Apparently stars are going to keep getting born, in and around Hollywood. Norman Maine will continue to stroll into the ocean until his hat floats, while Esther Blodgett is singing herself into Vicki Lester. Now, listen, Pat Fitzsimons. You're going out on that golf course a simple nobody from Salem, Ore., but you're coming back a winner. See that town down there below Riviera Country Club? It's yours, Pat Fitzsimons. No one can stop you now, kid. Your putter is tap-dancing on destiny.
Strange things are happening this year in professional golf when Johnny Miller is not winning a tournament. They are being won by an odd assortment of individuals. A Gene Littler, coming back from an illness, for example, or a J. C. Snead in a straw hat with a famous uncle, or a Gary Groh, who had never won before. And now this 24-year-old named Pat Fitzsimons, who last week stunned a great golf course, Riviera, and the strongest field of the new season by overwhelming everybody in the Los Angeles Open.
All the more amazingly, Fitzsimons made it look as if he had been doing this sort of thing forever: going out before thousands of people and firing a course-record 64 on Saturday, and then coming back for Sunday's final round and standing up coolly, stylishly and unbendingly to a closing rush from a pack of strong players, not the least of whom was Jack (Himself) Nicklaus.
Fitzsimons, who had little to recommend him other than the fact that he had made four cuts last year and had won something like $10,000, which is what Nicklaus marks his ball with, seized control of the tournament in the third round. He held a six-stroke lead on the field going into Sunday, but that would not be very secure if, for instance, Nicklaus were to shoot a 65. Fitzsimons, like all Fitzsimonses, was odds-on to go for an 80.
"Sleeping on a six-stroke lead is like looking at a three-foot putt for about five hours, and then finally having to putt it," said Fitzsimons, trying to describe what it was like to hang on the ledge of fame all night.
All he did, however, was continue to box Riviera around. On Sunday he shot a steady one-under 70, and this gave him a 72-hole total of 275, and a four-stroke margin over Tom Kite, who shot a fine 68. Nicklaus' spectacular finish—Jack did shoot 65—gave him third place and a "victory" over Johnny Miller, for those keeping up with the Nicklaus-Miller soap opera.
Fitzsimons has shaggy red hair, wears wire-rimmed glasses and has a good golf swing. Remarkably, he did not play a single practice round at Riviera. One wondered at first why it took him three days to get from San Diego to L.A., refusing to allow himself a single glance at the tough old course until his 7:15 a.m. starting time on Thursday. Perhaps he had been playing his way up Highway 405. Actually, he had flown to New Orleans to attend a turf convention, a command performance for his sponsors on the tour, those genial folks who bring you Penncross bent.
"I had several schemes in mind," Fitzsimons said, reflecting on how he spent Saturday night with his lead. "I thought, well, I'm six up and it's match play. I thought maybe I'll just try to shoot a 74. I also thought, why don't I try to go out and attack again? What I finally decided to do was just play one shot at a time."
He did that very well. His only shaky moment came on the next-to-last hole. "For some reason I suddenly got negative on the tee," he said. "I tried to guide the ball." He drove into a terrible uphill lie in a bunker, had to waste a stroke getting out, veered off another wood shot and ultimately reached the green in four with a long wedge. He was now a delicate 20 feet downhill from the cup. You had to think he had started to panic. He could easily three-putt and then do something equally horrible on Riviera's rugged 18th hole. For the inexperienced, a four-shot lead with two holes to go is not a lock.
But wait. The putt staggered into the cup for a par. Fitzsimons had not lost a thing. In fact, he had in that second won the $30,000 first prize for sure, something he had started doing the day before when he shot the 64.