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My Drive to Be a Champion
Walter Bingham
October 04, 1971
The potential was there, no doubt about that. I needed just a few lessons and a week of practice
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October 04, 1971

My Drive To Be A Champion

The potential was there, no doubt about that. I needed just a few lessons and a week of practice

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General Moncado even worked his way into the 1949 U.S. Amateur. In those days a 36-hole qualification round was necessary. The General teed off early and shot something like a 61. Yes, indeed, said his playing partner. In the afternoon the USGA staff accompanied the General, who then shot 88, but his 149 total was good enough to qualify him for the championship. He had a bye in the first round and was eliminated in the second.

The first time the General ever played at Riviera, accompanied by friends, he had one of his normally brilliant rounds and when he completed the 18th and his score was added up, it was found he had a 64, a new course record. The General was ecstatic. Up the hill he went and into the pro shop.

"I just shot 64," he shouted for all to hear. "New course record, 64."

Mac's father was on the other side of the shop and when he heard this he came over.

"General," he said, looking the Filipino dead in the eye, "my name is Willie Hunter. I'm the club professional here and I hold the course record at 65."

There was a moment of silence. Then the General said: "I just shot 66."

By the end of the week there was no doubt in my mind that my golf game had improved. For the first time I knew what had gone wrong when I hit a bad shot—I finished the swing on my toes or did not swing through and out. And it seemed I was hitting a lot of shots that did not look too different from some I'd seen on the pro tour. At the beginning Hunter had said that all he hoped to accomplish during the week was to build a rock that could serve as the foundation of my golf game. By Saturday I thought he had certainly done that.

But could I translate this into a better performance Sunday? Hunter arranged a game for me with two of the men I had played with the previous Sunday, Sid Bernstein and Stu Krieger. Both were low 90s shooters who did not hit the ball too far but rarely got into much trouble—exactly the kind of golfers I expected to be able to beat. My single worry was fatigue. Despite the efforts of Steve Mircetic, my muscles ached. I tried to taper off Saturday, spending little time at the range, and I made sure I would get a good night's sleep.

Except I didn't sleep. I got to bed early, but my mind kept wandering like the barranca—have to hit a good drive off the 1st tee and maybe I can reach the green in two for a birdie. Wouldn't that be a way to start?

I was at the club by 6:30 a.m. Hotfoot Harris was waiting for me. He had managed only three hours sleep, he said, because he had chauffeured Jim Backus, the Mr. Magoo man, to a party and back. Hunter was in the pro shop.

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