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Until this past fall the name of Gay Brewer Jr. was hardly one to be conjured with in the pro circuit. Then in September, Brewer won the Greater Seattle Open; he won again in November in Hawaii and Saturday, with fellow Texan Butch Baird, he won the first PGA National Four-Ball Championship near Palm Beach. Brewer was as happy as his name implied he should be.
Even among those who were aware of Brewer's recent wins, the Brewer-Baird team went practically unnoticed as the tournament was getting under way. The two justified the inattention by shooting a best-ball 70 that left them in a tie for 60th place on the first day. But on their second round, playing the shorter (by 350 yards) and somewhat easier West Course of the PGA National's two intricately devised layouts, Brewer and Baird set a new best-ball course record of 60, 12 under par. To this score Brewer contributed an eagle and six of the 10 birdies. After a so-so 67 for their third round—on the East Course—the team found itself tied for second, a stroke off the leading pace of Jay and Lionel Hebert, with whom they were paired for Saturday's final round.
For the first nine holes the final was a marvelously tight struggle. Playing their way boldly in the midst of the enormous flash bunkers and snaking water hazards that characterize this superb course, the Hebert brothers shot five birdies and four pars. Yet, over the same distance, Brewer and Baird had six birdies, five of them Brewer's, and Brewer did not bother to putt for his birdie at the 6th hole when Baird had already made one for the team.
Going to the 10th hole the two teams were even, but Brewer was playing unbeatable golf all by himself. A 6-footer from Dallas with a huge arc to his swing and a funny little loop at the top of it, he was driving the ball well past the long-hitting Lionel Hebert and then hitting his irons dead to the pin. His birdies at the 10th, 12th and 13th holes put his team three strokes ahead and out of reach of the Heberts. Baird's final birdie at the 17th (again Brewer, whose ball was inside Baird's, did not putt) put them 10 under par for the day and tied them for the best-ball course record on the East Course. They won, as one would expect, laughing.
Brewer's half of the $20,000 winner's prize was the biggest check of his life. When asked if his 20 birdies and one eagle during the four rounds of the Four-Ball represented the best golf of his career, he replied with a wistful smile, "Yes, I think you could say that."
The idea of a four-ball team tournament for the playing pros is not a new one. Back in the dark ages of Hogan, Snead and Demaret, the Miami Four-Ball was a fixture on the pro tour, but it was abandoned in the early '50s after two successful decades. Even today, some of the best locker-room yarns of the oldtimers are the oft-told tales of fun and friction that resulted from incongruous pairings in the Miami Four-Ball.
Two years ago, the suggestion of another four-ball was made at the annual players' meeting during the San Diego Open. At the time CBS was filming a team-play series for television, and nearly all the players who were taking part enjoyed it and felt that a team-play tournament would present a welcome relief to the monotony of the week-after-week 72-hole format. Jay Hebert, who was then chairman of the PGA Tournament Committee, suggested that they wait until the PGA's new club at Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. was ready. Then the pros could put on their own tournament at their own course and have something a little special to offer the public.
Hebert was thinking in terms of a year, but there were false starts and minor breakdowns before the PGA finally got itself installed at the Palm Beach site. The place had a big, modern clubhouse and two splendid 18-hole courses designed by the late Dick Wilson, one of the true craftsmen of golf architecture.
By May the tournament committee felt enough confidence in its idea to put the Four-Ball on its schedule for the slack December days, and later it set up a purse of $125,000. Inasmuch as all the prizes would have to be split, anything less than that would be unlikely to draw the blue-ribbon players away from their firesides so close to Christmas. Paul Warren of Cleveland, one of the ablest men in the country at organizing golf tournaments, was retained to run the event.
Easier, the pros discovered, said than done. December, more than slack, is dead in southern Florida, with the tourists still in the North and the locals guarding the dollar closely in preparation for Santa Claus. Because the television people, who were chipping in $54,000, felt they would be murdered by pro football on Sunday, the tournament had to end on Saturday afternoon, allowing it only one day on which the working population could join the gallery. There was hope of raising some extra funds through a pro-amateur event on the preceding Sunday, but the local amateurs took a dim view of the $300 entry fee. The price was lowered to $200, then to $125 before enough amateurs signed up. Public-spirited merchants and golf bugs bought up enough season tickets to produce a $25,000 advance, but this was only a third of what was hoped for.