There was some evidence at the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am last week that professional golf might be headed for the boutiques as a kind of traveling arts and handicraft exhibit. Out there on the Monterey Peninsula at what is the biggest and most important event of the winter, a lot of golf balls were dressed louder than the players, and they kept making these orange and lime-green streaks through the air. And then Jim Simons, the man who eventually won the tournament with a dramatic surge in the late-going Sunday afternoon, began showing everyone up with a trusty little driver and a three-wood made out of oyster-colored metal. Next: Jack Nicklaus lip gloss for talking to putts that won't drop.
The 41st annual Crosby was quite a competition despite the interior decorating jokes and despite the fact that it looked like no tournament at all with only 11 holes left to play. This was the point at which the beefy and often irate Craig (Walrus) Stadler—no designer, he—led the quiet Simons and everybody else by five strokes.
The only question then seemed to be whether anything would be left of the Pebble Beach course when Stadler got through chewing on it. He had taken command of the tournament on Saturday by plowing under Cypress Point with a 64, and through the first seven holes at Pebble on Sunday he was five under for the day and making it suddenly seem as if the USGA had made a horrible mistake in scheduling this June's U.S. Open there.
Stadler, however, is a long-hitting golfer who is big on smoldering tantrums, and his game can suddenly go bad. This doesn't normally happen to him in the middle of a round, however. He's a dependable front-runner and had already won the Tucson Open this year. But Pebble Beach, which had been disarmed by glorious weather all week and was playing rather easily, got in a couple of counterpunches against Stadler at a time when Simons was slowly and quietly working his way toward a round of 66.
Stadler gave Simons a glimmer of hope by hooking his drive into a fairway bunker and then stumbling to a double bogey on the 9th hole, one of those splendid par fours that sits out there on Abalone Bluff, which is the Amen Corner of Pebble Beach. There was then a birdie-bogey swing between the two men at the 14th hole, and that brought Simons from one behind to one ahead, and seemed to promise a finish tighter than the waist on Stadler's trousers.
The whole thing was finally settled on the scenic par-3 17th when Stadler, using a four-iron off the tee, hit another hook, this one almost going into a gift shop in downtown Carmel, and Simons nailed a three-iron that almost went into the hole.
Before he hit, Simons didn't know exactly where Stadler's ball had wound up, which was down in an unplayable lie on the rocks near the ocean. Simons sized up his shot as a three-iron all by himself. "Craig's intimidating because he's so long," said Simons later. "There's no point in my looking in his bag to see what clubs he uses."
Stadler put a terrible swing on the shot that brought him to ruin. It was sort of a violent gouge, and his hand came off the club on the follow-through. Right away he knew it was a goner, and he muttered one of those phrases of his that you'd never come across in children's literature. Afterward, the Walrus tried to explain what he had done to the shot. "I double-crossed it," he said.
Stadler did a good job of not biting off the handle of his club, and after taking a one-stroke penalty drop, he did an even better job of salvaging a bogey 4. But it would do him no good because Simons sank his 6-foot birdie putt, and the tournament was history. With a two-stroke lead, Simons safely parred the 18th for his record-setting total of 274, which was 14 under par for the two rounds on Pebble Beach plus one round each played at Cypress Point and at Spyglass Hill.
If this was the boutique Crosby, it was probably fitting that Simons wound up being the winner because he is—seriously, folks—legally blind. Simons is now in what you call a "piggyback" situation in which he has to wear two contacts—a soft one and a hard one—in his left eye. (The vision in his right eye is still being corrected by a single lens.) Somehow, during the tournament, the soft contact, the inner lens on his left cornea, had dried out, preventing oxygen from reaching the eye. The condition was very painful. Nor was his frame of mind improved by the misery caused by tendinitis in his left shoulder.