The name of the tournament, the Astrojet Classic, sounded like a pylon race for commercial pilots who had proved they could miss Jamaica Bay consistently. And even though 54 of the top professional football and major league baseball players would be competing, it seemed on the surface like nothing more significant in golf than another of those member-pro-guest-celebrity affairs that are as much in vogue these days as the cashmere turtleneck. For a couple of reasons, however, the Astrojet Classic turned out to be a stimulating event last week: a football-baseball partnership affair that must rank as the most unusual in the sport until some promoter finds a way to team up a group of civil-rights marchers with their favorite plantation owners.
To begin with, getting a collection of Bart Starrs and Mickey Mantles together is not easy. In fact, there is only one period on the calendar when it is possible, a brief interval from late January into February, the time between the merciful end of pro football and the spring training start of the eight-month-long baseball season.
American Airlines, the inventive sponsor, seized a precious week in there to bring together the two different kinds of gladiators, not to let them display their natural skills, but to socialize and show off a singular lack of sporting talent at another game—with a good deal of money at stake. In fact, the most remarkable aspect of the tournament was the prize money. The airline put up $30,-000 as a purse to rouse the golfing competitiveness of football and baseball players. This was more money than the PGA tour offered in 27 of its tournaments only a decade ago, and the winners, who turned out to be a couple of 13- and 15-handicappers named Bill Mazeroski and Paul Krause, received $5,000 each, which was as much as Ben Hogan got for taking his fourth U.S. Open championship in 1953.
Thus American Airlines proved not only that quarterbacks and pitchers can live happily together, but that golf is continuing to rise faster than the pot-pancake cult.
The athletes dressed their roles every day of the 54-hole partnership competition, which was held at the La Costa Country Club-Spa Hotel, a multimillion-dollar lodge, watering hole, stable, golf and real-estate complex near San Diego that may become the bursitis capital of the world. They wore the alpaca sweaters and the overflap shoes, just like the touring pros. Some of them even played like pros—among them the San Francisco 49ers' John Brodie, the New York Mets' Ralph Terry, the Washington Senators' Ken Harrelson and the San Diego Chargers' Ernie Wright.
But there was something wonderfully hilarious about the rest. Here were guys swinging like both housewives and sluggers, chewing tobacco, hollering, taking three from the sand traps, playing for all of that money and leaving La Costa's members wondering if the course would ever get its bunkers raked again.
Among the more interesting sights of the tournament were Willie Mays's line drives from the bunkers, Jim Taylor's Neanderthal stoop over three-foot putts, Mickey Mantle's strike-three follow-through, Chris Burford's ability to race under his own tee shots like the splendid receiver he is, and Norm Snead's pitch-outs—with a wedge. Bob Allison's curving fouls with a driver did not go unnoticed, nor did Mike Ditka's slant-ins with the five-iron. Johnny Unitas was spectacular whenever he tried a roll-out.
It was all great fun, outside and in, for four days—nothing but goofy bogeys, stingers, buffet lines and the music of Murray Arnold's combo on the old bandstand. It was Don Drysdale moving over behind the piano and singing 2 a.m. ballads against a vague montage of Ron Santo, Dave Kocourek, Bob Allison and Don Whitt, the resident pro, behind the drums and bass, and Unitas off to the side bellowing, "Aw-right, let's get after it, here."
And then, of course, there was the inevitable fact that somebody had to win the tournament. The leaders from the opening day, the Pittsburgh Pirates' second baseman, Bill Mazeroski, and the Washington Redskins' defensive safety, Paul Krause, began to think about it. And think. And think. "I can't go out there and play for that kind of dough," said Mazeroski. "Not in front of all those people. I'm starting to choke. On the ball field you've got confidence. You know what you can do. But in golf, with the people so close, and not knowing where the ball is going, it's terrible." Krause said, "This is more pressure than you'll ever feel on a football field. At least there you've got a whole team."
Mazeroski did not know enough about tournament golf to mark his ball properly. He thought you had to put the coin underneath the ball instead of behind it. Krause did not know how to keep score on a best-ball basis. Nor did they know each other. Mazeroski had never even heard of Krause, who was an NFL All-Pro in his rookie year, 1964.