Anyone who recalls the name of Paul Runyan very likely knows some of the words to Bandleader Ray Noble's The Very Thought of You. Both were big in the '30s. Last week at Dunedin, Fla. a lot of those old Noble addicts and/or their contemporaries were delighted to watch Paul Runyan win another exciting golf tournament, even though it had to be at the expense of Jimmy Demaret, who, at 50, is only two years younger than Runyan but nonetheless familiar to a much younger group of golfing fans.
The tournament was the PGA Seniors' championship, an event for codgers over 50. Judged simply by the kind of golf that was played, no one would ever have guessed that the entrance requirements for this tournament had anything to do with age. Runyan's four winning rounds were 67, 70, 72, 69-10 under par on a course that played considerably harder than many of those on the regular pro tour. With the notable exception of Runyan himself, who is still the same trim 5-foot 7-inch 142-pounder he was in his heyday, the only clue to the seniority of the contestants would have been their waistlines and a certain snowy tendency in the hair.
The way Runyan took charge of the tournament on the final day will remind a great many people of the uncompromising competitor who twice won the PGA Championship in the '30s and five times won a place on the Ryder Cup team. As he teed off on Sunday, Runyan was two strokes behind Clarence Doser, a teaching pro from Gaithersburg, Md., who led after the first three rounds and was playing in the threesome just behind Runyan. In Runyan's threesome and trailing him by three strokes was Demaret, playing in the Seniors for the first time.
During the early holes all three went over par—Runyan with some erratic tee shots and Demaret with a tendency to draw his short iron approach shots into trouble to the left of the greens. But as they warmed to their work they hacked away at par, and yet Demaret could never come any closer than two strokes of catching Runyan. It was then that Runyan's loose-jointed buggy-whip swing—something he would never dare teach his pupils at his home club in La Jolla, Calif.—began to function precisely. With Demaret never easing the pressure for a minute, Runyan rebuilt his lead with three birdies on the final nine holes. Behind them, Doser had been playing every shot as if it were his last in this world, but his touch had left him, and he finished with a third-place 75, losing six strokes to the 69s of Runyan and Demaret.
After holing out his final putt on the 18th, Runyan doffed his little yellow cloth hat, managed one of his few smiles of the week and set off at a dogtrot down the path for the clubhouse. In a moment he was on the long-distance phone to his wife in California to tell her the good news in his shrill Arkansas accent. "Kiss the boys for me," he said before racing back to get his winner's cup and a $1,500 check.
Runyan's acceptance speech must rank among the most grateful ever made at a sporting event, and it also said a great deal about the way the older pros feel toward this tournament. "Except for making the Ryder Cup team the first time," Runyan said in part, "I am keener about winning this championship than anything I have done in golf. It has become more important to us who compete in it than anything except our jobs and our families."
One must concede that for thrills and gutty action, a golf tournament for seniors sounds as if it might be in a league with quoits and shuffle-board. At first glance at Dunedin (pronounced done eden) this seemed a reasonable assumption. The village lies a little bit north of St. Petersburg, in the oldsters' belt of resort towns on the somnolent waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Someone once said that this part of Florida must be a lot like heaven. No wings have sprouted yet but just about everyone has snow-white hair and not a care in the world. It is certainly an appropriate place for the oldtimers of professional golf to gather for their annual midwinter championship and gabfest, as they've been doing since 1945, when the tournament, then eight years old, moved to Dunedin.
Watching the seniors play golf is a useful lesson in the subtle art of getting the most results out of the least effort. They don't wow you with stupendous drives, but they make up in finesse what they lack in power. A great many of the older ones—those above 55 like Gene Sarazen (58), Willie Hunter (69), Pete Burke (55) and Mike Brady (73)—learned to hit the golf ball with their wrists and hands and never developed the extreme body motion that characterizes the best of the players who came along in the last quarter century. As a result, the aches and pains and stiffness that usually accompany the years past 50 haven't disfigured the grace of their motion when they swing a golf club.
For the first 17 years of the tournament, the PGA Seniors was strictly for fun. Over the protests of some of its younger members on the tour, the PGA put up a modest prize of $2,000 in the early years, and an elderly golfing buff donated the A. K. Bourne Trophy. It went along like that as a two-day, 36-hole event where a few dozen club pros and superannuated champions could meet to relive some of their past glories.
It wasn't until Schieffelin & Co. discovered the tournament that it took on the patina of a big sports event. The New York firm that imports and distributes Teacher's Highland Cream, which, as any self-respecting tippler knows, comes from a distillery and not a cow, was looking for a way to promote the product. They got hold of their Madison Avenue ad agency. Golf is the Scottish national game, so why not tie in golf and Scotch? They ran the idea up the flagpole, and it waved gloriously.