In the land of cattle and oil, a Levi won a golf tournament last week. It would be a better joke, of course, if Wayne Levi didn't pronounce his name levvy, if he did not come from Whitesboro in upstate New York and if he weren't a product of that noted golf school, Oswego State College. No matter. Levi was at home on the Abilene range as he bulldogged one of the best fields of the year in the LaJet Classic, leaving a passel of Tom Watsons and Craig Stadlers swatting the tumble-weed and wondering just how wise it was for the PGA Tour to take on the look of Texas chic.
For the record, Levi, a tour regular, won $63,000 in Abilene and moved up from 12th to ninth on the money list. You may not be aware of this because at this time of year the tour operates in considerable seclusion. For one thing, there is no televising of any tour event following the World Series of Golf. For another, it is also a period when golf must compete with baseball as well as high school, college and (sometimes) pro football on the nation's sports pages.
Six non-TV PGA Tour events have now been played since golf's World Series in Akron the last week of August, and a tough trivia question would be, "Who won them?" The answer: Calvin Peete took his third title of 1982 in the B.C. Open in Endicott, N.Y.; Bob Gilder, who has a fluffy new hair style he hopes will get him more media attention, won his third tournament when he won The Bank of Boston Classic in Sutton, Mass.; Bobby Clampett, who collapsed so spectacularly at the British Open, finally broke through with his first tour victory at the Southern Open in Columbus, Ga.; and Jay Haas put together back-to-back triumphs in the Hall of Fame Tournament in Pinehurst, N.C. and the Texas Open in San Antonio. These were the lead-ins to Levi's wire-to-wire victory last week.
Moreover, neither the Pensacola Open next week nor the Disney World in Orlando the final week of October, the year's last two events, will be televised, and the press rooms aren't likely to be overflowing with scribes either (there were about half a dozen in Abilene). Therefore, it would seem that when Stadler is officially crowned the money king after Orlando, and when the bloody race for next year's 125 exempt spots is over, Commissioner Deane Beman will have to seek a guest appearance on 60 Minutes in order for any of this news to get out of Florida.
Several things ended unofficially in Abilene, as it was. Stadler tied for 27th to earn $2,642, upping his season's earnings to $446,462, for a $59,653 lead over Raymond Floyd, his nearest pursuer, who didn't help his cause when he left town after the second round, believing he had missed the 36-hole cut with rounds of 72 and 74. Only after he arrived home in Miami did he learn that his 146 had in fact made the cut because Friday's high winds had sent scores soaring.
Floyd had done this once before this year, at the Tournament Players Championship at Sawgrass, but in that case he was able to get back to the tournament in a chartered helicopter and make his tee time the next morning with one minute to spare. Abilene wasn't that close. "I guess I'd better officially withdraw," he told a PGA official by long distance Saturday morning. There is now only one way Floyd can catch Stadler in money this season: win Orlando while Craig gets the measles.
Like Stadler and Floyd, Watson and Tom Kite had also entered Abilene with the hope of improving their money situations. Neither did, but Kite's 72-hole total of 293 no doubt locked up the Vardon Trophy for him. Kite had an edge over Watson going in, and a slightly better edge when it was over, and Kite isn't planning to play in Pensacola or Orlando, now that he can't catch Stadler in money. So he'll simply sit on his stroke average of 70.21 and accept the Vardon.
As for Watson, his victories in the U.S. and British Opens have almost assured him of Player of the Year honors. He finished 24 strokes behind Levi, tied for 66th. But all wasn't lost for Watson in Abilene. In his spare time he got to shoot a lot of birds in the big country that surrounds a town that reeks of Western charm and entertained the pros with more lavish parties, good food and hospitality than any other stop on the tour.
Abilene is pure West Texas. It's one of those flat places where the mesquite trees don't get much taller than your average NBA center. But off in the distance are the kind of mesas that pass for mountains to a West Texan, and only 12 miles from Abilene's Fairway Oaks Golf & Racquet Club is Buffalo Gap, a pretty oasis of live oaks in the Callahan Divide through which buffalo herds once rumbled. Last week the golfers discovered that the town of Buffalo Gap is on the verge of getting quiched. On Thursday night they went to a chuck wagon cookout at a working ranch and were served zucchini—zucchini?—with their steaks.
Until the LaJet Classic sneaked onto the tour last year, not much of sporting consequence had occurred in Abilene since the three local schools turned out an Olympic sprinter like Abilene Christian's Bobby Morrow or football stars like Clyde (Bulldog) Turner of Hardin-Simmons and McMurry's Little All-America, Brad Rowland. Oh, the Big Country is still passionate about high school football, and on Saturday there was more talk among Fairway Oaks members about the guard-around play that Abilene High had run for a touchdown than the size of Levi's lead.