Zembriski's best year was 1988, when he won two tournaments, the Newport Cup and the Vantage Championship. A refreshing addition to the tour's "whacks" museum, he was the only one in the Top 10 who had flunked the "Diaper Tour"—the seniors' term for the regular PGA circuit. Approaching this year's end, he was 14th on the money list with $274,411; $52,000 of that came from his victory in the GTE West Classic.
The Senior tour consists of two camps, the legends and the other guys. Golf fans mob the legends: Gary Player in his basic black; Chi Chi Rodriguez playing Zorro with his putter; Doug Sanders in his emerald cleats; Geiberger, the stately string bean; Littler, the machine; and Palmer, who shows the rest of the legends what fame is all about.
The other guys play for galleries of 20 or 30. Most are happy simply to tee it up with men they once watched on TV. One of the other guys, Ben Smith, used to fix pinsetting machines in a bowling alley. Another, Charlie Owens, who plays cross-handed, has a fused left knee and rides with that leg sticking out of his golf cart.
John Brodie, the most glamorous other guy, used to quarterback the San Francisco 49ers. Jesse Whittenton was a defensive back for the Green Bay Packers—he is the only Senior golfer who can boast of picking off a Brodie pass. Former Yankee pitcher Ralph Terry, who went 23-12 in 1962 and was the World Series MVP that year, says, "Golf is teaching me patience." Terry, 53, who is best known for giving up Bill Mazeroski's World Series-winning home run in 1960, needs all the patience he can muster. Rodriguez, who's a baseball fan, calls him Maz.
And then there is Zembriski, king of the other guys. He no longer packs the union card he had in his wallet at the '85 Senior Open—it has been crowded out by credit cards—but he still carries his mother's rosary when he plays. Success has not changed him, he says, except for the condo he bought near the course where he used to clean swimming pools, the El Dorado that replaced his old Buick and $120,000 in the bank. "I've got my financial security," says Zembriski. "I stay in Ramada Inns—nice places. This is what I wanted. This is it." He has given some of his winnings to the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Mahwah, to help build a new church with new stained-glass windows.
Already 35th on the Seniors' career money list with $962,918, Zembriski figures to be a millionaire by next spring. On tour, Zembriski sometimes takes a fellow no-name to dinner. More often he eats alone. "I'm about as close as you'll get to him," says Joe Jimenez, his best friend on the circuit. "I can get him out to dinner, but not too often. He's in his hotel room, putting balls on the carpet."
When he shows up on the practice tee, Zembriski is one of the first to pull out the needle. "Joe, you look tired," he says.
"You better play good if you want to get in my group on Sunday," says Jimenez, jovially.
"You'll be lucky if you're standing up on Sunday," says Zembriski. "You'll be lucky if they let you play the same day as me."
Zembriski is starting to draw crowds of his own—laborers, members of Polish heritage societies, government workers—people who, pre-Zembriski, had never seen a divot. "Steelworkers, postmen—Walt's the idol of those people," says Geiberger. "My postman says he's practicing to come out here in two years."