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My father and I flew into New Orleans from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Tuesday for the $50,000 Open there. When you think of New Orleans you think of Mardi Gras, and you think of food. Well, I missed Mardi Gras by two weeks, but I did not miss the restaurants. We checked into the Roosevelt Hotel late in the morning, and I hurried across the street for two dozen oysters at a raw bar. Then I went out to the course to play in the pro-am and after that back to the hotel for another 18 oysters. Later, Dad and I had dinner at Antoine's with Jack Weiss, the tournament director, and his wife, Louise. Halfway through dinner Weiss took us back to the kitchen, not to see how the food in a famous restaurant is prepared, but to listen to the Clay-Liston fight on a transistor radio. I was sitting next to a pot of boiling spinach when it ended.
I played a practice round the following afternoon with Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and an amateur from Baton Rouge named Bert Burdick. Arnie is playing absolutely the best golf of his life. It is super. He beat me easily and won the bets. That night we had dinner with Arnie, Gary and Ben Hardesty of Shakespeare, the company that puts out Gary's Fiberglas shaft clubs. Before eating I stopped at the oyster bar and had four dozen. Barbara, my wife, flew in that evening from Fort Lauderdale.
Got out to the course early Thursday, but it was pouring, really pouring. The tournament was put off a day, which gave Barb and me a chance to do some shopping downtown. Her birthday is tomorrow, so I bought her a couple of dresses. That afternoon, a New Orleans Open tournament official, Gene Rutter, took us out to the Fair Grounds to watch some flat racing. Barb won and I lost. Then Barb, Dad and I went to Arnaud's for dinner, but I skipped the oysters. Felt a little queasy. Must have been something I had eaten.
While I was practicing before teeing-off in the tournament the next day, I made a discovery about my swing. I do not know when I fell into the habit, but on my backswing my hands were getting into a much lower position than they should. Thus I had unconsciously shifted into a flat swing from the upright one I have used for so many years. I went out and played well, but my putting is still off. I cannot give the George Low system, which I am trying, a real chance because it is very complicated and requires a great deal of practice. I will have to work out something before the Masters. Those big greens at Augusta demand a good touch. Otherwise I am getting into pretty good shape.
Barb and I ate lunch at the club, and they sent out a tiny little cake with one candle on it for her. She was very pleased. After lunch, I went over to the practice tee for a long, long session and learned something else about my swing. Gordon Jones, a touring pro, was there and he said, "Jack, you gave me a lesson at the Western Open that helped me a lot and now you are making the same mistake that I was making. You are breaking your wrists too soon coming away from the ball." He was so right. I was not taking my left arm and the club back in a straight line. Thus I was opening the club face on the backswing and falling into errors that had me hitting one shot to the right and the next shot to the left. What news! The real wonder of this game is that you never get it down pat, no matter who you are. We have the same problem the duffer does—just when we think we have learned how to hit a certain shot forever, we lose it.
Played super golf on Saturday, but I had a 70. Everything was right on the stick except my putts. My stroke is now part George Low, part me, and part another bad motion I must have picked up someplace. I made up for it with a notable discovery at dinner that night—crayfish. I ate about 50 of them. They are very small and delicious.
I shot a 72 the next day and then went back to the practice tee in the pouring rain. Dow Finsterwald stayed for 20 minutes and after that I had the place all to myself. Crazy idiot. I got soaked. But I needed the practice. I guess 95% of the time I am the last to leave a golf course. Maybe it is because I work hard and maybe it is because I waste time. I wonder which?
We now had our best dinner of the week. It was at Masson's Beach House near the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. We were with some tournament officials and the restaurant owner told us to let him order. Crab legs, shrimp, steak, romaine salad and beignets—little doughnutlike popovers—for dessert. It was raining so hard it did not look as if we could play the next day.
But we played, or at least we tried to. It seemed as if every shot wound up in casual water. We spent most of our time looking for dry spots to redrop. I started the day four shots behind Mason Rudolph, the leader. Then I birdied 13 and 14 and Mason, playing right behind me, bogeyed them. So we were all even. On the 15th, a par 5, I drove down the right side of the fairway and had to fade a two-iron around a lone tree on the right of the fairway. I hit a good shot, but it faded too quickly and hit the tree smack in the middle. Now I am 80 yards in the woods and lucky to make a 6. That was it for New Orleans. But it was one of the few bad breaks I have had that cost me a tournament. Mason beat Chi Chi Rodriguez, Glenn Stuart and myself by a shot. It was a letdown for me. All week long I had hit the ball so well that I truly expected to win.