman in 1963 and later Greensboro's mayor for 10 years. "It's woven into the fabric of our community. You could even say that the GGO is Greensboro."
Greensboro couldn't have picked a more appropriate champion than Mark O'Meara, who held off Duffy Waldorf by two shots on Sunday to earn his second victory of the year with a 14-under 274. Born in Goldsboro, N.C., 150 miles east of Greensboro, O'Meara is low-key, friendly and often overlooked, just like the GGCC.
With the $324,000 winner's check, O'Meara tiptoed to second on this year's money list at $868,468, two grand behind Fred Couples. He also sneaked into the top 10 on the alltime money list, with $6,994,933 in career earnings. These gaudy numbers will probably come as a shock to casual fans. On Sunday evening even O'Meara seemed a little surprised. "When I won my first tournament, in 1984, I didn't know if there was ever going to be another," he said. "So I have to say I'm proud of the way I played this week, just as I'm always proud when I win. I don't take any of this for granted. In fact, it's still flattering to me every time a fan recognizes me on the street."
Presumably that's going to be happening more often, because O'Meara is one of the hottest players in golf. Last year he won two tournaments and set a career high with more than $900,000 in winnings. O'Meara, 38, kicked this year off with a win at the Mercedes Championships and has had five top-six finishes since, including Sunday's win and a second the week before last in the MCI Heritage Classic.
Still, recognition has been slow to come to the 16-year vet, although he's hardly pulling his hair out about it. (On the contrary, he recently signed on with Rogaine.) O'Meara merely files away every snub for motivation. "The ultimate test in this game is winning, not endorsement dollars or the Sony World Ranking," he says, acknowledging two yardsticks by which he comes up short.
To fully appreciate the GGCC, it's also necessary to take a long view. The tournament was started in 1938 by a group of enterprising Jaycees eager to make a name for the town (not to mention its booming textile industry). They solicited $25 contributions from Greensboro's leading citizens, and considerably more from its businesses, to secure the first-year purse of $5,000.
Played over three days at two country clubs—Sedgefield and Starmount Forest—the tournament was an immediate success. A brash 25-year-old hillbilly named Sam Snead won by three strokes, the first kiss in a 38-year romance with the city and the tournament, and a considerable number of the town's 77,107 citizens turned out to cheer him on. Local interest in golf had been piqued in 1936 when Sedgefield's head pro Tony Manero won the U.S. Open at Baltusrol in one of golf's alltime shockers. Still, it was unclear how this rural crowd would cotton to a country-club game. But that first Sunday produced "the largest crowd ever seen at a golf tournament," wrote Arch Murray in the New York Post, and the Greensboro Daily News had this to say: "Everyone should be proud of the manner in which the galleries acted. There were only a few who insisted on walking through the [sand] traps."
Two of the next three winners were Ben Hogan (1940) and Byron Nelson ('41), and the GGO rolled on from there, interrupted only by the war in 1943 and '44. The tournament continued to benefit from spirited leadership of the Jaycees and the presence of such stars as Art Wall, Julius Boros and Arnold Palmer, each of whom lived or had gone to college nearby. Snead, however, was the one who splashed Greensboro's dateline on sports pages across the country. He won seven of the first 21 tournaments, including the 1960 GGO at age 47. He brought the tournament added prestige by often calling it his favorite and Greensboro his second home. Snead spent off-seasons hunting with many of his buddies from the town, and he made a habit of winning the pretournament fishing contest with Carson Bain, the 1950 tournament chair.
It was fitting, then, that the 1965 GGO was dedicated to Snead in honor of his 25th appearance at the tournament. Snead repaid the hospitality the best way he knew how, smoking the field for a stunning five-stroke victory and his eighth title, a record for wins in one event. In the process he became the oldest man ever to win a Tour event: 52 years, 10 months, eight days. "The only explanation," says Bain, "is divine intervention."