SI Vault
Barry McDermott
February 12, 1973
With only big-time baseball and football players in the tournament, what happened on the links never figured to be much. But poolside at El Conquistador was another story. There the action was all-star
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February 12, 1973

Putt-on At An Un-golf Classic

With only big-time baseball and football players in the tournament, what happened on the links never figured to be much. But poolside at El Conquistador was another story. There the action was all-star

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But wholesale debauchery was mostly an illusion. The spectator-tourists liked to believe that the young girls around the resort were playing star-swapping. They relished the thought of the athletes drinking themselves into stupors and then passing out on the floor of the men's rest room (as indeed one memorable former invitee did last year). And they wanted to see celebrities spraying $100 chips around the casino.

Alas, most of the athletes were with their wives, who long ago discovered the hazards of separate vacations. And about the only evidence of that good, good alcoholic feeling came when a Bench or a Bobby Murcer or a Norm Cash would climb up on stage in the hotel nightclub and sing. For the most part they sounded like the guys at your neighborhood parties except they weren't wearing lampshades. And a lot of the professionals, especially those blessed with watchful spouses, stuck resolutely to the $1 chips, although Willie Mays hit a couple of grand-slammers one night and walked out with about $1,200.

Generally speaking, the athletes took the golf and the solemnity of the event about as seriously as they would a Fan Photo Day. They were more interested in comparing sunburns. "Look at my partner," hooted Wayne Walker, waving at Norm Cash. "His skin is so white that he looks like he lives in a coffin. I have to pull the stake out of his heart each morning before we go play."

But there were occasional zealots. " Jim Lonborg really wants to win," said Mike Lucci, shaking his head over his dedicated partner. "I don't know how to break the news to him that we got no chance. We've got no way with me playing. He's out there today playing a practice round with the greenskeeper, learning the grass. I saw 'em. He was pumped up. I said, 'How you doing?' He said, 'Great. We're three under.' I told him, 'What do you mean, we're? I'm not even playing with you.' "

Professional Golfer Dave Stockton had a busy week. Stockton, who has a working agreement with American Airlines, was present to hit a few shots and try to correct some golf swings. He went out one day and shot a 40 for nine holes and was abashed to learn that Jimmy Wynn had gone around in 39.

Stockton also informed Norm Cash that he ought to quit playing left-handed. Cash is a blithe spirit who wears cowboy boots, talks country and lives happy. Last year he shot a 32 on the first nine holes, including an eagle on the opening hole—a feat that so excited him that while hugging his partner, Walker, he spiked him in the foot, causing Walker to limp around the course the rest of the day. "I didn't even know what I was doing during that nine holes," said Cash later. "We were late teeing off and by the time we were ready to go I had had five or six drinks."

Handicaps were the subject of frequent debates. "You put down what you think you can get away with," said Cash. The golfers police themselves through a handicap committee that endeavors to keep things on a level of parity, but for the most part the committee only strengthens the impression that athletes should never be allowed to officiate their own games. Ron Santo and Willie Richardson both are on the committee, which someone said was akin to asking Bonnie and Clyde to hold your money while you went to use the telephone. "I don't even want to win," protested the genial Santo, a victor with George Andrie in the 1970 event. "I've won before. I want some of the young guys to get a chance." Moaned Lucci, "Well, why don't you play with Lonborg then so he can win? I think he's really counting on it."

Predictably, Lonborg was to be disappointed. With Lucci he finished 20 shots behind the winners at 197. "I told you so," said Lucci to Lonborg.

Unser and Kelly didn't add to the good name of the handicap committee. After their first-day 57, the two patched together a 61 and a final round of 59 for a five-stroke edge over Juan Marichal and Bruce Gossett. Unser was playing with a 16 handicap, Kelly a 22—though both blushingly admitted that they had broken 80 on past occasions. Among those muttering about the result were Jim Palmer and handicap committee member Richardson, who won the event last year. They were, at least, familiar with the problems of avarice.

Other teams had other problems. Bobby Murcer's hand ran into something early Friday morning and he had to withdraw, leaving Ed Podolak to find a new partner. And of course there was the celebrated dissolution of the Namath-Mays combination when Namath missed a wake-up call and arrived 40 minutes late at the 1st tee Friday to find a distressed and jittery Mays waiting with patience long since expended. "Say hey," said Mays, or words to that effect. "I'm not playing with him." Officials judiciously placed Mays with Donny Anderson and teamed Namath with Steve Blass. Contrite, Namath even appeared at the official tournament cocktail party later in the evening.

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