Meanwhile, the exempt players—the stars—were rarely seen. Trevino was living and practicing way off at a place called Foxfire. Nicklaus was tending to business. Frank Beard lounged by a swimming pool over in Pinehurst proper. And Palmer was everywhere.
On Tuesday, Palmer and Nicklaus played an exhibition in Baltimore and on Tuesday night Arnold turned up in President Nixon's box at the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach. On Wednesday he appeared for a Pro-Am on the North Carolina premises but on Thursday he was in Indianapolis having his jet looked over. He returned on Friday, late in the day, to play five practice holes just as Bies and Moran were winning spots in the match play in a playoff with Jerry McGee.
Some of the match-play entrants—Beard, George Archer and Jerry Heard—managed to squeeze in practice rounds during the medal competition by leaping onto the course between pairings at midday. This answered the question of how they would practice. The tournament's public-relations director, Bob Drum, had predicted they would be able to do so by being "very nimble."
At the start of the week there had been some speculation that a player might be tempted to make an intentional bogey—or worse—on the 36th hole of medal play and thereby fail to make the match play, which would, in fact, leave him leading the stroke play. But everybody said they wouldn't want to do this. A certain status was at stake, to get into the match play. Plus, a match-play competitor was guaranteed $5,000, whereas he would have to finish as high as fourth in the other tournament to make that much.
Anyhow, it was all debunked when McGee and Moran went four extra holes, right into Friday's darkness, to settle the last qualifying spot for the match play. Nobody was shaving points, in other words.
And when McGee came limping into the hotel, carrying his clubs over his shoulder, he couldn't really be consoled by the fact that, even though he had lost a playoff, he was actually leading another tournament.
"I don't know what I'm supposed to feel," Jerry said.
What it all really amounted to was that the tournament that mattered, the U.S. Match Play Championship, finally got started on Saturday morning with the deck stacked for the good players, the crowd-pleasers. If the stars could just muddle through against the nobodies, everybody would have a good time and everybody would be happy.
But right away, everybody was reminded that match-play golf doesn't always accommodate the wishes of sponsors or fans. Even before lunch on Saturday, four of the exempt players—Palmer, Archer, Miller Barber and Heard—were beaten and by nightfall Trevino was gone, too. This left the sponsors huddled in the pines, praying for Nicklaus. They were asking deliverance from a Bies-Hiskey final that might bury match play forever—and L&M along with it. Nicklaus did his part to save the match play, but TV buried the rest.