Across a corner table of a Holiday Inn dining room late one night last week, two college guys, still wearing their pastel work shirts and wearied from a long day on the golf course, decided that it would be nice if the amateur title should pass from one to the other.
"I don't know what a man does after missing a cut," said the thin one. "Maybe I'll stick around and watch you win."
"Ah, you could carry my scorecard," answered the fat one. "Two under, two over—you know. I need someone for that. By the way, may I have the bread, please?"
And then, laughing, Bruce Fleisher, the defender who had missed the cut, did indeed hand over the bread and his title, too, please, to Steve Melnyk who easily won the 69th U.S. Amateur Championship at Oakmont, Pa.
At the time Melnyk was only midway through a tournament he was to dominate from start to finish. He grabbed the lead by two strokes with a first-round 70 and from then on alternately threatened to chew up the golf course and spit it back at the field—or, just as often, choke on his big lead.
The 240-pound University of Florida undergraduate from Brunswick, Ga. is called "Deity" at Gainesville and "Fluffy" by his Walker Cup teammates—"because, well, I guess I look like a Fluffy." He is balding on top, bulging all around and has a knee reduced to pudding from an old football injury. But he threw 70-73-73-70—286 at the other 149 amateurs last week and left them wondering whether bread, potatoes and ice cream pie aren't the best aids to a man's swing after all.
Melnyk won the tournament by five shots over Marvin (Vinnie) Giles III, whose numeral also indicates the number of times he has placed second in the amateur in the last three years, and by seven over Allen Miller.
The new champion, who is of Russian descent (his grandparents emigrated from Kiev in the Ukraine), is a friendly, easygoing drinking partner to several members of the young crowd who dominate amateur golf. They know his balloon face, which resembles the heavy in cartoons featuring furry animals, and recognize his golf game as that of a man who won five straight college tournaments at Florida this year (tying two NCAA records) as well as the Western Amateur. His closest companion on the golf course is the last Florida graduate to win the amateur, Bob Murphy. It was Murphy who after winning his first two pro tournaments last year flew to Georgia to console Fluffy as he lay in a hospital bed recovering from a knee operation. That hiatus, which came during the week of the 1968 amateur, undoubtedly was on his mind as Melnyk frolicked with his lead at Oakmont.
In a sense there were really two winners last week, Melnyk and the treacherous Oakmont course itself. More than a dozen national tournaments (including PGA and NCAA events) have been played at the club over the years, and this was the eighth USGA championship to be held there. Normally you have needed a name to win. Bobby Jones and Willie Turnesa captured national amateurs at Oakmont, while Tommy Armour, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus (who beat Arnold Palmer in the famous 1962 playoff) won three of the club's four national Opens. But no one can mention Oakmont without recalling the 1935 Open, which gave to a startled golf world the name of Sam Parks Jr., a local pro who not only won the tournament but was the only man to break 300. And no one mentions Oakmont, either, without adding a moan and a groan for its sand bunkers and its greens.
Nestled snugly into the Allegheny hills, the plush club is a stronghold of what is referred to, sometimes not kindly, as the "Eastern Establishment." (Andrew Mellon once resigned his Oakmont membership, objecting when the dues were raised.) The 6,670-yard par-71 course is surrounded by woods that hardly ever come into play, and there is not a single water hazard anywhere. But some members will swear on a stack of their $100 bills that they would rather play out of a tree trunk or the bottom of a lake than hit out of Oakmont's traps. Take the one between the 3rd and 4th fairways, for instance, that huge thing with its "church pews"—eight parallel grass ridges that catch hooked drives off both tees very nicely, or the one around the 233-yard 8th hole, the par-3 made difficult by the sand that starts from well in front of the green and stretches left for—get this—130 yards. Yet the golfer is forced to aim over that way because if he hits too far right he will bounce down the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Harrisburg.