A morning as perfect as this one should be preserved in Lucite, if not fine crystal. The day has come up dazzling—mild, with a faint trace of pine and sweet myrtle carried on the wind. The golf course is turning a lusher, late-spring green, and on both sides of the fairways are dunes of soft white sand. They are there to threaten the golfers, but they carry no menace on a day like this. The threesome, each man attired in the pastels of golf, ambles along, not caring about scores, chatting idly about swings and techniques. If one were to stand off to the side and watch these golfers, for sure this thought would arise: Some people are born to the game, among them the junior member of the threesome—The Young Man Who Has Everything.
The Young Man Who Has Everything has, of course, all the strokes. He also is lean and tanned to the proper shade, which is to say not too dark. His hair is perfectly sculptured and falls softly back into place after a wind ruffles it. Though he's only 20 years old, he seems completely self-assured, a trait that will likely mark him for the rest of his life.
Dick Home, a member of the threesome, comfortably thick-waisted and balding, watches the Young Man Who Etc. stroll along the fairway and nods appreciatively. "That there boy is 20 growin' on 35, as they say," he says. "And I swear, he already knows what he can do. He can't sing like his ol' daddy, and he can't act like his sister or older brother—and he knows he doesn't want to get into show business. And while he has been handed just about everything that a body could ever want, he has discovered the secret of this here life: You can't inherit a good golf game."
Thus does one come upon Nathaniel Patrick Crosby, Bing's boy, on a sparkling day outside Charleston, S.C. as he strives to develop about the only thing he didn't inherit. But with respect to his golf, he's much more than just Bing's boy. He's the U.S. Amateur champion—a remarkable achievement for anybody's boy—and, casual as he appears to be about his game, he's dead serious in his ambition to improve and become a golfer of consistent excellence. It's a painstaking and, lately, painful undertaking.
Right now, it seems there are too few flashes of brilliance and too many days of mediocre and occasionally dumb play. Enough to cause irritation but not yet despair. The Young Man Who Etc. wears his embarrassments politely. "I suppose it's a good thing for me to fall on my fanny so soon after winning the Amateur," he says. "Maybe if I'd gone on winning, I'd have been awfully hard to live with by now." Then he smiles, a bit ruefully, indicating that, well, he couldn't ever really be hard to live with. "I guess that maybe a more gradual success will be the best thing for me."
It will have to be. Ever since he won the Amateur last September in San Francisco, 1 up in 37 holes over Brian Lindley of Fountain Valley, Calif., Crosby has done a disappearing act. In his last seven PGA tournaments, he hasn't once made the cut. In the North-South Amateur at Pinehurst a couple of weeks ago, he was eliminated 4 and 3 on the first day. In the NCAA tournament that immediately followed, in which he played for his University of Miami team, Crosby shot a 4-over-par 292, good for a six-way tie for 32nd place.
Then he was off to England for last week's British Amateur, where he was defeated in the first round by Briton David Gilford, 4 and 3. Next week he'll play in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. There, Crosby will be more than just the U.S. Amateur champion making his well-earned appearance in the game's most prestigious tournament. Pebble Beach is the course where the final round of the tournament that bears his father's name is played each winter. In many ways, Pebble is home for Crosby, the place where the campaign that may or may not pay off began.
Emulating his dad, Crosby is forever playing new courses, studying the game and expecting that someday, somehow, everything will fall into place. At almost every stop along the way, family friends are waiting to help. Here in South Carolina it's Home, an insurance executive and local amateur champion, and Raymond Finch, chairman of the board of Wild Dunes, the vast new development on the Isle of Palms near Charleston, on whose Tom Fazio-designed course the threesome is playing.
Midway through the 14th hole, Crosby offers a crumb of knowledge gleaned a few weeks before in one of his college courses. "Edgar Allan Poe's short story, The Gold-Bug, is set right here," he says. "Poe used to hang out in this part of the country."
Sure enough, looming up on the right, enormously gnarled and lumpy, is Wild Dunes' official Gold-Bug Tree, as it's listed on the course maps. It's a very old oak, so full of pits and hollows from lightning bolts that it could hold a couple of thousand badly hit golf balls. "It was from 'way on up in that very tree," says Finch, "that old whatchamacallit dangled the gold beetle through the eye of the skull to locate the buried treasure, remember?"