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Whatever happened to Homero Blancas?

Homero Blancas

Blancas returned to the scene of his record round in the Premier Invitational, an event that attracted a lot of local interest.

August 3, 2001

The weeds, wild blackberries and overgrown trees exist with a mystery spawned by an abandoned place. The shuttered buildings, cracked pavement and rusting tanks suggest how long it has been since this location on the outskirts of Longview, in east Texas, was a working oil refinery surrounded by a nine-hole golf course where men laughed and gambled and invented shots to tame its quirks, and where one man, Homero Blancas, once had a day of golf like no other.

In addition to the course, time has claimed the scorecard and the trophy and attached an asterisk to the achievement. Blancas knows what some people contend--that the events of Aug. 19, 1962, unfolded in a county fair of a tournament on a cupcake of a course--and it bothers him not at all.

For years Blancas' feat was listed in the Guinness Book of Records, but it was purged when the recordkeepers limited their low golf scores to those shot on courses of at least 6,561 yards in length, and at 5,002 yards, the funky, claustrophobic par-70 Premier GC--on which two slightly different sets of tees formulated 18 holes fraught with out of bounds and creeks--didn't qualify. But if you're the man who had the 55, the lowest competitive score any golfer has ever shot, there is nothing but beauty in the details.

How many golfers ever made Ripley's Believe It Or Not? How many other players have made 13 birdies and an eagle, totaled 27 for one nine and 28 for the other, hit 17 greens in regulation and required only 20 putts? "And the thing is," says Blancas, "I shot 62 in the morning. That might be the most amazing thing."

He was 24 and competing in the Premier Invitational, part of a cluster of amateur tournaments that from the 1940s into the 1960s thrived in towns such as Longview, Center and Kilgore. The events, also known as the "East Texas Tour" or the "Barbeque Circuit," were a breeding ground for a couple of generations of Texas golfers, from Jackie Burke to Marty Fleckman. Longview was home to the eight Cupit brothers. Jacky Cupit, the youngest, who would lose the 1963 U.S. Open in a playoff, finally did something his brothers couldn't do when he won the Premier in 1959 and '60. "It was a real short course, but there were no bailouts," says Cupit. "You had to be as straight as an arrow." Until Blancas, Cupit held the course record, 60.

The course was built in 1938 by Sylvester Dayson, a native of France who had been a World War I aviator before getting into the oil business and immigrating to the U.S. in the 1920s. By the mid-'30s, he had started the Premier Oil Company. "He was a fanatic about golf, but he had a skeet-shooting course first," says Dayson's daughter, Suzette Shelmire. Dayson held a skeet shoot to raise money for a local hospital, but with World War II came an ammunition shortage, so golf took its place.

Competition was keen, scores were low and interest--spiked by calcutta betting pools that could bulge with more than $50,000, a "monster calcutta," according to former Texas A&M golfer Jim Fetters--was high. "The world was a different place back then," says Fred Marti, Blancas' teammate at the University of Houston and a central character in his epic day. "Those tournaments were big deals in those towns. There weren't a lot of entertainment options."

On the eve of the final day at Premier, in fact, Marti, Blancas and a couple of others drove over the border to Bossier City, La., to sample a night that wasn't so still. Driving back Sunday near dawn, they missed a turn. "We skidded through a gas station, but missed the pumps," says Blancas. "We were lucky we didn't get killed." Blancas napped briefly before trying to make up a seven-shot deficit to Marti with 36 holes left. "I was a little groggy," he says. "Maybe my instincts just took over."

The son of a Mexican immigrant who was a greenkeeper at Houston's exclusive River Oaks CC, Blancas grew up in modest quarters on the grounds and began caddieing when he was 8 years old. Not big enough to tote larger bags, Blancas looped for younger golfers with small bags and good games. Conditioned to believe everybody played well, Blancas wore out his hand-me down clubs practicing to become like those players. "I would absorb their talent," Blancas says. "All I saw were good swings, guys shooting in the 70s. And all I wanted to do was hit golf shots. I'd play three holes or five holes at dusk. The first or second time I played 18 holes, when I was about 10, I shot an 89."

He turned into a birdie machine, firing at flagsticks regardless of their position or his. "Homer never saw anything but the flag," says Frank Beard, who became one of Blancas' best friends on the PGA Tour. "When he was off, he never knew how to play to the safe side. But when he was on, he went low."

As far back as his high school days, Blancas always had good luck against Marti, but with 18 holes left at Premier he still trailed him by five strokes--which was quite a working margin at Premier. "Some of the greens were so tiny you could hop across 'em," says Marti, "and you could hardly get around without penalty strokes." Roy Pace, a Longview golfer who played at Louisiana Tech and who was the defending champion, stood between them, four shots off the lead. "The greens were built up, like big anthills," says Pace. "It was tricky."

Blancas' final-round heroics were an intersection of crisp shots and good bounces. He began with a birdie at No. 1. At the par-5 second, he skulled a chip but the ball clanged off the flagstick and dropped for an eagle. After two more birdies, he missed a three-foot birdie attempt at No. 5, then came back with two straight birdies. Another birdie at No. 9 put him eight under for the day. "I really was thinking one shot at a time," Blancas says. "It was, 'Got to put it in the fairway, got to hit it close, got to make a putt, got to catch Fred.' "

The back nine was a blur of birdies and hooting from a growing gallery that found out what was going on. Blancas was an implacable force in the middle of it all. "He just looked so loose," recalls T.C. Hamilton, who witnessed the round. "No jumping around, just a lot of smiles." But by the 17th hole, 13 under for the day and having overtaken Marti, Blancas got nervous. He hit a 45-foot birdie putt much too hard but it banged the hole, popped six inches into the air and fell in. At No. 18, a 500-yard par 5, he pushed his drive, but it hit a tree and bounced safely back into play. After pitching his third shot to four feet, Blancas managed to sneak in his final birdie. "I was feeling it the last two holes," he says. "I hit that sucker as hard as I could, and it barely rolled in."

Dan Jenkins chronicled the round two weeks later in Sports Illustrated, bringing Blancas national attention and giving him a bigger sense of achievement. After a couple of years in the Army, Blancas started a good-but-not-great pro career: four PGA Tour victories, one Senior PGA Tour win, $1.9 million in career earnings. He was partial to his kids and a good time more than he was to Hoganesque practice sessions. "Homero didn't log a lot of time on the practice tee, but I didn't, either," says Jacky Cupit, 63. "We weren't lazy, but we just didn't have that desire."

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