Almost without attention, Lee Trevino this year passed Arnold Palmer and moved into second place on golf's all-time money-winning list. While Trevino's Professional Golf Association earnings of $1.8 million are still a long way from Jack Nicklaus' $3.3 million, and while Tom Watson, Hubert Green, Nicklaus, Andy Bean and Dr. Gil Morgan earned more money in 1978, Trevino had his best year in the last seven. Finally recovering from the severe back problems that had plagued him since 1976, he took in $228,723, a healthy sum even considering today's inflated purses.
Trevino competed in 25 tournaments and pocketed checks in 24, missing out only at the Tournament Players Championship at Sawgrass near Jacksonville, Fla. in March. "Sawgrass," he said at the time, "isn't a bad course, considering it's the best one designed by Ray Charles."
The PGA's final statistics for 1978 reveal other things of interest to the millions of mortals who swing a club as if trying to shoo a cat with a broom. These are just a few.
This year five of the 24 players who earned more than $100,000 failed to win a single tournament. Bob Gilder bagged $72,515 and never finished in the top three in his 31 starts. Keith Fergus, a second-year player out of Sugarland, Texas played the most rounds (117); Nicklaus, a 17-year player out of Fort Knox, Ky., the fewest (56). Hale Irwin won none of his 22 tournaments but got a check every time he teed it up, and earned $191,666. Irwin also ran his record to 86 tournament starts without missing a cut, dating back to 1975. Dean Refram, Max Anderson and Jack Sommers won $94, $90 and $43 respectively.
Probably also because of inflation, holes in one in tour tournaments increased from 16 in 1977 to 30 in 1978, with five of them coming at Whitemarsh near Philadelphia. Nearly one-quarter of all tournaments played (10 of 42) resulted in playoffs but only one went beyond two extra holes.
Also unlike mere mortals, the pros managed to get rained out only twice on either a Saturday or a Sunday.
Two weeks from now, Santa Anita will open its 42nd season, offering the best winter thoroughbred racing in the world. Affirmed will run there and so will Exceller, along with a spectacular 3-year-old named Radar Ahead and a highly promising California-bred Kentucky Derby candidate called Flying Paster. But what isn't going to be at Santa Anita may turn out to be the most important news of all.
Santa Anita is dropping exacta betting, in which bettors are required to pick the finish of a race exactly 1-2. Geniuses capable of doing so are often rewarded with huge payoffs, but it is no secret that more than 90% of racing's recent scandals have evolved from races on which exotic wagers of one type or another were allowed. Santa Anita thus became the first major track to drop an exotic form of wagering. The move will be closely watched by tracks everywhere. Management really is saying that it knows what the problem is and is willing to bet that the cure is to eliminate opportunities for chicanery.