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The Bing Crosby National Pro-Am golf tournament, which is contested on the tweed coat Riviera, otherwise known as the Monterey Peninsula, is something on the order of a Winter Masters. This was especially true last week, what with nearly Augustan weather and Jack Nicklaus getting into more fixes than Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.
In addition, this year's Crosby had more things going for it than usual—not that there's ever a lack of glamour and splendor when people are hanging around such ghettos as Pebble Beach and Cypress Point within sight of crashing waves and hung-over celebrities. Mostly, it had a gang of established stars, notably Nicklaus, thrashing around among a bunch of unknown and winless pros with names like David Edwards.
What the tournament finally developed into on Sunday, the fourth consecutive day of glorious weather and low scoring, was a Crosby that for much of the day looked as though it might produce the first 15-way tie in the history of double knits. Virtually the entire Official PGA Tour Media Guide seemed to be in contention after Nicklaus shot the first six holes of the day at Pebble Beach in 20 strokes and the next six in 27. It went thusly: par-birdie-birdie-birdie-par-eagle. Then: bogey-double bogey-bogey-par-par-bogey.
The situation this created with less than nine holes remaining resembled a traffic jam on the 17-Mile Drive. No fewer than 15 players were only three strokes apart, and guys like Edwards, Keith Fergus and Dan Pohl found themselves sharing the lead with Gil Morgan and George Burns III. In the final hour, however, a slow-rolling, 60-foot birdie came out of the shade on the edge of the 16th green and disappeared into the cup, while just about everybody else either had already gone tumbling into Carmel Bay or was about to. Thanks to this putt, Burns was the winner, with steady rounds of 71, 69, 71 and 69, which added up to a check for $54,000. The only man on the tour with a Roman numeral in his name, Burns had overtaken the emperor of golf, Nicklaus.
Burns actually wound up defeating Pohl, a pro with whom he had something in common, mainly that neither of them had ever won an individual victory on the tour. The only thing Burns had ever done there, aside from develop a reputation as a choker, was team up with his friend Ben Crenshaw to win the National Team title last October. And the only thing Pohl had done was get himself known as one of the longest hitters since King Kong.
Nicklaus' collapse on Sunday after taking a two-stroke lead through six holes made it possible for a stranger to win the Crosby. Pohl looked as if he might be that man after searing Pebble Beach's back nine in 30, a mere six-under, for a closing round of 67, which got him off the premises with a total of 281.
When that became the number to beat, most of the players except Burns began rattling off bogeys. He had already chipped in for a birdie at the 13th, always a good omen, and when the whopper fell at the 16th, he had the lead that Nicklaus and the others had frittered away. Now he only needed to par the last two holes. There was the chance, of course, that this would not be easy for Burns. His nerves had blown a number of opportunities in the past, and his swing features a flying right elbow. But he played 17 and 18 steadily, without a hint of coughing, and he was able to say, "Chalk one up for the funny swingers."
Burns also said, "You have to pay your dues out here." In his case, this may have meant that he spent his first four years on the tour trying to get a silver spoon out of his mouth. The Roman numeral in his name allowed him to learn about golf in a prep school instead of a caddie pen, and the course he called home was the National Golf Links in Southampton, N.Y. But Burns is a big, likable guy, and he could take the kidding when people like Crenshaw asked him if he had leather patches on his driver and what fraternity his eight-iron had pledged.
In victory, Burns gave credit to Crenshaw for helping him with his attitude, teaching him about patience and telling him not to worry about where the right elbow is going or how it might look peculiar to anyone other than Miller Barber.
Burns might also have taken the opportunity to thank Nicklaus for opening the gate. A poor wedge shot made it almost impossible for Nicklaus to do anything but three-putt the par-3 7th for a bogey. Then a terrible four-iron at the eighth put him into such bad rough that he had to take two stabs at the ball to get it out. That was the double bogey. The rest of the damage came on the greens.