The professional golf tour of 1972 is a little more than one-third completed, and there seems to be some question as to whether there is anybody at all out there besides Jack Nicklaus. Come in, anybody. Hello, hello.
Oh, of course. There's one. Bobby Mitchell. The guy with the toupee and Sam Sausage hat who, almost unnoticed, tied for second in the Masters and last year won a tournament, but what else can you expect? Go ahead, Jack, and lose one for a change, even though it does sound like they named the tournament just for you.
It happens now and then. A Bobby Mitchell, suddenly looking untouchable, goes out to La Costa and in glorious weather takes a Jack Nicklaus in the Tournament of Champions, just to let everybody know that things don't always go right for Jack.
Jack might have known that it was bound to happen. After what occurred on the 16th tee during the final round Sunday, it became a question only of how many putts Nicklaus would miss and how many Mitchell would almost unconsciously make. At the 16th Jack broke his driver—in his hand, on the ball, and on his head—and it was inevitable then that Mitchell would be the man to stagger in a 25-foot birdie putt that practically fought to stay out of the cup on the first and only sudden-death extra hole.
Nicklaus, who finds it hard to chat about anything other than major championships these days—being consumed as he is with a number of immortal goals—had good reason for wanting to play well at La Costa. "Because I think I'm supposed to," he said.
Before Mitchell momentarily halted him, Nicklaus had left such a wake with his performances it had become nearly impossible to find challengers. He had won just about everything he had gone after: the Masters, the Crosby, Doral, and last week, after the T of C, it all added up to a lot of money, about $150,000 already. Projected to the end of the tour, that means $450,000. Silly.
But since a Nicklaus loss had become so rare, the tournament was less of a time to think about a Mitchell, however deserving, than it was an occasion to figure out who besides Nicklaus was shooting consistently good golf. Week in and week out, the only steady challengers have been Tom Weiskopf, George Archer, Bruce Crampton and Jerry Heard. It might be well to say something about them before they disappear.
TOM WEISKOPF: He is not so easy to understand. Tall, strong, boyishly handsome, he goes around with what everybody agrees is a tremendous talent and yet he has never been able to pull off a major championship. He wins a lot of money and he comes close to winning a lot more tournaments than he can list, but the game remains a mystery to him. He has won when he didn't expect to, and he has lost when he felt he was certainly about to win. He gets mad at himself and nods in agreement when friends tell him he has to control his temper and act more mature. Through last week Weiskopf was third on the year's money list with $86,000, largely because he won the richest event of the year, the Gleason at Inverrary, worth $52,000.
"For three years out here, I didn't appreciate anything. I was a dumb, selfish kid," Tom admitted last week. "I think I'm improving. I've learned to write thank-you notes to sponsors, or get my wife to do it. I think I'm capable of being a great player. I want to be and I think I will be. There's no doubt in my mind that I'm going to win several major championships. One of these days it's going to start happening."
GEORGE ARCHER: It is generally felt that Archer couldn't win a charisma race if he kept Jill St. John in his golf bag. What George can do, however, is play golf. And if one were to take a vote among the pros of who the most underrated player on the tour is, it would be Archer. Other than Nicklaus, he's the only player so far in 1972 to win more than one event. Archer opened the year with a victory at Los Angeles and later added Greensboro. In between, he lost a playoff at Tucson. He's quietly hanging in there at second on the money list with more than $100,000. In fact, he's always there.