The Local Knowlege

Throwback Thursday

This week's Humana Challenge and "The Show" mark milestone moments

Anniversaries are a dependable Throwback Thursday theme, and with two of golf's big traditions going on this week, we have a pair worth noting.

blog-palmer-palm-springs-0122.jpg

Two-time winner of the Humana Challenge and a supporter of the event, Phil Mickelson, gave the Palm Springs-area tournament some early buzz when he committed to playing in it as his first 2015 calendar event. Arnold Palmer, the legend Phil is often compared with in playing style and strategy, is also closely associated with the Humana, but the five-time champion ruled the event during its primo celebrity days with Bob Hope as the marquee leader.

Related: Our fantasy golf picks for the Humana Challenge

blog-pga-show-program-0122.jpg

The year 2015 observes 50 years from when Hope attached his name to the event as the Bob Hope Desert Classic (it later was christened the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic). Palmer won in 1965, naturally, and he had won in 1960 when it was held for the first time 55 years ago as the Palm Springs Golf Classic. Arnie played in every Palm Springs/Hope Classic from 1960-2002 except for one, in 1997, which he missed because of prostate cancer surgery.

Palmer's home in the South, Orlando, is again this week the site of the PGA Merchandise Show, with its million-plus square-foot collection of golf products of every shape and kind, laid out for PGA pros and media to fall in love with. This year marks 30 years since "the Show" returned to Orlando from a three-year hiatus in Miami.

Related: Our live blog from 2015 PGA Show

That 1985 show was my lone foray into the three-day endurance test of leg cramps and no sleep. The weather was unusually cold for Florida that year, a shock to a Midwesterner making his first visit to Florida. But the Show was successful enough in its new home at the Orange County Convention Center that it has remained there ever since, having shed its humble start in a parking lot in Dunedin, Fla., in 1954, when just a meager few gathered to display some sweaters and slacks. ... Read
Throwback Thursday

There was golf -- and Hurricane Louise -- on the islands before the tour came

For decades off-season golfers have been so enticed by seeing professional golfers play in Hawaii in a variety of events, from tour stops to skins games, lured by pineapple-shaped tee markers, blue skies, ocean waters, beaches, palm trees, and shots of hula girls. But while PGA Tour records say it’s been 50 years since the Hawaiian  Open has been on the tour schedule, professional golf was no stranger to the islands prior to 1965. 

For the record, the first Hawaiian Open was played in 1965, won by Gay Brewer at Honolulu’s Waialae Country Club, where the now-named Sony Open in Hawaii has always been played. And here’s a tidbit: The Hawaiian tour stop wasn’t in its present January configuration on the tour schedule at first. From 1965 to 1969, the tournament was played in November, except for late October in ’66. But after the event took 1970 off, it went to February in 1971 and has been at the start of the year ever since.

The Hawaiian Open had been attracting pros well before that, however, and well before it became a state in 1959. Waialae hosted a tournament in 1928, attracting a group of well-known mainland pros returning from a tour of Australia. From then until 1965, a Hawaiian Open was held every year but five, spread over five venues, but mainly played at Waialae. During that time, mainland players such as Gene Sarazen, Craig Wood, Horton Smith, Harry Cooper, Tommy Armour, Olin Dutra, Ed Dudley, Billy Burke, Paul Runyan, Denny Shute, Jimmy Thomson, Ed Furgol, Leo Diegel, Cary Middlecoff, Lloyd Mangrum, Lawson Little, Bob Rosburg and Jerry Barber competed along with a host of local talent, led by Francis H. I’i Brown and Ted Makalena, who was the 1966 champion. 

tbt-louise-suggs-hawaii-560.jpg
Louise Suggs in Hawaii in 1952.
Photo from the Golf Digest Resource Center

Golf in Hawaii was promoted in many other ways, of course, over the years, with 1952 U.S. Women’s Amateur winner Jackie Pung alone serving as an ambassador for the game. But one promotion especially ambitious travel-wise for the time was in 1952, when the PGA of Hawaii invited Louise Suggs, that year’s National Open winner, to spend three weeks on the islands starting Oct. 22. Representing MacGregor equipment company, she played several exhibitions at a number of courses, including a team match against Pung, and gave a few clinics, all in her inimitable firecracker style and flair. A Honolulu sportswriter, Red McQueen, wrote approvingly, “Miss Suggs, a trim number with a fetching smile and cracker drawl, is a stylist in every sense of the word. She is as fast a player as ever appeared here. She walks up to her ball, selects a club, fixes her little tootsies and without hesitation or hula, smacks the ball cleanly toward the pin.”

With the PGA Tour once again in Honolulu this weekend, you’re likely to see some of the men hesitate over the ball but let’s hope, like Ms. Suggs, none of them hula. 

... Read
Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: The most entertaining Father-Son duo of all time

The victory by Bernhard and Jason Langer in last weekend's PNC Father-Son Challenge had an element of good fortune in it, given Jason was a late fill-in for his sister, Christina, and that his age, 14, made him the youngest offspring winner in the 17-year-old event.

loop-bernhard-langer-and-son-518.jpg

No matter how the Langers (above, photo courtesy AP Images) got the win, it's the good vibes created by playing in a family event that are memorable. Father-Son tournaments populate the tournament schedule at any number of clubs and help create some of the game's enduring moments. If you are fortunate to have a son -- or daughter -- who likes golf, getting to play in an annual event with him or her is one of the great bonding experiences you can have.

At many courses Father-Son events are named after a special individual and carry some historical significance. At Willowbrook Golf Course in Winter Haven, Fla., Dexter Daniels Sr., an accomplished Florida golfer, and son Dexter Jr., are the namesake of the Father-Son event, which was held for the 41st time last weekend and won by multi-winners Bret and Marc Dull.

The Donald Ross Junior Championship at Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort started in 1947 and is named for the famous architect. Part of the event, which will be held again Dec. 27-30, is a father-son competition for the more then 200 juniors in the field, held in three age divisions. And Father-Son events aren't just held in the U.S. The 26th World Invitational Father & Son Golf Tournament will be played Aug. 5-9, 2015, at Ireland's Waterville Golf Links. (And by the way, the eighth World Invitational Father & Daughter is at Waterville July 23-26, 2015).

As magical as Papa Langer had it at the PNC event (he joined Larry Nelson and Raymond Floyd as dads who won the 17-year event with two different sons), his feat is a step below the roll call of father-son achievers in pro golf. There have been nine father-son duos who have won PGA Tour events: Old Tom and Young Tom Morris and Willie Park Sr. and Jr. all won the British Open; others are Jack Burke Sr. and Jr., Clayton and Vance Heafner, Julius and Guy Boros, Al and Brent Geiberger, Jay and Bill Haas, and Craig and Kevin Stadler.

The last twosome, but likely the most entertaining is Joe Kirkwood Sr. and Jr., both Australian-born. The elder Joe was a serious player in the Jones-Sarazen-Hagen era, but during exhibition tours in the 1930s he put trick-shot routines into his matches and became better more well-known for that than his more than a dozen tournament victories.

loop-Kirkwood-sr.jpg

His son was actually named Reginald Thomas but went by Joe Jr. in the 1930s. He played professionally, but in the mid-1940s turned to an acting career, most notably playing a popular comic-book character, Joe Palooka, in both movie and TV roles. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

loop-Kirkwood-Jr.jpg

When Joe Jr. won the Philadelphia Inquirer Open in 1949, it completed the father-son winning combination. Previously at the 1948 U.S. Open at Riviera, the Kirkwoods were the first father and son to make the cut at a major in the modern era, which wasn't matched until Jay and Bill Haas both made the cut at the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. Who has bragging rights is open to interpretation. the Kirkwoods were both in the top 30 (Junior finished T-21 and Senior T-28) but the Haases had a top-10, Jay at T-9 while Bill finished T-40). Seems like a wash to me.


... Read
Throwback Thursday

The career paths of 65-year-old birthday boys Tom Kite and Lanny Wadkins were strikingly similar

On the surface, Tom Kite and Lanny Wadkins were quite different in swing and style. But with both celebrating a 65th birthday within the last week, a closer look shows they covered plenty of similar ground on their way to the World Golf Hall of Fame. 

blog-kite-wadkins-1211.jpg

Wadkins, born Dec. 5, 1949, in Richmond, Va., was a quick and decisive player who fired at flags with a bold strategy; Kite, born Dec. 9, 1949, in McKinney, Texas, approached the game analytically with a more measured pace and swing. They also contrast with their present focus; Wadkins has been a TV commentator for the last 12 years while Kite has stuck it out through a Champions Tour career, where he's won 10 times against Wadkins' one win. Kite beat Wadkins to the Hall of Fame by five years, being inducted in 2004.

From there, however, several similarities pile up: Walker Cup teammates in 1971 (never paired together, but each went 2-0 in singles); Rookie of the Year (Wadkins 1972, Kite 1973); six shared Ryder Cup teams (1979, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989 and 1993, but never teamed as a twosome); each was a losing Ryder Cup captain (Kite in 1997 and Wadkins in 1995); similar PGA Tour victory totals (Wadkins with 21, Kite 19); each has a Players Championship title (Wadkins in 1979, Kite 1989); each was Player of the Year (Kite in 1981 and 1989, Wadkins 1985) and, amazingly, the one major each won took place in dramatic style at Pebble Beach. Wadkins won the first major ever to be decided in sudden death when he won over Gene Littler at the 1977 PGA. Kite won the 1992 U.S. Open, surviving a final-round wind of 40 miles per hour, helped by a birdie chip-in on the par-3 seventh.

Related: Golf Digest's "My Shot" with Lanny Wadkins

Each contributed instructionally to Golf Digest and each had a golf legend influence their careers. Wadkins went to Wake Forest, the golf domain of Arnold Palmer, on a Palmer scholarship, and Kite learned under the guidance of teaching legend Harvey Penick and attended the University of Texas. Wadkins' big amateur moment, winning the 1970 U.S. Amateur, came at Kite's expense as Tom finished a shot behind in second. Kite won the 1972 NCAA individual title, sharing it with Longhorn teammate Ben Crenshaw. 

Heck, they have similar body stock, listing themselves as 5-foot-9 and 170 to 175 pounds.

In the end, however, they did have at least two major difference: their nicknames and how they fit their golf persona.

Wadkins, born Jerry Lanston Wadkins, was Lanny, a gunslinger of a name befitting his quick-draw nature, which made him very productive in the match-play drama at the Ryder Cup. Kite, though, was Mr. Consistency, speaking to his workaholic nature that produced steady performance throughout his career, which allowed him to pile up money. He overtook Tom Watson as the career money leader and was the first to hit $6 million, $7 million, $8 million and $9 million before Tiger Woods eventually swept past. Kite finished with $11,041,042 in PGA earnings, while Wadkins had $6,355,681. 

... Read
Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: A 75th birthday salute to Lee Trevino

Last Monday Lee Trevino celebrated his 75th birthday, a milestone certainly worth celebrating. (His friend and rival Jack Nicklaus reaches No. 75 on Jan. 21.) Nicklaus has been among those who put Trevino in the group of best ball-strikers in history, an elite few that usually includes Ben Hogan and Canadian legend Moe Norman as the finest ever.

Trevino's achievements are stout: six major championships, winning three opens in one summer (U.S., Canadian and British in 1971), two World Cup victories, the second-most Champions Tour victories (29, coincidentally the same number he had on the PGA Tour) and a Skins Game title in 1987 that resounded with an ace and a jump into caddie Herman Mitchell's arms.

Sartorially, Trevino made red famous long before Tiger Woods came along, donned in crimson in both shirt and socks. And his comedic chit-chat either cracked up his fellow competitors and gallery members or put each group on edge depending on their individual demeanor, but obviously was a delight to his answer to Arnie's Army -- Lee's Fleas.

loop-lees-fleas-1968-518.jpg

To celebrate the Texan's birthday, rather than look at the familiar big moments of his career, we've selected some of the rarer scenes that show him as he was in the early part of his career as a huge tour presence.

loop-trevino-mustache-1977-350.jpgEarly in his career, Trevino sported a mustache.


loop-trevino-goofy-1980-350.jpgHere Trevino hams it up with Goofy in a promotion for Walt Disney World.
 

loop-trevino-ballesteros-1979-518.jpgTrevino could entertain all sorts on tour, including Seve Ballesteros.


loop-trevino-sandwich-1972-518.jpgDoing nothing more than eating a sandwich could be a light moment.


loop-trevino-parade-1971-518.jpgAfter his spectacular summer of 1971, Trevino was honored with his own day in El Paso, Texas.

... Read
Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: When the Skins Game provided golf fans a Thanksgiving-weekend feast

Thanksgiving and golf are rarely part of the same conversation these days, unless you find yourself in cahoots with family members to sneak out for a few holes while the turkey was in the oven. That was not, however, always the case. Those familiar with hitting persimmon drivers can recall when Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson debuted a new event in 1983, one that had an impressive 25-year run.

loop-skins-game-original-foursome-518.jpgThe Skins Game, a two-day made-for-TV spectacle, with nine holes aired on Saturday and another nine on Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, was an immediate hit, thanks to what at the time was a impressive purse -- $360,000 that first season, a year in which the leading money winner on tour earned slightly more than $426,000. But when the money wasn't so mega any more and the Hall of Fame caliber stars gave way to lesser lights, ratings took a dive and the event folded in May 2009. (Senior and LPGA skins games also had a short lifespan.)

Interestingly enough, however, the Skins Game was actually not the PGA Tour's first Thanksgiving-related event. Going through the record books from 1934 to present, the tour made a pair of stops at Pinehurst in mid-November 1935, then played the Augusta Open (1936) and Columbia Open (1938) on Thanksgiving weekend each year. From 1944 to 1972, the tour had several events start on Thanksgiving Day and finish on the weekend. Sam Snead won in 1944 in Portland. The first Heritage Classic was held Nov. 27-30, 1969, with Palmer winning by three. The Heritage was held on Thanksgiving weekend through 1972, which ended the tour's Turkey Day weekend scheduling. 

But back to the Skins Game, an unofficial event whose first foursome made it a must view (as did having legendary baseball play-by-play announcer Vin Scully as an announcer). Each hole had a monetary value, and if a player had the lowest score on a hole, he won that total. If the hole was tied by two or more, the hole's money rolled over to the next hole. Though the drama would have been even greater if they had been playing for their own money, the excitement players felt when they made a huge skin was palpable.

Through the years, several indelible images were burned into viewers' memory: a rules controversy in Year 1 between Player and Watson; Arnie, wearing green velvet pants, hitting his ball with his backside against a cactus only protected by a bag cover; Lee Trevino acing in 1987; and Fred Couples winning five times, earning the unofficial title Mr. Skins and so much money (more than $3.5 million) that the end of the year became known as the Silly Season as more big-money, limited-field events popped up. 

World tour schedules have changed, and there isn't really much of a Silly Season anymore. Still, wouldn't an occasional Skins Game, perhaps just held every two, three or four years with the top four players on the World Rankings, be a nice revival of a classic golf event? 

... Read
Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: Sixty years on from the pro debuts of two World Golf Hall of Famers

There was a time when the end of the calendar year for the aspiring tour professional was Armageddon and the Promised Land all in one. Be one of the top finishers in an arduous qualifying school and you earned the right to play the following year on your respective tour. Be off your game, and you'd spend the entire next season in the wilderness . . . waiting for the next November to roll around. 

The first PGA Tour Qualifying School was held in the fall of 1965, with 49 players competing over eight rounds with 17 getting a chance to play on tour in 1966. John Schlee was the medalist. 

Now, of course, the PGA Tour has changed qualifying school so that it gives you status on the Web.com Tour. In turn, the school's impact on the heartbeats of male pros has been diminished, as has the November/December time period each year when hundreds of PGA Tour careers were launched via Q School and livelihoods were begun.

Reflecting on November as a time of hope for the tour player is a good time to celebrate a pair of World Golf Hall of Fame careers that launched 60 years ago. 

loop-palmer-canadian-open-throwback-thursday-350.jpgIn November 1954, both Arnold Palmer and Mickey Wright announced they were leaving the amateur ranks and turning professional to play tour golf. Both made the transition at logical points in their career. 

Palmer won the '54 U.S. Amateur in late August and, at 25, felt he was more than ready to play for pay. So did the PGA of America (the PGA Tour was still under the auspices of the association at the time), which had this in Palmer's bio: "The most coveted title in amateur golf, the National Amateur Championship, was won in 1954 by Arnold Palmer, and it presaged his eventual decision to turn PGA professional, for you might say the powerful Youngstown, Pennsylvania native was born to play golf alongside the top stars of the 'new look' era of youth." The "Man from Latrobe" label was still down the PR pipeline. 

Palmer had a pretty strong first year on tour, despite not being able to collect any prize money during his first six months. At that time, tour newcomers had to go through a "probation" period of not being allowed to take money; one can only imagine how much today's tour players would learn from such an experience. Palmer played the Masters in April 1955 and could collect the $696 10th-place money because the Masters was an invitational event and not an official tour event. In mid-August Palmer won the Canadian Open by four shots, along with $2,400 in first-place money. For the year he earned $7,958 for 32nd place on the money list. 

loop-mickey-wright-throwback-thursday-350.jpgWright didn't turn 20 until February 1955, but turning pro as a teenager -- something far more common on the LPGA Tour these days -- was rather shocking back in the '50s. Wright had attended Stanford for one year, but she had won the 1952 U.S. Girls' Junior and 1954 World Amateur. In 1954 she was also low amateur at the U.S. Women's Open in July and Women's Amateur runner-up in September, so she was ready to move from college to pro golf. (Despite the short college career, Stanford still inducted her into its hall of fame in 2000.)

At 5-feet-9, Wright's athletic, powerful swing was one of the all-time finest of any gender. In her first year in '55, she had a 77.22 stroke average and was 12th on the money list with $6,325. She didn't win her first tour event until 1956, in the Jacksonville Open. Golf Digest named her the Most Improved Women's Professional in 1957, she won 10 or more tour titles each year from 1961 to 1964, and by age 28, in 1963, she had won the four women's majors twice. In 1999, the Associated Press named her Female Golfer of the Century. 

The qualifying school may have lost its historical impact, but this time of year still has memories of when historical careers were launched. 

... Read
Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: 40 years ago, Ali took his first swings -- at golf

The status of boxing legend Muhammad Ali's health has been in the news lately, but 40 years ago there were no such worries. The heavyweight champion was in prime fighting shape at age 32 when Golf Digest reported on his first hacks as a golfer.

For someone who could "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee" in the ring, on the course "The Greatest" stood like a sprawled giraffe and swung like a spinning top.

In Golf Digest's October 1974 issue we ran a story written by Brad Wilson, at the time an associate professional who related his encounter with Ali while he was giving golf lessons at Stardust Country Club in Mission Valley, Calif. Ali's training camp was set up at LeBaron Hotel, just a block from Stardust (it's now incorporated into Town & Country Resort). Ali was likely training for a March 1973 fight with Ken Norton in San Diego.

Within 10 days of the fight, Wilson arrived at the Stardust range on an early Saturday morning and saw that Los Angeles Rams defensive star Deacon Jones was warming up for a round. Wilson went over to watch, and shortly later, Jones was approached by Ali's trainer, Angelo Dundee, and assistant trainer, Drew Brown. Jones introduced Wilson to the two trainers, and within minutes, Ali, dressed in gray sweats and wearing heavy running boots, appeared on the range, threw some quick punches in the air and then ran toward the course.

"[The course] is a great place for him to run," Dundee said, in response to Wilson's question whether Ali was going to jog on the course. Seeing a unique opportunity in front of him, Wilson asked if Dundee thought Ali would swing at a golf ball for him. "Ali's his own man," Dundee said. "You can ask him when he gets back. It's entirely up to him."

When Ali returned to the group, his clothes soaked with perspiration, Dundee introduced Wilson. Dundee and Ali talked briefly before Wilson asked if Ali would take some golf swings while Wilson took pictures with his Polaroid sequence camera. Ali told Wilson he'd never swung before at a golf ball, but he agreed to do it. When Wilson handed Ali an 8-iron, the champ asked, "How ya hold this thing?" After putting Ali's hands on the club in a baseball grip, the next question was "What do I do now?" Brown jumped in with, "Just hit the ball, champ. Just hit the ball." Wilson added, while pointing the camera at Ali, "Just do whatever feels natural."

With that, Ali hit what Wilson said was a surprisingly straight, 140-yard shot. Ali crowed, "How 'bout that Angie! You didn't know I was a champion golfer, did you?" Wilson actually felt that despite the unorthodox look, Ali's swing had some desirable elements: good shoulder turn, flexed knees, led the downswing with hips and legs, right elbow close to the side, head down, right shoulder lower than the left, and eyes remain fixed on the ball.


the-loop-muhammad-ali-swing.jpg

Photos by Brad Wilson, 1973

Ali hit a second ball solidly and continued his raving glee: "Look at that ball go! Nobody can knock the ball that far. Nobody but me, the great, the one and only Muhammad Ali!" A crowd of people started gathering to watch, and that just fueled Ali's stage presence. He suddenly jumped away from the ball at one point and raised both hands into the air and crowed, "Muhammad Ali is the world's greatest golfer! Nobody can beat Muhammad Ali! Not Arnold Palmer, not Jack Nicklaus, not nobody. I'm gonna make 'em look bad, predict the score, how bad I'm gonna beat 'em, everything -- just like I do in boxing!"

Looking at Dundee, the champ said, "Hey Angie, let's quit boxing and start playing golf. We'll get rich--and besides, that ball can't hit back!" ... Read
Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: The World Golf Hall of Fame's Grand Opening 40 years ago in Pinehurst

After a one-year hiatus to revamp its selection process -- creating a 16-member Selection Commission to determine inductees -- the World Golf Hall of Fame announced Oct. 15 the four new members who’ll make up the Class of 2015: Laura Davies, David Graham, Mark O’Meara and A.W. Tillinghast.

The news came a little more than a month after the World Golf Hall of Fame first opened its doors -- albeit in a different locale -- on Sept. 11, 1974. The original WGHOF was built in Pinehurst, N.C., adjacent to the resort’s famed No. 2 course. On opening day 40 years ago, President Gerald Ford was present to cut the ribbon and address the assembly who were there to see the inaugural 13 inductees be honored.

loop-throwback-wghof-player-518.jpgLike the initial class that entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939, which had the likes of Ruth, Cobb and Wagner, the WGHOF class recognized golf’s early legends Bobby Jones, Harry Vardon, Francis Ouimet, Babe Zaharias and Walter Hagen. Enshrinees attending included Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Patty Berg, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Sam Snead.

loop-throwback-wghof-hogan-350.jpgThe creation of the WGHOF had been a long time coming, and officials had high hopes that it would become a mecca for golf visitors. Along with the presence of President Ford and a parachute exhibition by the Golden Knights, the assemblage of eight of the game’s royal legends gave the Hall of Fame an extra-special start. The ceremony was also notable for a rare dressing of Player—the Black Knight—wearing white, and the normally serious Hogan laughing broadly.

But the lure of Pinehurst wasn’t enough, and low attendance, among other issues, forced the hall to close in 1993, having witnessed 71 member inductions. In May 1998, the WGHOF opened in a new location, St. Augustine, Fla., just a high-handicapper’s wedge shot off I-95. It is the main attraction of the World Golf Village, but it’s also still working to find its niche in the golf world. Election of new Hall members had been a major concern in recent years, some feeling the threshold for entry was too easy, allowing popular players who might not have proven their worth for an entirety of their career to be inducted to make the ceremony a must-see event.

The WGHOF now has 146 members, and artifacts from those members alone are enough to provide a significant history of the game. So the WGHOF is putting out great effort to fulfill its mission to “preserve and honor the history of the game of golf and the legacies of those who have made it great.” And the fulfillment of that all started 40 years ago in Pinehurst.

... Read
News & Tours

Throwback Thursday: Tom Watson wasn't the first captain to be thrown under the bus by his players

The history of players publicly trashing their own Ryder Cup captain -- which Phil Mickelson and "anonymous team sources" did with such aplomb last month in Scotland to U.S. captain Tom Watson -- is a relatively short one.

In the years when the Americans had their way in the competition, it was difficult for U.S. players to pick any nits. And as for their foes from across the Atlantic, well having become accustomed to losing, generally they gave their captains free passes.

Even as the Europeans gained the upper hand in the late 1980s, the public griping by players has been barely a whisper. Criticism of U.S. captains as too rough and old school (Raymond Floyd before Watson), unclear (Tom Kite), too nice (Tom Lehman), undecisive (Davis Love III), too bulldog (Corey Pavin), outwitted (Curtis Strange), a poor strategist (Hal Sutton) and just plain unfortunate (Lanny Wadkins) instead were largely leveled by the media. It was really only after this year's loss that American bitchiness was let loose in a furor.

To find the most treacherous example of insubordination toward a captain prior to Watson, you have to look not at any American squad and not even at a team that played in the Ryder Cup.

loop-graham-thrownback-thurdsay-518.jpg

The inaugural Presidents Cup was in 1994, with David Graham (shown, left) heading the International team in its 20-12 loss, which was a bit closer than the score suggests. The Australian helped get the event started, so after the loss he was asked to give it another go in 1996. But Graham -- a two-time major winner whose playing career was rewarded when he was elected this week into the World Golf Hall of Fame -- had a reputation for being tough, precise and hard-edged, and players started developing feelings against him based on slights they felt he committed against them. Some of the presumed injured parties were fellow Aussies Greg Norman and Steve Elkington, and Ernie Els.

The tension between captain and players became so great that, in what amounted to a mutiny, Graham was forced to resign -- against his desire -- just eight weeks before the 1996 event. The sordid business had many moving parts in the background, but a meeting that summer of potential International team members ended in a unanimous vote that Graham be replaced.

As was complained about Watson in 2014, players were said to want better communication and more input in the entire process. When Tim Finchem, commissioner of the PGA Tour and an organizer of the Cup, told Graham he was "over a barrel" about what was amounting to a potential boycott of the event by International players, Graham resigned, despite having done lots of work in preparation for the second event. Aussie legend Peter Thomson was asked to be captain, which he did for the next three matches, and Graham was on the sideline, disgraced and embarrassed, telling Golf Digest, "I treasured this from the moment I was appointed. There was an enormous amount of work involved. Now, I wish I'd never heard of the damn thing."

... Read
Subscribe to Golf Digest
Subscribe today