It was just after 6:30 p.m. last Monday, and the big question around the nation's capital was whether the PGA Championship was going to last longer than the Republican Convention that was starting in Kansas City. Well, you know how they say that nothing works in Washington. After all the lightning, thunder, rain, wind, postponements and double bogeys had turned the PGA at the Congressional Country Club into something more like a comedy than a major championship, Dave Stockton stood in the twilight fretting over a 15-foot putt for a par 4 on the last green.
Stockton does not miss many putts. He is the kind of player of whom his contemporaries say, "Dave shot an 80 but turned in his usual 69." Meaning the putts dropped like sweat beads and that he swiped a good score.
So Stockton swiped the PGA when he crouched over that final putt and rolled it right into the heart of the cup—and also into the hearts of Raymond Floyd and Don January, both waiting for Stockton to miss so the three of them could get on with the first sudden-death playoff in a major championship.
Stockton survived one of the weirdest tournaments of any year, and one of the most bizarre final rounds. Six different men led over the last tortuous 18 holes, including three normally reliable veterans who frittered their chances away with atrocious double bogeys just when it seemed they had taken command.
Before Stockton began doing what he does so splendidly, getting it up and down and in from Asia Minor, Charlie Coody, who had started the brisk, sunny day with a two-stroke lead, hit a shot next to a tree and made a double bogey at the 3rd hole. Then Jack Nicklaus, who had taken a one-stroke lead, hit a medium iron into the water and took a double bogey at the 6th hole. Then January, who had gained a two-stroke lead on everybody, hit a long iron shot into the water and took a double bogey at the 10th hole. Floyd and January finally finished at 282, two over par. Nicklaus was at 283, while Dr. Gil Morgan and Tom Kite, who had provided some early excitement, were at 284 and 286, respectively.
Stockton flirted with doom before he got to the 18th hole. Back on the 13th and 14th he hit the ball sideways and made bogeys to blow a two-stroke lead. He was snap-hooking and slicing, but avoided the large catastrophe by sinking all his missable putts, like the eight-footer that saved a bogey at the 14th. Stockton, in fact, used only 53 putts over his last 36 holes.
On the 17th Stockton hit a marvelous bunker shot from under the lip and sank the three-foot putt to save par and his one-shot lead. He drove straight for a change off the 18th tee, but he still had a 235-yard, two-iron shot to the hole that all of Congressional looks down on, a gorgeous par 4 with a green sitting like a barge on water.
Stockton's shot was woefully short of the green, but safe. Then his chip shot, usually one of his strong points, was horrible. It left him all of those agonizing 15 feet to the cup, but he made the putt for an even-par 70 and the 281 that prevented the PGA from lasting forever.
Much of the pretournament talk centered on Johnny Miller, the British Open champ who had called in sick from California after falling off his motorcycle and cutting his right hand, and Tom Weiskopf, whose practice rounds had been dazzling. "I feel bad for Miller, but if you're going to ride a motorcycle, do it in the off-season," said Nicklaus, who makes like a budding Franz Klammer in December. While Weiskopf was hitting the ball splendidly, a few tour insiders wondered about his temperament.
The public and, in fact, many of his fellow pros didn't know it, but Weiskopf recently was slapped with a $3,000 fine and placed on probation for one year by Tournament Players Division Commissioner Deane Beman for what might be termed conduct unbecoming. It had to do with Weiskopf's withdrawal from the recent Westchester Classic, his fourth too-hasty retreat from a tournament this season. The probation means that Terrible Tom will have to be Wonderful Tom for the next 12 months or face an even sterner penalty from Beman. "I'm trying to change my attitude," Weiskopf said once again.