Whhhhaaaack! "The trouble with the tour today (Whhhhaaaack!) is that there's just too many goddamn (Whhhhaaaack!) kids out here who cannot play. They come out of college (Whhhhaaaack!) and because they can shoot 70 on a golf course, they think they can play. (Whhhhaaaack!) Hell, half of 'em can't beat Tom Thumb with a gun. (Whhhhaaaack! Whhhhaaaack!) We got about about a hundred of those." Whhhhaaaack! Whhhhaaaack! Whhhhaaaack!
As I watched Dave Hill stroke seven-irons off the Pleasant Valley Country Club practice tee, his words of two days earlier ran through my mind. Most pro golfers are, in the end, Southern, inarticulate and super-straight. But Hill, a wiry Coloradoan who downs three beers and two packs of cigarettes per tournament round, is something of an exception. Very rarely does he mince words about why he plays ("I need the money--I gotta pay that fuckin' alimony") or what he thinks about the places at which he plays ("They must have had a goddaman artist out there with a lawn mower," he said of Pleasant Valley. "The fairways are eleven or twelve yards narrower than the ones we play in the U.S. Open, and on some holes, the rough is drawn right out into the landing area.")
On Friday afternoon, I had caught Hill and Charlie Sifford, the first black to play on the Professional Golf Association (PGA) tour, for an interview about racism on the tour and the heavy-handedness of the PGA bureaucracy. "All the black players out here owe everything to Charlie--he used to have to eat in the kitchen and change his shoes with the caddies," Hill had said. "But I've gotten to the point where I don't even bother to complain about all the shit out there anymore. Nothing ever gets changed. The PGA just does things the way they want to. The players' association is about as powerful as four mosquitoes on an elephant. The commissioner can overrule anything that's decided upon. I don't even vote anymore, that's what I think about the effectiveness of the players' association."
Five years ago, I had been well on my way to becoming one more of the tour's 70-shooters who "can't beat Tom Thumb with a gun," when the racism and elitism that pervades the (white) gentleman's game of golf--then thrown into stark relief by the politics of the day--had become too much to endure. Caught up in the spirit of the times, I denounced the "isms" of golf, and sold my clubs for two ounces of marijuana. "Coming back" to cover the $200,000 Pleasant Valley Classic, Massachusett's only major PGA event, had been a vindicating (and, to some extent, a vindictive) experience: my assignment had been to write the "Ball, Fore!" of professional golf. Hill's remarks would go a long way toward filling that assignment--and a long way toward expressing my own feelings about the game.
As I continued to muse about the tour, a stubby black caddie with a pot-belly big enough to hold fifty practice balls lumbered over from the putting green. He was wearing one of the insufferably hot powder blue jump suits that are mandatory for caddies at Pleasant Valley, a white Houston Open golf cap, and, beneath his cap, a blue and white polka-dotted scarf that gave him a sort of piratical appearance. He looked at me rather suspiciously for a moment, then introduced himself as "Killer," and told me he remembered caddying for me back in Houston when I was about "this high."
"I never thought you would a growed up to be a press man when you was a little bitty boy," Killer said. There was an understandable amount of disappointment in his voice. Most of the reporters who cover pro golf are fat old schlock-slingers who never venture out of the press tent save for a beer or a trip to the bathroom; their contact with the players is usually limited to the mass interviews held after each round, with the players saying such fascinating things as "Well, I played pretty good. I could a done better, but I played pretty good," and the press men peering over the half-moon glasses on the ends of their noses asking equally intriguing questions like, "How'd the driving go today?" and "Was your putter working?" Killer seemed saddened by the thought that I was now a part of that crowd. I asked him whose bag he was carrying in the tournament.
"Regalado," he replied.
"Victor," Killer said emphatically. "We gonna win, too."
I had to laugh. Tour caddies have a habit of using the royal "we," and a constant presumption that "we" will win every tournament.
"I'm tellin ya, now," Killer insisted, and moved back toward the putting green.
A lot of the Big Name players--Palmer, Player, Nicklaus, Casper, Trevino--had bypassed the Pleasant Valley Classic, either because they thought the course's super-narrow fairways were an unfair test or because they wanted to tune their games for the up-coming PGA Championship. Johnny Miller, former U.S. Open and British Open Champion Tony Jacklin, and tour veteran Grier Jones had withdrawn from the tournament for a variety of dissimilar reasons, while such stars as Bert Yancey, Frank Beard and Bob Goalby had failed to make the 36-hole cut of 148 (six over par on the 7305-yard, par 71 Pleasant Valley course). Even so, the chances of Killer's man Victor Whatchamacallit winning the tournament seemed pretty slim on Sunday morning as the players were warming up for the final round.
Dave Hill, who was leading after three rounds at a spectacular eight under par, seemed to be running away with the tournament. Two shots back, tied for second, were two men who epitomize the drab, jockish, predictable touring pro: Tom Weiskopf, the close-cropped, 6 ft. 3 in. Mr. All-American Boy who walks around as if there were a one-iron shoved up his ass; and Jim Weichers, a 6 ft. 2 in., 220 lb. midriff-bulging country bumpkin type, who lets his tongue hang out when he swings a golf club. Hill had to win out over those two clowns, and I had to beat the fat old schlock-slingers who never left the press tent with some real, live first-person coverage of the final round.
Still, as much as I liked Hill. I couldn't gamble all my reportorial shots on following his play alone. Both Weiskopf, who was playing in the group ahead of Hill's and Weichers, who was playing with Hill, were capable of taking over the lead at any time. I had to select one or two key holes that would provide the crucial action. The 15th, 16th, and 17th, were all clubhouse holes, and by the time the last threesome would be coming through, the greens would be mobbed with over 30,000 sweating, screaming, beer-swigging Massachusetts sports fans, seasoned tough by fearful battles for hockey seats in Boston Garden. It would be nearly impossible to move in that crowd.
That left the 17th, a 441-yard par 4. It was a treacherous hole. The tee was set back in a funnel of trees overlooking a narrow creek. About 200 yards out, the hole began a deceptively sharp 75-degree dogleg right toward a 2800-square-foot green. There was deep rough and a line of thick trees on both sides of the fairway, and in front of the green there was a gaping pond that had already served as an unwelcome commode for the balls and dreams of more than a few players in the Pleasant Valley field. The 17th was a perfect test. And an easy gallery hole. There were two high, relatively bare slopes--one near the tee shot landing area, the other in front and to the left of the green--that allowed spectators to view nearly the entire hole. Since the best spots were furthest up the slopes, it would probably be easy to move along the fairways and around the greens.