Like a tax refund or a wife who sleeps late on weekends, golf can be a soothing affair when your head feels as if it should be covered with an Argyle sock and stowed away in a closet. As a curative, a mashie niblick ranks right up there with carrot juice. Golf helps tan your skin and keeps you thin, numbs those clusters of raw ganglia and eliminates the overbite in an acidic stomach. What is it doctors say? "Take two aspirin, play nine holes and call me in the morning."
Thus the professional golf tour last week wended its way to Southern California, a place where it never rains on your inorganic asparagus, all the way down to San Diego and Rancho La Costa—a luxurious drying-out place for reformed hedonists. There golf's elite mixed their crushed-mink head covers with their adoring fans' sable wraps in the Tournament of Champions.
It was a gathering spot for fat cats, and Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino found the surroundings more familiar than surreal. They especially liked the golf course, a bristling layout that snapped back when it was wronged. Its small greens, tight fairways and championship rough weeded out the shaky backswings and nervous leaders and produced another in those classic battles between Nicklaus and Trevino. Nicklaus won with a final round of 68 for a 276 total, and Trevino finished second, one stroke behind. The $23,404 boosted Trevino's career earnings to $985,138, which, Lee reasoned, "is a bunch of hot sauce to a dumb Mex." Nicklaus' career earnings are being tabulated by five IBM vice-presidents who have thus far worn out three computers.
This was the 21st T of C event and in an age when the Blazer Open is here one year and a memory the next, that is a pretty good record for longevity. The tournament forms a collage of the tour winners from the previous 12 months and it is the only one that carries a mere one-year exemption to the winner. This time Billy Casper missed the event after 16 straight appearances but 31 other players showed up, with convalescing Gary Player declining an invitation. Each man was guaranteed at least $2,000 in prize money, admittedly a long way from the first-place check of $40,000, but then again one did not have to play in any of those bothersome pro-ams.
One participant, however, left La Costa feeling a little more dejected than when he first entered the gates. Tommy Aaron, winner of the Masters two weeks before, had shed that embarrassing reputation of having a tight collar, but he suffered through a sorry week of tinkering vainly with his swing every day as he groped to regain the touch that had favored him at Augusta. Finally Tommy finished tied for 27th, which in view of the distractions he endured as the newest man to wear Masters green, might have been expected.
Many of the players spent the week donning togas and visiting the sumptuous spa where they were bathed, massaged, baked, basted, kneaded and generally rejuvenated by everything from saunas and 28 different flavors of whirlpools to something called an Oriental back walk. Even Nicklaus and Trevino joined in the get-well-quick schemes. Jack arrived at the tournament determined to lose a few pounds after irregular eating habits had dented his diet and puffed his middle. Following the Masters he jumped on a jet plane and spent 23 hours airborne in five days, visiting golf courses he is constructing in the neighboring cities of Cincinnati, Columbus, and Madrid. And Trevino was hurting. He went fishing in Mexico several weeks ago and since then his left shoulder had ached—from pulling in fish, he says. At La Costa the spa experts told Supermex the best remedy was massage and rest, so Lee visited the practice tee only after the second round. "It could cost me the tournament," he fretted, "because I'm just not sharp with the irons. That's not me out there."
After the opening day's play on Thursday Jim Colbert held the lead with a 66 as more than half the field matched or bettered par. "It's the first round," explained Tommy Jacobs, the host pro. "They're going to make putts in the first round." But Aaron had a 75 that included seven trips into the six-inch-high rough.
Colbert slumped to a 76 on Friday as Trevino went to the front with a 71 for a total of 139, a shot up on Nicklaus and J. C. Snead. Arnold Palmer, like Nicklaus and Gene Littler a three-time winner of the T of C, was tied at 141 with Bruce Crampton.
But neither Nicklaus nor Trevino was happy with his game and they both hied to the practice area. On Saturday they were scheduled to be paired together.
"Hey there, One-Putt," Jack called to Lee. "We got each other tomorrow."