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The pro golf tour took leave of the marshmallow circuit last week, sailed up the California coast, docked at Pebble Beach and got down to some serious golf in the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am. After humbling the desert and embarrassing Hollywood and Vine with a stream of almost unconscious subpar numbers, the big fellows faced all the adversity the Monterey Peninsula can, and usually does, muster. This year that meant gale force winds, saltwater spray, linoleum greens, a little chilling mist and, ultimately, Mark O'Meara, who's neither blond nor clone, but proved himself one tough golfer. Suddenly the palms were sweating instead of swaying.
As usual, the Crosby produced an assortment of strange occurrences. Cypress Point, Spyglass Hill and Pebble Beach can be so challenging, even downright terrifying, that more often than not the tournament is the highlight of the winter tour. Thus the '85 edition had Johnny Miller's magic crutch, a super-elongated putter that supported him for two rounds and then failed; Hal Sutton's very own 87; the derailing of Lanny Wadkins; Marvin (The Refrigerator) Davis, one of the new breed of balance-sheet celebs; a victory bid from a vacationing Japanese pro who owns an indoor driving range; and, of course, O'Meara.
Late Saturday afternoon, on the eve of the final round, O'Meara, the tournament leader by two strokes, was in his car ready to head for a half hour on the practice tee, which he considers a good day's just dessert, when there was a tap on the window.
"That's wonderful playing, Mark," said a smiling Nathaniel Crosby, who is Bing's 23-year-old son and the tournament host. "Go out and win tomorrow. That'd be great."
It was great, because what the 28-year-old O'Meara did with his victory in one of the world's most enduring and endearing tournaments was redo his identity. His changing room was the Pebble Beach Golf Links, where on Sunday he nursed his lead with dexterity and prudence through troubled waters, finally to nail par putts on the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to complete his makeover and earn the $90,000 first-place check.
On any other course, O'Meara's last round might have been called tepid; he made only one birdie against two bogeys. But at Pebble Beach on a day that began with rain and ended in sunshine, 36-37-73, for a five-under-par 283 total, was more than respectable. Tied for second, one stroke back, were Larry Rinker, with birdies on four of the last five holes, Kikuo Arai and Curtis Strange, who had birdies at 10 and 14 and pars the rest of the way in.
On the 18th hole, the classic 548-yard par-5 that runs along some of the more scenic and treacherous beach front to be found anywhere. Strange had a chance to force a playoff, but his 13-foot birdie putt just missed the right edge of the cup. "I really thought Curtis was going to make it," O'Meara would say.
The other player with a good chance at victory was Arai (pronounced awry, which he wasn't all week). Nicknamed The Hat because of his driving range headgear, Arai hung a stroke back of O'Meara over the last nine holes. He was in the tournament for the third time, through a PGA Tour foreign exemption that he got by finishing fourth on the Japanese tour for the last four years. It was sort of a holiday for him. Every winter he brings his son, Kiichiro, 11, to the Western U.S. for asthma therapy.
Arai is the proprietor of an indoor-driving range in Hanno, 20 miles northwest of Tokyo, and the boys back on the mats must have been thrilled because, in 14 appearances on the U.S. tour since 1983, Arai had made the cut only four times. "Is O.K.," he replied to any question the English-speaking press asked him. His 18-foot birdie attempt from just off the green on the 18th rolled harmlessly by the cup. Still, was O.K.
Was O.K., too, for O'Meara, who last year, with a revamped golf swing, had 15 top 10 finishes and pocketed $465,873 on the circuit. That's the third-highest total in tour history, and though O'Meara finished second on the money list to Tom Watson, he remained a member of the chorus largely because his only victory came in the Greater Milwaukee Open. "My goal now is to show people I can play," he said last week.