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 tide 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 Lead better 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."