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The madcap side of pro golf.

Greg Norman, golf's sweet-swinging superstar from Australia, provided the biggest excitement at a pro-amateur tournament in California when his tee shot on the 15th hole landed about five feet from the pin. As the gallery burst into cheers, a philosophical spectator quipped, "That shows you can't beat a pro at his own game."

Next, an amateur in the same foursome nervously addressed his ball. He took a mighty swing, and-his ball bounced into the cup for a hole-in-one.

After recovering from both shocks, the amateur boldly asked Norman to verify the ace by writing on his scorecard, "You're a better man than I," and autographing it. Ever the good sport, the "Great White Shark" complied.

Wacky experiences are par for the course when America's three professional golf circuits-the PGA Tour, the Senior PGA Tour, and the LPGA (ladies') Tour-make their annual swings through dozens of states and several foreign countries.

Many spectators are surprised by the zany things that happen in the heat of tournament competition. Weekend hackers, used to seeing their favorites perform one miraculous shot after another on television, expect the touring pros to play errorless golf. Instead, at many stops on the play-for-pay tour, the pros are alternately blessed or cursed by whimsical, humorous, or capricious events, ranging from quips, lucky and unlucky bounces, pranks, and caddie mistakes to sudden breakdowns in equipment and clothing.

Great Cover-ups

Perhaps no golfer can top the madcap moments of Gary McCord, Frank Beard, Tom Weiskopf, Ted Kroll, and Fuzzy Zoeller. In the heat of competition, these pros have split their trousers before goggle-eyed galleries all over the United States, from Bob Hope's annual Chrysler Classic in Palm Springs, California, to the Doral Ryder Open in Miami, Florida.

McCord's mishap was particularly embarrassing. "You have a tendency not to do your laundry on the PGA Tour. And just before I started play on a very hot day in Memphis, I ran out of underwear," says McCord, who has earned nearly $500,000 on the circuit.

"On the 15th green, I bent over to pick up my ball when I heard this loud rrrriiiipp. I had split my pants down the seam. In a panic, I dropped my ball and my putter and put both hands over my caboose. Then, realizing I had forgotten to pack my rain gear, I ran back down the fairway to borrow a pair of rain pants from another pro."

Although McCord has managed to put that episode behind him, Ted Kroll experienced a more painful brand of backside comedy in his younger days. Playing in an Indiana tourna m ent, Kroll hit his ball perilously close to a barbed-wire fence. He selected the proper club for the difficult he and approached the ball. Going into his backswing, he miscalculated the position of his fanny-and backed into the barbed wire.

As Kroll let out a howl that could be heard in Chicago, his picture swing went berserk. His club completely missed the ball, and clutching his wounded posterior, he fell to his knees in front of a group of unbelieving duffers. "I took a lot of barbs from my fellow pros for that crazy swing," Kroll quipped afterward in the clubhouse.

Arnold Palmer, a gallery favorite, has been privy to another backward experience, according to Tennessee Ernie Ford, who has played in pro-a m affairs from Memphis to Phoenix. He says: "Arnie was on the tee just a short distance from some metal privies at Pebble Beach [California]. Just as he began to draw his club back, some guy opened the door to one of those privies. There was a loud squeak, like the door to a haunted house, and Arnie practicaUy tore his shoulder musties loose swpping his powerful swing in midair.

"When the spectator saw what he had done, he slammed the privy door shut. Well, Arnie wasn't about to go into his swing again on the chance the squeaky door would open in the middle of his swing. So Arnie waited, the fans waited, and the man in the privy waited.

"Finally, Arnie couldn't stand the suspense. Chuckling at the way, he walked off the tee and down to the privy. Knocking on the door, he said in a loud voice, 'Would you please come out so I can hit the bat?' A very red-faced fan opened a very squeaky door and met the incomparable Arnold Palmer face-to-face-as the spectators laughed up a storm."

Caddie Shocks

In his 34-year professional career, Palmer has had more madcap moments than you'll find in a Mel Brooks movie. During one Crosby Clambake at Pebble Beach, Arnie drove two bats out-of-bounds on the 14th hole. Both shots rocketed off a giant pine that had stood 35 years. The next day, the tree fell during a rainstorm. Arnie's devout followers are convinced their omnipotent idol, not Mother Nature, toppled the majestic tree.

Palmer adds, "Some of the strangest happenings on the tour are caused by young caddies who occasionally get too excited in the heat of the competition." Playing in a Westchester Classic at Harrison, New York, Palmer hooked his second shot on the 12th hole into the water. Before dropping a new ball, he tossed it to his caddie to wipe. The inexperienced youngster-fearful of causing A m ie a penalty if he caught it-ducked, lost his balance, and wmbled into the lake with the ball, bag, and clubs. "We went through quite a drying-out process," Arnie reminisces with a big grin.

Gary Hallberg had an even more painful caddie experience last September 21 in the Greater Milwaukee Open. Tied with three others for the toumament lead on the final day, Hallberg faced a difficult 105-footlong chip shot on the 17th hole. Requesting his 5-iron, Hallberg got more than he bargained for. Hallberg's young caddie-his sister, Debbie-inadvertently hit him in the head with the dub.

I couldn't believe it," Hallberg recats. "I said, 'Debbie, here I am, biggest hole of my life, biggest day of my golfing career, and you hit me in the head.' Then I started thinking: it's a good thing she hit me in the head. It woke me up. It got me back into the game."

Hallberg made the chip shot for a birdie on his way to a 6-under-par 66 and the $108,000 first prize, only his second victory since tu m ing pro in 1980.

But the last word on caddie stories rests with Bill Kratzert, the winner of four PGA toumaments. In the second round of the 1986 AnheuserBusch Classic in Williamsburg, Virginia, Kratzert started off miserably. He drove into the water on the first hole, hit another ball in a lake on the third hole, and whacked a third ball out-of-bounds on No. 7. Kratzert then got the shock of his golrmg fife when he asked his caddie for another bat. The young man replied, "I don't have any more.

Even the worst duffer can usually finish a round of golf without running out of balls. But Kratzert's caddie had removed all the balls from the pro's bag afts the opening round "because the bag was too heavy and I didn't want to carry all that weight in this heat."

Dumbfounded, Kratzert had to withdraw from the toumament because of his caddie's miscue.

Exclusive Clubs

Although it's elementary that you can't play the venerable game of golf without bats, sometimes the best players in the world excel without the latest in lean, right, expensive, and sophisticated graphite-shafted dubs. Indeed, some of the game's winningest players have been known to use older clubs-not the super-duper equipment advertised by sporting goods manufacturers.

Hubie Green captured four toumament titles using a putter designed by a Milwaukee firm that went out of business in 1931; Johnny Miller chalked up many of his 23 wur victories with clubs butt almost a quarter-century earlier; and Lee Trevino won the 1974 PGA Championship with an ancient putter he found in an attic. Fuzzy Zoeller and Ben Crenshaw have not been so fortunate with their equipment, however. Last spring, just before the MCI Heritage Classic at the Harbour Town links on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, Zoeller walked into the pro shop and said, "My putter isn't working very well and I need a new one."

Everyone in the shop cchuckled. Thnaks to the miracle of

television, they had watched Zoeller break his putter in half two days earlier on the 18th green at the Masters.

When Crenshaw's iron shot to the 18th hole in one PGA Championship almost went in the cup, he nipped his club up in the air. Forgetting about gravity, Crenshaw didn't duck. The falling club clobbered him in the back of the head. After tapping in the short putt, Crenshaw was rushed to a Toledo hospital, where his noggin was patched with a couple of stitches.

"Golf can be a strange game," says Lanny Wadkins, who has scored 16 victories on the pressure-packed PGA Tour. "Because of several lucky bounces, I won the $180,000 first prize in the '87 Doral Ryder Open in Miami". But my brother, Bobby, has lost two tournaments in play-offs because his balls bounced the wrong way.

"Lots of amateurs think we're robots who never make a mistake. But let me tell you, some real crazy things,happen on the tour."

When it comes to madcap moments, the award may go to a freakish incident in the Hawaiian Open. Jim Simons was preparing to putt when he heard someone yell, "Look out! Run for your life!" Looking up, this veteran pro was astonished to see an airplane trying to land on the 18th fairway. A millisecond later, Simons was running "so fast that my feet never touched the grass."

Miraculously, the pilot made a safe emergency landing. His small plane had experienced engine trouble.

That's when the jokesters took over.

Tournament Director Jack Tuthill ruled that the pilot must "lift, clean, and drop the plane somewhere off the golf course."

Jim Jennett of ABC-TV Sports radioed a PGA Tour official, Jack Stirling. Speaking in a calm, mellifluous voice, Jennett said, "We missed it, Jack. Please ask the pilot to take it back up and come in again so we can film Simons' unusual facial expressions."

Although no other professional sport is so immersed in theory, jargon, quasi-science, and downright seriousness, every duffer can identify with the touring pros, because anything can happen on the tour-and usually does.
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Author:Roessing, Walter
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Apr 1, 1988
Words:1740
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