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'Let's Not Mess This up'
Jaime Diaz
January 13, 1986
Blessed with a fine family and a solid game, Curtis Strange vowed not to succumb to his Masters debacle—and made the year his best ever
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January 13, 1986

'let's Not Mess This Up'

Blessed with a fine family and a solid game, Curtis Strange vowed not to succumb to his Masters debacle—and made the year his best ever

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"He wasn't the worst guy out here, but Curtis had a reputation for flying off the handle," says Mike Crosthwaite, a PGA Tour official. "You just didn't want to get in Curtis's way after a bad round."

"Let's face it, he was an ass at times, and there are times when he still is," says Allan Strange, Curtis's identical twin, who spent one year on the tour himself before becoming a stockbroker. "Curtis is hard on everybody, but most of all he's hard on himself. People don't understand it because most of us just don't put that kind of internal pressure on ourselves."

Caddies speak of Strange's on-course behavior with a mixture of wonder and dread. "His attitude was, 'I'm a hothead, you're working for me, and that's it,' " says one. Linn Strickler, who now works for Fred Couples, stayed with Strange longer than any caddie—three years. "Sometimes it was almost intolerable," says Strickler. "Curtis was after something I never understood—I only knew it included pars and birdies. If something else cropped up, the putter would get jammed into the bag, he'd put his shoulder down, and the ball would be whipped at me—behind his back, at my feet, anywhere. I was the caddie Gold Glove three years in a row."

Galleries sensed the rage, noticed the prematurely gray hair and, despite his often superb play, generally responded to Strange coolly.

"I'm not going to say I liked myself either," says Curtis. "Lots of times I wished I was different. Lots of things I did I wasn't proud of."

In 1982, during the second round at Doral, Strange, angered that he had driven into the rough, kicked the bottom of his golf bag as it was being carried by caddie Gene Kelley. Kelley, who was knocked to the ground, finished the round but says he suffered back injuries that four months later required spinal surgery. He sued Strange. Strange's attorneys contended there was no proof that the kick had caused any damage, since Kelley had a previous back condition. Kelley, 30, has caddied only sporadically since the incident, and last year agreed to a settlement of $65,000 from Strange's insurance company.

A week after the Doral incident, at Bay Hill, Strange hit a poor second shot during the final round and used strong language to tell a volunteer scorer she had been in his line of sight. After the round, the scorer, 65-year-old Peggie Berry, tearfully filed a complaint against Strange with the PGA Tour. Officials were also told that Strange had loudly cursed a photographer before the gallery on the final green after the photographer's motor drive had gone off as Strange missed a short putt.

Strange was fined, but the most effective penalty came when an angry Arnold Palmer, the host at Bay Hill, wrote a letter to Commissioner Deane Beman in which he said "the abusive language and displays of temperament...discourteous and ungentlemanly behavior and thoughtlessness of certain of our leading players is despicable to me."

It proved a turning point. First, Strange sought out Palmer to apologize. "Those stern talking-to's do a lot to me, especially when they come from someone I respect," he says. "We just decided that I wasn't doing myself any good and it was time to straighten up."

For the next two years, Strange struggled to find a temperament he could play his best golf with. He had a talk with Watson, in which Strange found out that Watson sometimes gives himself a cramp in his left calf when he gets really angry. "It was nice to find out I'm not the only one who gets mad enough to go one on one with a tree," he says. And he made an effort to change his image, with television spots like one last year for the tour in which he extolled the efforts of volunteers at tournament sites. "I had to laugh a little to myself when I saw that," says Berry, who had earlier received a letter of apology from Strange. "But it's nice that he's trying to do better."

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