SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
February 12, 1979
A tragicomic last round of the Bing Crosby saw leads disappear and putts roll without end until Lon Hinkle finally won on the third extra hole
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February 12, 1979

It Happened In Monterey

A tragicomic last round of the Bing Crosby saw leads disappear and putts roll without end until Lon Hinkle finally won on the third extra hole

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Hinkle prefers to think it was settling down that made him a better player. "Before I got married, I played golf 48 weeks a year," he says. "I didn't even have an apartment. I played golf and hung out in motel bars, which isn't where you improve your golf or find a wife."

True—as is the fact that there is always more to a Crosby than who wins it.

One of the problems in following any Crosby is that because the tournament is played on three courses of varying difficulty, it is hard to judge exactly who is really leading until Saturday evening, when everyone has played every course. For instance, on Thursday Jay Haas, Graham Marsh and Mike McCullough shared the lead with 68s, but McCullough and Marsh had played at Cypress Point, the easiest of the three courses, so Haas' 68 at Pebble Beach may have put him slightly ahead. Then again, perhaps the true leaders were Hinkle and Peter Jacobsen at 70, for they had played Spyglass Hill, which was so tough last week not one player was below 70 on it.

On Friday Hinkle emerged as the clear-cut leader, his 68 at Pebble putting him two strokes ahead of Curtis Strange and Leonard Thompson. Bean and Hayes were well down the list, seven and eight strokes back, and behind them came many of the players one might expect to win the tournament. Tom Watson, who had won it the last two years, was at 148, 10 strokes behind Hinkle. So was Tom Weiskopf. Hubert Green was in back of them, and Hale Irwin, Lee Trevino and Jerry Pate, all destined to miss the cut, were even farther behind. For the record—and he was coming close—it was the first time in 86 events that Irwin had missed a cut, dating back to the 1975 Tucson Open.

Hinkle looked as if he had put the Crosby away for good on Saturday when he played Cypress in 69 and increased his lead to five strokes over Hayes, who had his brilliant 66 at Pebble. Because there are no scoreboards at Cypress, Hinkle didn't know what his situation was, nor did he learn much on the ride back to the press room at Pebble, when he heard a radio report announcing that he had played at Spyglass.

"I didn't have any idea what the other guys were doing," Hinkle said later. "I just kept plugging away, trying to make birdies. Then I heard that I shot a 68 at Spyglass for a six-stroke lead. That's O.K. With Mark giving me five shots, that's the kind of game I'm looking for."

As usual, the pro-am part of the tournament was probably settled before play began—by the handicapping committee. To those pro-am veterans familiar with his golf game, giving 14 strokes to Bill Bunting virtually gave him all the Waterford crystal and other amateur prize goodies before the first man teed off last Thursday. Bunting is a real-estate developer from Tampa, Fla. when he isn't playing in almost as many golf tournaments as Gerald Ford.

Other teams who were attempting to catch up with Bunting, who was playing with Andy Bean, wondered why the tournament committee didn't just give Bunting a loaded gun and a mask instead of 14 strokes. Well, old Bill was smart enough to play to his handicap on Pebble's 18th hole while he was on television Sunday. That was where he hit all of his golf balls amongst the seals and abalone. Before that, however, he did whatever it took to get his team to the 31-under-par figure that it finished with to win the pro-am division by six shots.

For reasons having to do with the complicated handicap-scoring system, few low-handicap amateurs ever make it to the final round, which is why the 17-year-old tournament chairman, Nathaniel Crosby, was a spectator on Sunday. Nathaniel is a stylish golfer who plays to a one handicap, which is about how his daddy played the game when he was young. When Nathaniel wasn't attending to his chairman duties, he was driving the ball almost as far as his partner, Jerry Pate, and looking very much like one of the new-breed regulars on the tour. Otherwise, he was being exceedingly charming and articulate beyond his years and asking various committee members if it was O.K. if he took a nap now.

In the end, the most telling naps were taken by Hinkle and Hayes. Hinkle had to dribble away his lead with a succession of bogeys, and Hayes had to blow his lead by playing the 15th like Lemmon and Eastwood, which allowed Andy Bean to come on and make it a threesome. But then they went back out on the golf course and played like amateurs again until Lon Hinkle finally played a hole like Lon Hinkle.

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