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In the land of the fake waterfall, the creeping condominium and the orange bouffant wig—good old Rancho La Costa—golf's royalty held its annual reunion last week, the Tournament of Nicklauses. Jack was there, of course, and so were Johnny, Tom, Lee, Lanny, Ben—the whole gang. And, as it sometimes happens, there was one fellow in it who looked as out of place as a guy hanging around on the terraces without a brushed-denim body suit or a pair of white shoes. Sam. No, not Snead, Adams. Sam Adams may well have been the most obscure player ever to have hung around that sumptuous spa for a few days, but he was giddy with excitement all the way because he got to play four full rounds of golf for a change. Sam is usually COD by Friday evening.
The Tournament of Champions is such a select event—it is available only to those pros who have won a trophy over the previous calendar year, and therefore attracts a field of only 25 or so competitors—that everybody is allowed to play the full 72 holes. No cut, in other words. This was a new experience for Sam Adams, who has developed a habit of playing golf on Thursday and Friday and then driving down the highway on Saturday.
For a man who has actually won a professional tournament, Sam Adams has become the cut-missing king of the universe, and a left-handed one at that. He arrived at the Tournament of Champions courtesy of a victory last September in the Quad Cities Open and a lot of happy motoring. Quad Cities attracted the attention of just about everyone in Bettendorf and Davenport, Iowa, along with Moline and Rock Island, Ill. It was such a historic golfing event that the PGA promptly moved it up against the British Open this July, ensuring that even if Sam Adams wins it again he will remain as much a part of the game's non-elite as he was all last week amid the glitter of La Costa's T of C.
"I've heard all the jokes, and they don't bother me," he said one day during the tournament. He was sitting in the sprawling La Costa bar, sipping his favorite beverage, ice water. And he was explaining what a Sam Adams was.
A Sam Adams is a 23-year-old guy from Boone, N.C. who started playing golf left-handed before he realized the mistake he was making. He is a natural righthander when it comes to eating and writing letters.
"I can play right-handed," Sam said, "but not as well. That's kind of funny, isn't it? I'm not real sure I can play golf left-handed at the moment."
He has a point. The record shows that Sam Adams, since winning the Bettendorf, Davenport, Moline and Rock Island Open, has made exactly one cut out of 13 tries. One. It was at the Heritage in March and it earned him $325. That, plus the gratuitous $1,200 given to anyone who turns up at the Masters, was all he had earned in the seven months between Quad Cities and La Costa, where all he had to do was finish last to pick up $3,000.
"I've got a great wife," said Sam. "She doesn't start packing the bags on Friday morning."
Sam Adams has managed to retain his sense of humor through all of his terrible golfing troubles because he is a genuinely nice guy who says he doesn't need the game; he just happens to like it; he just happened to think he could play.
He grew up in the resort area of Boone, in the North Carolina mountains, without having to scratch and hustle for a living. His father is a well-to-do banker, and Sam knows he can go into banking, or become a club pro, if he has to. His exemption on the tour expires Sept. 30, and if he keeps missing cuts and wondering if he ought to go on tranquilizers to live with it—as a doctor recommended to him—he will probably take leave of the circuit as quietly as he joined it.