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MAN OF IRON
Rick Reilly
June 17, 1991
Wielding an appliance or a golf club, Lanny Wadkins has a hot hand heading into the U.S. Open
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June 17, 1991

Man Of Iron

Wielding an appliance or a golf club, Lanny Wadkins has a hot hand heading into the U.S. Open

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Except for the gold Rolex and the impeccable wrinkle-free shirt, Lanny Wadkins looks like somebody you or I might play in the next member-guest tournament. In fact, Wadkins is somebody you might play in your next member-guest, if you belong to Preston Trails Golf Club in Dallas. Can you imagine? You're standing on the first tee with the rest of the schmoes and up comes this 41-year-old, stocky, cocky, little guy with a pudgy face and maybe a little belly and more brass than you could haul around in a GMC pickup, and he introduces himself as "Lanny Wadkins." And you shake his hand and say, "Sure, and I'm Arnold Palmer." And when you ask him his handicap, he says, "Plus eight."

Do you know any other touring pro who plays in member-guests? Isn't that why so many people root for Lanny Wadkins, because he's just like us? Yeah, he gets hacked off after missing a putt and takes a backhand swat at the ball, just like us. In fact, he has backhanded away more money than some guys will make in a lifetime. He did it again at the Masters this year—missed a four-footer for par at the 9th hole on Friday, got fried about it, reached across the hole and tried to backhand in a one-footer and missed that. Double bogey. Lost by two shots. Hello, third-place money.

He's just like us. On the course, he always looks as if he would rather be undergoing gum surgery than playing golf, but when the round's over, Lanny's the one who asks, "What time tomorrow?" He's addicted to the game, flat out. Can you see Wadkins walking around smiling after making a double bogey? At the Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic last year, he was paired with the equally marble-faced Curtis Strange on Sunday, and Curtis looked at Lanny and said, "Cripes, they're going to have to hire a third person just to smile for us."

Want to play a leisurely, get-acquainted-with-the-track practice round? Are you kidding? Lanny has a Texas death match for you, boys—$20 a hole, automatic one-down presses, double it on the back, individuals all the way around, $10 greenies, pushed. If he's playing, he's betting. It's like this: If Greg Norman is the greatest Saturday golfer ever (always the leader after three rounds, rarely after four) and Jack Nicklaus is the greatest Sunday golfer ever (always the one sticking the trophy in his trunk), then Jerry Lanston Wadkins has to be Mr. Tuesday. For Tuesday is the day when PGA Tour players play for their own money, and nobody gets a bull neck up faster than Wadkins when his own fresh simoleons are on the line.

You've never heard about Lanny's 61 at the 1984 PGA Championship at Shoal Creek? That's because it was on a Tuesday. How about his 62 at the 1973 PGA at Canterbury? His 63 at the 1971 U.S. Open at Merion? Tuesdays too. Around Tour clubhouses, those Tuesday rounds are legendary, and though they never paid a dime in official money, they paid very big in around-the-card-table money. One time, before a major in the early '70s, Wadkins and Bert Yancey fleeced Arnold Palmer and Tom Weiskopf so badly that Palmer didn't pay until November. "Me and Bert used to beat them like tom-toms," says Wadkins, grinning a Vegas grin.

During Weiskopf's great year, 1973, the season he won six tournaments, including the British Open, Canadian Open and World Series of Golf, Wadkins was beating Tom's brains out on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Weiskopf has admitted it. If there were an unofficial money list, Wadkins would own it.

Five-hour rounds? Wadkins would walk off the course or blow up from the gizzard out if he had to play that long. He's the fastest gun in golf, which comes from trying to get in 54 holes a day with his younger brother, Bobby, as a kid back in Richmond. He played in the first group at the Masters this year and three hours or so later was sipping something cool on the veranda overlooking 18. Wadkins can walk to his ball, get himself set and hit it before you've got your glove Velcroed.

Lay up? Layups are for basketball and par 6s. Anything else and you had better be sure the pin is in the hole real tight, because Wadkins is reaching for steel and ripping cloth. If the pin were floating on a Frisbee in Lake Pontchartrain, he would go for it. Come to think of it, he would probably hit it.

He's just like us. When people ask him about the technical aspects of his swing, Wadkins looks up from his grip with that Texas-sized jaw and says, "I just whomp it." When he has a week off, he does what we would do—plays four times a week. Sometimes he concentrates so hard he gets headaches. And if there's anybody out there who hits more balls than he does, we would like to see the blisters.

When Wadkins wins big, he does what we would do: He buys a few rounds. When he won the PGA at Pebble Beach in 1977, he woke up the next morning and couldn't find his $45,000 check. He had crumpled it up and thrown it in the fireplace the night before. (Lucky for him, his aim was off and the check missed the flames.) How many golfers do you know who competed in The Superstars competition? Wadkins didn't do so well, but hell, what do you want? There was no action on it.

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