And now, if you'll step over to the north wall—watch that velvet rope, young fellow, it's not a swing set—we have Chapman's "Portrait of the Artist as a Nonqualifier." The medium is tempera glaze thinned with human tears. The artist painted it in 1998, when he was 75. I call your attention to the brushwork. The sure-handedness of Chapman's technique baffles art historians because the artist by this time had the yips and was experimenting with a long putter.
—MUSEUM GUIDE IN THE YEAR 2018
On this day, May 11, 1998, it isn't even a painting yet—just a sketch small enough to fit in your wallet. The artist has put himself in the foreground. He's seated on a golf bag, dejected, his elbows on his knees, while in the background a woman posts his score on a scoreboard marked U.S. OPEN QUALIFYING. Behind him two golfers are exchanging a congratulatory handshake while a third jumps for joy. The sketch is captioned, WELL, THERE'S ALWAYS NEXT YEAR.
In his cluttered studio in suburban Minneapolis, Bud Chapman studies the sketch. He has a weathered face full of laugh lines and a chortle that mocks his quixotic nature. "There's always next year," he murmurs. "Isn't that the truth?"
The Chapman story is by now a staple of Minnesota folklore, niched somewhere between Lake Woebegone and Harold Stassen. For more than half a century Loyal (Bud) Chapman has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open. Every single time he has failed.
O.K., Charlie Brown snuggles to fly a kite. But Chapman is one of the nation's top commercial artists, famous for his Infamous Golf Holes prints. Furthermore, he's an accomplished golfer who has played in everything from the U.S. Amateur to the U.S. Senior Open. Chapman has been named the Minnesota golfer of the year in three decades. He shares the course record (64) at Minneapolis Golf Club. He has played in competition with Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino and, he vaguely recalls, with Gene Sarazen. Wielding a 55-inch driver, Chapman has even beaten Tiger Woods in a long-drive contest. But in 47 attempts the artist has never gotten through local and sectional qualifying and into an Open field.
"It's a history of horror stories," Chapman says. One time he failed in local qualifying because his caddie, searching for his ball in greenside rough, inexplicably picked the ball up, incurring a penalty. Another time Chapman blew his chance by teeing off from the wrong tee box. More often, he has simply scored poorly. As Chapman almost gleefully concedes, "I have a tendency to choke."
He doesn't remember the first time he tried to qualify—"Probably '44 or '45, it's all a blur," he says—but can describe in wonderful detail his two ill-fated trips to the sectionals. In 1984, at Chicago's Barrington Hill Country Club, he needed pars on the last two holes to qualify. Instead, he drove through a dogleg and into trees on the 17th and made a 6. "That was close," he says, "but the worst one, the most unbelievable situation, happened in Detroit. I was four or five shots ahead of Sam Snead and Frank Stranahan in the last round with two holes to play when I got to a par-4.1 drove the dam tiling in the morning round, and I'm getting ready to hit when the caddie says, 'Mr. Chapman, you've got it made. Just take an iron.' I thanked him because it was the right thing to do. So I pulled out a two-iron and hit it straight into the worst garbage you could imagine."
Chapman grins. "I'm still O.K.," he says. "All I need is a double or triple on the last hole to qualify because I had that lead. It was a par-3, and jeez, I hit this six-iron, and I thought it was going in the hole. It imbedded in the bank in front of the green, but not too bad, and the pin was only about 10 feet away. The imbedded ball rule wasn't invented yet, so I go up there and just tap the ball to get it out—and it goes in a little deeper. So I tap it again, and it goes in deeper." He laughs. "Now it's starting to get serious. I did that four or five times, and finally I closed the blade like a sand shot and exploded it out to about 40 feet. From there I four-putted and missed qualifying by one."
Nitpickers with calculators may challenge Chapman's memory of the Detroit debacle, but there's no denying his standing in golf-mad Minnesota. "He's a state treasure," says broadcaster Guy Green. "The guy's a classic," echoes Ross Galarneault, executive director of the Minnesota Golf Association. "He's famous for sending in several entries to a tournament because he forgets he has already applied. Or he shows up for a tournament a week early, wondering where everybody is." In 1994, when Chapman was to be inducted into the Minnesota PGA-MGA Hall of Fame, he arrived on time—but at the wrong club.
"He's always been forgetful," says retired MGA director Warren Rebholz, a longtime Chapman friend. "He also keeps the sloppiest scorecard ever turned in by man, an unreadable mess with swing thoughts penciled in the margins." Chapman's swing thoughts—he prefer to call them secrets—are part of his mystique. He jots them down on wrinkled pieces of paper, credit-card receipts or napkins, and when he finds a good one, he scrawls it on the brim of his cap. ("The terrifying thing," Chapman says, "is if you've got these big secrets and your wife washes your hat.") Chapman once filled two garbage bags with his swing thoughts and gave them to a friend as a birthday present.