- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
April—it was either Tennyson or P. G. Wodehouse who said it—is the golfer's month. All over the un-southern sections of America, the covers of cut oak branches which sheltered the greens during the winter have been removed. The uneven, heaving ground has started after the last thaw to settle into its familiar conformations, the grass begins to get greener, the fragrance of fertilizer gradually yields to the bright smells of sun-dried clover and crisp bark, and the voice of the caddymaster is heard again in the land.
The golfer awakes after his restless hibernation, his head bursting with new measures he has thought of or read about or practiced on the cellar mat, measures he feels confident will enable him finally to master the game of golf to the degree demanded by his own estimate of his talents. After the past seasons of disappointment, this could be the year. By late May the 88-golfer has usually been forced to acknowledge that for some diabolical reason he is not going to turn into a 78-golfer, and the 95-golfer is delighted to settle for an occasional "rotten 93." But in April everything seems possible, and this undoubtedly adds to the golfer's general euphoria as he savors again that annual enchanting re-realization that golf is a truly wonderful game. He feels golf, thinks golf and talks golf—other people's golf as well as his own—as he does at no other time of the year.
For most Americans the tournament that signals the close of winter and the coming of spring—the golfer's equinox, as it were—is the Masters, which is regularly held in Augusta, Ga. the last four days of the first full week in April, this year April 5-8. Occurring when the golfer's fever is highest, it is followed and discussed and speculated about as no other tournament. Each April, regardless of whatever other discussable points are created by the happenings at Augusta, at the top of the list you will invariably find those ancient enigmas: Why is it that so few of the low-scoring circuit stars ever shine at Augusta? How is it that even the veteran experts hardly if ever cut loose with those spectacular rounds in the middle 60s? Or to put it a little differently, making adequate allowance for the Augusta National's being a considerably tougher course than any the players meet on the circuit, still, why all those 74s and those faltering 77s from golfers who would seem to have the ability to master the Masters somewhat better? Additionally, why such comparatively unsparkling iron play? And why, indeed, all those three-putt greens?
To learn the answer to these questions—as they say on television—it seemed logical to get in touch with the men who should know, the touring pros. The week of our visit, the tour was in Houston for the Open of the same name. That is a $30,000 event and so there was a little more strain in the air than if the boys were playing San Antonio ($20,000) or Baton Rouge ($15,000). Furthermore, a progressive committee had roped off all the fairways and given the layout and the tournament a decided touch of class.
But by and large, though, the tour is the tour, and at Houston or wherever it happens to be playing that week, it wears the same, unvarying aspect. All around you are the familiar sights and sounds. Out on the practice green, where 20-odd pros are forever noodling away before and after their rounds, Jerry Barber taps the customary trio of practice balls, getting the feel of the Bermuda. Largely because of his fluency with his putter, a beat-up brasshead put out by Fred Matzie of Los Angeles, Jerry has been a consistent money-winner the last few seasons. A few months ago Jerry finally hit on the exactly appropriate name for his putter: The Golden Arm.... Practicing next to the man with the Golden Arm is Gene Littler, winner of the previous tournament. He is greeted by a colleague with that inevitable bit of badinage, "How's it going, Money Bags?" Beneath Gene's reserve lurks a pawky sense of humor. "How much do you need?" Gene asks him casually.
Out in one of the open practice areas, Dow Finsterwald's dad, a lawyer from Athens, Ohio, who is a frequent visitor to the tour, watches intently as Dow, an eminently watchable free-swinger, limbers up with a batch of balls.... In another part of the forest—and at Houston's Memorial Park course this is no mere figure of speech; the ordinary practice area can accommodate only a handful of all who want to practice, so there are golfers firing shots in every available open area among the pine groves—Sam Urzetta, the 1950 National Amateur champion, now a professional trying the tour for the first time, punches out a bagful of seven-iron shots. They are not going out there just the way Sam would like—there's a slight bit of tail at the end of their flight—but Sam continues to practice without being too disturbed about it. His easy calmness makes you remember obliquely that Sam during his last year of college basketball at St. Bonaventure sank something like 59 out of 63 foul shots....
DEMARET AND COMPANY
In the next opening among the pines, Duke Hancock, one of the last of the old brigade of professional caddies, stands with his arms folded, looking very well these days and British enough to pose for a sherry ad as he watches Jimmy Demaret warm up. The patriarch of the touring pros, Jimmy has been enjoying an extremely successful season after many had considered him definitely over the hill. His comeback has not only warmed the hearts of all golfers but started up afresh the old controversy as to Jimmy's correct age. Official records would seem to suggest that he will never see 45 again, but Demaret, the Jack Benny of golf, sticks unflinchingly to 43, a figure he has favored for many seasons....
Down the first fairway, following the threesome Cary is playing in, goes Edie Middlecoff, who walks more holes than any other golf wife.... On the steps of the clubhouse Clark Wilcox, the ubiquitous golf-shoe entrepreneur, is overtaken by an earnest young pro who wants to order two new pairs: one with a maroon suede saddle, the other straight brown calfskin but with one of those fancy doubled-back tongues.... Commuting endlessly between the first tee and his headquarters tent, Ray O'Brien, the portly PGA tour director, stops to explain to another young player that tomorrow's pairings and starting times will be posted just as soon as they are completed.... And so on and so on, ad infinitum. Whatever it may not have, the tour certainly possesses activity, and when you have been away from it a while, it is always strangely reassuring to return to it—in much the same way that it is to come back to your place of business after an absence—and to find that the old machinery is still whirling around.
When you discuss with the touring pros what they think are the reasons for the remarkable disparity between scores on circuit courses and at the Augusta National (and, for that matter, on other championship-caliber courses such as those the Open is played on), you find that it is a subject to which they have addressed their minds on many occasions. One player may tip the emphasis a little differently from another, but there is general agreement as to the contributing factors.