SI Vault
Myron Cope
May 10, 1971
Dave Hill tees off, not always with a golf ball. His opinions have had the PGA in a flap—and the pros playing in a dairy pasture
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May 10, 1971

Often Bloody, But Uncowed

Dave Hill tees off, not always with a golf ball. His opinions have had the PGA in a flap—and the pros playing in a dairy pasture

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Then, at the Open last June, when he wondered aloud whether golf architect Robert Trent Jones had read his blueprints for Hazeltine upside down, Hill engaged in incident No. 3 and at last became a national figure. He poured it on so heavy that Jones felt compelled to appear in the press tent to defend himself. Amid all the commotion, a sportswriter said to Hill: "What's bugging you, anyhow?" Hill replied, "You guys. You guys are bugging me. I gotta be leading a golf tournament before the press comes around. Look, anytime I'm only two or three strokes off the lead, I can win."

So the question is, did Hill batter Trent Jones and Hazeltine to attract attention?

Probably not. His complaint—namely, that for a major tournament a course had been chosen that did not reward good shots—was the gravamen of a man whose pursuit of the perfect shot amounts to a religion. "It makes no difference to Dave what he scores," says Lee Trevino. "I've seen him knock a beautiful shot to within 10 feet of the pin and then three-putt for a bogey but not be bothered a bit, because he'd hit a pretty shot." Indeed, Hill seems to derive his greatest pleasure from the practice range—"painting pictures with a ball and a club," is the way he puts it. Hour upon hour he revels in practice, his spirit soaring with the flight of the ball. "My little daughter can putt," he says, "but can she hit that high, soft fade?"

So Hazeltine's crime deserved triple the vituperation Hill might accord a mere official's ruling, for the course had forced him to play vulgar shots to stay in contention. But let it be said that a course Hill finds pleasing can evoke from him a devotion as intense as the passion that on at least one occasion has led him to methodically break an entire set of clubs over his knee.

But that was neither Incident No. 4, nor No. 5. Those were not lonely explosions; certain celebrated names were involved. The incidents are known, for catalogue purposes, as the Chi Chi Affair and the Tuthill Affair.

The former erupted during the 36-hole final day of the Kaiser Open at Napa, Calif. in 1970, Hill being paired with Chi Chi Rodriguez, the consummate showman, who at one time had roomed with him on the tournament circuit. Through the morning round Chi Chi played quietly, Hill recalls, adding pointedly that they had no gallery to speak of. But into the final 18, with the galleries thickening, Chi Chi launched into a patter that brought laughter at the tees and greens. Hill at this point stood very much in contention for the $30,000 first prize.

Normally a fast player, he had to wait for the laughter to die down before he could drive from the 6th tee. He hooked his ball into the left rough and, while pulling down a gallery stake to clear the way for his next shot, glanced over his shoulder to find Chi Chi striking a burlesque of a batter's stance in a bunker, a rake cocked over his shoulder. Hill's ensuing shot fell short of the green. "While I'm trying to figure what to do with my chip," he says, "Chi Chi is talking to the gallery. So I said, 'Cheech, I don't mind your clowning after I've completed the hole, but I'd appreciate it if you'd wait till I've played.' Well, he started hollering so, you'd think I'd hit him in the mouth. He said, 'I don't want to play with you.' He called for an official to split us up. Right there, I should have buried my club in his head."

Intermittently through the balance of the round the two men exchanged acrid remarks, Hill fuming at the thought that he might suffer a loss of concentration that would cause him to blow the tournament. "When I came to the 18th green I was so upset I could not see the ground," he says. There he missed a 15-foot putt that would have given him a tie for first place. As he left the green, a phalanx of PGA officials swiftly packaged him into a golf cart, whose driver whisked him away and drove him aimlessly around the course until his fists came unclenched. "If I'd had my way," says Hill, speaking the sort of dialogue they do not teach at the PGA Qualifying School, "I'da killed Rodriguez. I would've just literally whipped the intestines out of him. What would have been left of Mr. Rodriguez would not have filled a cigar box."

Chi Chi made an official complaint accusing Hill of salty language, but the PGA fined Chi Chi $200 for his antics, at the same time conferring innocence upon Hill in a switch tantamount to Senator McClellan sending a fruitcake to Jimmy Hoffa.

The Tuthill Affair, which unfolded during this February's Bob Hope Desert Classic in Palm Springs, is more complex. One of Hill's tee shots had landed in a palm tree, and, being that he lacked pitons and a length of rope, he could not pluck the ball from its lodging. But he could see that it was a Titleist 2, so he was satisfied that it was his Titleist 2 and therefore he declared an unplayable lie and hit his next shot. At day's end, however, Jack Tuthill disqualified Hill for having failed to identify his treed ball with certainty. Anybody could have been playing a Titleist 2, Tuthill argued, concluding that Hill should have declared a lost ball and gone back to the tee—a more severe penalty. Tuthill claims it was Hill's responsibility in the beginning to mark his ball with a pen or a pencil or his fingernail, and then identify that mark on the treed ball.

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