This year Chapman didn't need his secrets. For the first time since V-J Day he wasn't eligible for local qualifying. (His handicap of three is just over the standard of 1.4 set last year by the USGA.) Not playing really hurt because the local was at the Minneapolis Golf Club. "This is ironic," he says. "The one time I can't qualify and it's at my home course, where I'd have a chance."
Chapman's passion for golf began across town at storied Interlachen Country Club, the Augusta National of the north country. As a youngster, he caddied at Interlachen and played his first round there, firing a cool 166 to win a caddies' day match. "The following Monday I played even better," he recalls. "I was hooked."
Chapman graduated from Minneapolis's Central High in 1941, by which time he was regularly shooting in the low 70s and sometimes breaking par. He held several jobs in the war years, including a stint running a factory for a woolen goods company. He joined the Navy Air Corps, flying trainers in Texas, then switched to the Army Air Corps and became a B-29 pilot. (Chapman was on a runway in Tucson, ready to take off for the Pacific theater, when Japan surrendered to the Allies.) Back home in Minneapolis, Chapman spent two years in art school, worked at a commercial studio, then started his own firm, producing photo-realistic images for corporate clients. "I never thought I was good," he says. "At art or golf."
Reconciling Chapman's humility with his obvious gifts is a job for a shrink or an art critic. His Infamous Holes paintings present golfers as an almost microscopic presence in colossal landscapes. They depict golf as a hopeless enterprise and golfers as masochists. It seems equally significant that Chapman got the idea for his golf hole series in 1974 when he was prospecting for gold in New Mexico. The same week that he got a bleak assay from a geologist, Chapman learned that his personal fortune in stocks and property had dwindled to nothing. "The oil wells that I thought were worth a couple of million dollars turned out to be phony," he says.
Desperate for cash and inspired by the Hillermanesque landscape, Chapman conceived the first of his tricky golf holes. Months later, four of Chapman's paintings appeared in Golf Digest, and orders for prints began to pour in. Today the 18 original paintings are valued at about $4 million.
"Everyone should go on at least one treasure hunt in life," Chapman says as he shows a visitor to Chapman Studios his painting of a fictional hole in Arizona, a work filled with clues to the location of the Lost Dutchman gold mine. The artist wanders through his several storerooms, stepping around piles of printed place mats, coasters, jigsaw puzzles and calendars. In the middle of the creative confusion, like a bonfire in the making, rests a pile of old clubs and bags—relics of 50 years of rewarding obsession. The walls hold Chapman prints, but also Chapman memories. A framed magazine cover shows him teeing off in front of Palmer under the headline, PALMER CRESTFALLEN AT BEING OUTDRIVEN BY LOCAL AMATEUR. Another picture shows a first-round leader board from the '83 Senior Open, with Chapman ahead.
The visitor stops to examine a stack of Japanese-language calendars. Chapman says, "Those did well, but the guy ran off with all the money. About a million dollars." Was Chapman heartbroken? He shrugs and smiles. "I take things well," he says.
Chapman's friends think if he could bottle his temperament, it might sell better than his art. "Bud is one of the most joyful people you'll see on a golf course," says MGA vice president Dick Bennett. Another measure of Chapman's amiability is his family. All four of his children—Greg, David, Julie and Jenny—followed him into commercial art, and two of them work out of his studio.
Since Chapman loves to laugh, there's little chance that he'll give up his quest for an Open berth. He has shot his age a hundred times, and he claims he just needs a little work with the putter to get his handicap back under one. When that happens, his chums expect him to flood the USGA with entries to the next year's local qualifier. "My mother died at 104, and she never had an ache or a pain," he says, "so it's still a possibility. I can still get on a roll."
But now it's time to make a painting. The artist stands at his worktable, studying the sketch. He murmurs again, "There's always next year." For Bud Chapman, one treasure hunt is apparently not enough.