One day in September I was matched with Jackie Pung in the Ardmore, Oklahoma Women's Open Golf Tournament. Jackie is a wonderful pro?the kind who figures to beat you every time out. She and I were the halfway leaders and, going into the traditionally critical third round, I had her by one stroke. We drew a large gallery. The afternoon was scorching. I wasn't.
Normally, I don't have long-game troubles, but she was maintaining such tough pressure on every hole, I knotted and wasn't getting anything off the tee. The cup began to look as big as Sir Gordon Richard's monocle and, worse yet, I started thinking about a football game being played 85 miles up the road at Norman.
Going out for fairway shots and in between holes, there was a guy in our gallery with a portable radio, keeping the Oklahoma-Texas Christian game muffled to his ear. I would ask him every so often what was happening and it seemed that "my" team, Oklahoma, also was having a nowhere afternoon. The Sooners were being outplayed by a highly inspired opponent. So was I. But that isn't why Oklahoma was my team. Bud Wilkinson is their coach; that's why. Bud has been a special hero of mine for 25 years?ever since he was 13 and I was 11 and we lived on the same block in south Minneapolis and played on the same football team.
Anyway, I chipped short and went down a stroke to Jackie Pung at Ardmore, just as the first half ended with the Sooners behind 0-2 at Norman. It was 7-9 after three quarters; then it got worse. Oklahoma trailed 7-16 in the fourth quarter and I was three down to Jackie. Somehow, Wilkinson and Berg just had to rally.
An almost storybook finish unfolded after all. Texas Christian slowly sunk into the west and Oklahoma biffed and bammed to win 21-16. And Miss Pung finally weakened too. By weakened, I mean she probably didn't have enough strength to do 50 push-ups after coming in four under par, beating me by five strokes.
When everybody had deserted the course for the day, though, I began to think about the terrific determination that had made Bud Wilkinson a great athlete back home; the same determination he now quietly shovels into the Sooners to make them the nation's top collegiate football team. I went back out to the practice tee. I finally discovered my stance had been too wide during the afternoon and I'd been pushing the ball. I got my feet in a closer box alignment and began to get a decent coil into my backswing. The ball began to ride 25 and 50 yards more on the drive. I relaxed again.
In the next day's final round, I went under par and won the tournament, one-up over Jackie. Wilkinson and Berg had come through okay?just like winning a big one again for the old "50th-Street Tigers."
THE WORST ARGUERS
The Tigers were my team when we were kids. I played quarterback, Bud Wilkinson was right tackle, his older brother Bill was left tackle, and that's where my intelligent quarterbacking came in. Bud was the best team-player we had until he and Bill started to argue. They were the best, or maybe the worst, arguers I ever saw because every time they started in, words led to knuckles. And when Bill and Bud had a fist fight, everybody stopped everything to watch. They had nothing but classic battles. The Tigers lost a few crucial ones that way: games called on account of the Wilkinson brothers. Therefore, as quarterback, I kept Bud and Bill separated by three big boys in the line, which cut down a lot on games lost.