Maybe Fuzzy Zoeller plays golf the way everybody should. Hit it, go find it, hit it again. Grin, have a smoke, take a sip, make a joke and every so often win a major championship. That's how Fuzzy went about things in the 84th U.S. Open on the contrary and confining layout of old-fashioned Winged Foot in the New York City suburb of Mamaroneck. Most often, Zoeller laughed his way out of trouble, and when he wasn't doing that, he putted his way out. "It's only my career, folks," Zoeller would say to the gallery on finding himself in the trees or in the rough or in a bunker. The popular Zoeller started winning the Open on Sunday when his putter and his raucous followers turned Hale Irwin, the three-day leader, into a more nearsighted fellow than he is. However, the Great White Shark, Greg Norman, played the last three holes by way of his native Australia but somehow made three pars at Winged Foot in New York and forced the 18-hole playoff. It was expected to be a stirring contest between two of the longest-hitting gorillas in the sport, but it was more or less over after the second hole. That was where Zoeller took a three-stroke lead with a 68-foot birdie putt while Norman three-putted from 25 feet for a double bogey. After that, Fuzzy never looked back, except to see if the Shark was still tied to the boat.
Fuzzy began the playoff with a joke on the first tee, by taking a telephone out of his golf bag and handing it to Norman. "I don't have any snakes, but I do have a phone," he said. "Would you like to make a last call?" Norman, a good-natured fellow himself, played along. The reference to snakes, of course, had to do with the rubber reptile Lee Trevino had thrown at Jack Nicklaus before their Open playoff at Merion in 1971, after which Lee went out and beat Jack by three shots. On Monday, Zoeller defeated Norman by a record eight strokes, 67 to 75, his 67 merely representing the lowest round ever fired in an Open playoff. Every now and then, the Open rewards humor.
It quickly became obvious that the 29-year-old Norman had used up all of his miracles on Sunday. In the playoff, he three-putted three of the first five greens, and at the turn Zoeller held a five-stroke lead with a one-under 34 to Norman's four-over 39. Zoeller then birdied the 12th and 14th holes to remove whatever doubt remained.
Later, as Norman stood on the 18th tee, trailing by eight strokes, he said to Zoeller, "Double or nothing?"
Said Fuzzy, "Only if you promise to hit your second shot where you did yesterday."
On Sunday Norman had hit his six-iron approach into the bleachers, but later holed a memorable 40-foot putt from the fringe of the green to force the playoff. Now, after his approach to 18, Zoeller faced almost the same putt, meaningless as it was. He could have nine-putted and still won. He looked at Norman for the line, and Norman pointed to a brown patch that he had used as a reference point on Sunday.
Fuzzy's ball didn't come near the cup, didn't take the five-foot break that Norman's had.
"You'd never make a caddie out here," Fuzzy said with a grin.
What to make of Frank Urban Zoeller Jr. now? He has added a U.S. Open to the Masters he won in a sudden-death playoff over Ed Sneed and Tom Watson in 1979. That's two majors in two playoffs for the 32-year-old quipster out of New Albany, Ind., a guy who swears he doesn't take the game all that seriously, who is plagued with a back ailment dating from childhood that restricts his practice, who likes wine and cigarettes and entertaining the crowds. "Those people make my living," he says of the paying spectators. What other player on the tour would pause in the early going of a U.S. Open playoff to walk across a green and shake hands with a sportswriter, to kiss a lady in the gallery, to chat with a drunk?
The tour needs more people like Fuzzy Zoeller, who has taken the torch from Lee Trevino, who took it from Jimmy Demaret, who took it from Walter Hagen. Men of levity. Small wonder the New York crowds embraced Fuzzy from the start. They adopted the only guy who wasn't out there brooding and complaining, and his victory was their reward. It just took an extra day because a shark went momentarily berserk.