The prize money attracted all but a smattering of the country's best pros, including Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who are usually enough to insure a stampede at any gate. Because the event was being played on the PGA's own courses, it was agreed that any PGA member would be eligible to play. The turnout was a surprise: 107 teams, the largest field of pros ever to start in an official PGA event. "This is the only tournament in history," said the veteran Chick Harbert, "where the players out-number the gallery."
One of the most fascinating facets of this tournament was the teaming. Some pairs, of course, seemed obvious—like the Hebert brothers, Lionel and Jay, who normally travel together on the tour. Strangely, though, they have teamed together only twice before—in the CBS-TV matches. As Lionel explained it, "We were about the two strongest players in town, so we always had to play against each other to make a match." There were teams born of palships on the tour, such as former Masters champion Art Wall with Doug Ford, who have been buddies since they were both winning pros some years back. Julius Boros and George Bayer were other naturals.
Probably the most unlikely of all the pairings was that of old pro Bill Casper and Homero Blancas, the young man from Houston who has just been named rookie of the year for 1965. It is not in the nature of things for rookies to hobnob with the big established stars, but Casper said, "I was very impressed with the way he hit the ball. He keeps it low, much the way I do, and I thought he would be very good in the wind."
People speculated, too, about the Palmer-Nicklaus pairing. Some felt it would detract from the competition—and public interest—to have the tour's two biggest attractions on the same team. Others, knowing of the tendency of these two to needle one another, wondered if they might not forget the partnership in the heat of battle. Close as they are personally, there is nothing either likes better than to beat the other—and this does not discount their play in the Canada Cup that they won twice for the U.S., in Paris in 1963 and Hawaii in 1964.
On the contrary, the Palmer-Nicklaus team experimented at Palm Beach with schemes to improve their teamwork. On the first day, Palmer drove first on all the holes, and on the second day Nicklaus drove first. So far as they could tell, there was no advantage either way, so on the third day they alternated the honor, depending from time to time on how they felt as they stood at the tee. Where they most helped one another was in club selection. For instance, when Palmer was short with a five-iron to the green on the 8th hole, Nicklaus hit a four. Occasionally, but not often, they would help each other with advice on the contours of the greens. Like just about all the partnerships, if one of the players had a makable putt for a birdie, the other would putt first to insure the par even though he might be closer to the hole.
Actually none of the pros came up with any partnership ideas that are not known to just about every weekend golfer in the world, since four-ball is, without a doubt, the commonest form of golf for the amateur. But they loved the tournament, particularly the ones who were doing well. "It's a lot more fun than regular tournament golf," said Bobby Nichols after bringing in a 65 with his partner, R. H. Sikes, on the third day to go into a tie for second at 19 under par, just a stroke behind the leading Hebert brothers and tied with Brewer and Baird.
In the long run, luck plays the major part in four-ball success. Two golfers can be playing beautifully and scoring superbly, but if their birdies all come on the same holes they will lose to a team that manages to divide its birdies among holes. The trick is to have your partner play well on the holes where you are in the boondocks, and vice versa.
That was the trouble with Palmer and Nicklaus. Starting the final round only two strokes behind the leading Hebert brothers, they were 18 strokes under par for the tournament. On Saturday, though, they were not putting well, and their four birdies came only on the par-5 holes, leaving them in a tie for seventh. Casper and Blancas were in a similar fix, and their routine two-under-par 70 left them 10 strokes back after their earlier promising rounds.
In fact, the celebrities of golf were notable for their absence from the top as the tournament ended. Senior citizen Sam Snead, paired with Gardner Dickinson, played marvelous golf to finish in a tie for third with Nichols and Sikes, who had a lackluster 68 on the final round. But then came names like Bert Yancey and Dudley Wysong, Bob Shave and John Berry, and Billy Farrell and Babe Lichardus. None of these frightened the oldtime front-runners, who pronounced their best-ball tournament a huge success. That would change, of course, if the "unknowns" seemed about to make a habit of beating the pro pros.