Chen Chi is 95 years old. He is the oldest man in the village of Linkou, Taiwan, Republic of China. His face is weathered to the color of a pecan, and wrinkles have engulfed his features. Chen Chi used to be a farmer. He grew rice in the bottom land and tea on the hillsides.
Chen Chi's son-in-law is Chen Soon-ling. When Chen Chi grew too old to work his land, Soon-ling took over. Now Soon-ling is 73. If the Linkou of today were the Linkou of 30 years ago, Soon-ling's sons would take over. But Linkou, like the rest of Taiwan, has changed. Chen Chi's farm is now the front nine holes of the Linkou International Golf Club. Soon-ling is the greenskeeper, his fourth oldest son is his assistant, another son manages the locker room, a daughter is the caddiemaster, and his two youngest sons are famous golfers. Last year the younger of the two, Chen Tze-chung, almost won the U.S. Open.
T.C. Chen of Linkou, Taiwan, Republic of China, grandson of a farmer, son of a greenskeeper, was the true hero of Oakland Hills. He was the little-known pro with the modest smile and the physique of a chopstick who nailed Ben Hogan's monster with a 65 on opening day; who holed a 256-yard three-wood shot for the first double eagle in Open history; who tied Jack Nicklaus's Open scoring record of 134 for 36 holes; who still led the tournament after four holes on Sunday, which was at least two days longer than anyone thought he could; and who finally threw away a four-stroke lead with a miserable quadruple-bogey eight on the 5th hole. Not just any quadruple bogey, but one that included a double hit, a ball hit twice with one swing.
Andy North won the tournament, but Chen won the galleries and the press. Through it all, the triumph and the trauma alike, Chen set a modern standard for grace under pressure—make that sustained grace under continuous pressure. As he walked down the 18th fairway that Sunday afternoon, two strokes behind North, with almost no chance left to win, he tapped his caddie, Mike Lealos, on the shoulder and said, "Sorry about today."
"Hey, it's not over yet," said Lealos.
"I know," said Chen.
Sure enough, Chen's third shot from the bunker beside the 18th green missed the hole by an inch. Had it gone in, Andy North's two putts to win would have become one putt to win, two putts to tie and, who knows, the U.S. Open might have had its first Asian winner.
On a cold day this spring the Chen brothers, T.C., who is 27, and T.M. (Tzeming), 33, sat at one end of a long table in the clubhouse at Linkou International with their father beside them. At the other end of the table were Major Generals Lu Wei-hsiang and Charles C. Chang of the Golf Association of the Republic of China (GAROC).
"Fighting spirit is very difficult to train," said General Lu (army, retired), whose military bearing is evident even in a sitting position. General Lu heads the selection and training committee of GAROC. It was he who first saw golfing promise in T.C. and T.M. and who captained many of the amateur teams on which the brothers played. "The family of T.C. and T.M. is farmers, so they were born with fighting spirit. T.C. has a very strong personality. He does not want to listen to other people, but he will listen to reason. He learns quickly."
General Lu is clearly proud of his prot�g�s, the best he has seen in his 20 years of scouting golf talent. But he does not hesitate to point out their shortcomings, even in front of reporters. "T.C. has the making to be a good champion," said the general. "However, he has not had maturing experience."