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PGA Championship

The Best And The Worst Of My Soon-To-Be 52 PGAs

A year of my life covering the PGA Championship

August 2013

Going through my old money clips the other day, I realized I've covered every PGA Championship from 1961 on with the exception of 1963. So Oak Hill in August will be my 52nd PGA and 220th major, including one as a kid. Though I'm sorry I missed covering the PGA's quaint match-play years, which ended after 1957, I still have a collection of ecstasies and agonies to share with you.

GIVING UP CIGARETTES MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR GOLF GAME
Arnold Palmer tried to quit smoking and shot 82 in the 1969 PGA at NCR in Dayton. A friend told him, "You gave up smoking and golf the same week."

BEST DESCRIPTION FOR RAIN
Here's the Southwest term for the kind of overnight rain before Raymond Floyd won at Southern Hills in 1982: "Duck-drownin' stump-floater." Raymond shot a first-round 63 with nine consecutive 3s from the sixth through the 14th holes.

BIGGEST DISTRACTION
That would be the young lady in the lime-green bikini who commandeered a boat to get to the floating scoreboard at the 18th hole on the first day at PGA National in 1987. If only Twitter and Instagram had been around then.

THE GROOVES POLICE
The square-grooves controversy was in full swing before the 1977 PGA at Pebble Beach, requiring the first club check that anyone could remember since the 1948 U.S. Open. A bunch of players submitted irons for testing, only to find them a fraction wide. An hour before his first-round tee time, Tom Watson was heard saying, "Anybody got any clubs? I'll take anything." After a set was delivered, Watson hit a total of eight practice shots with them and was so flustered he shot a 68.

HOW TO WD THE WEISKOPF WAY
It was drizzling during the second round at Tanglewood in 1974 when Tom Weiskopf arrived at the 16th green. By one count, Tom managed to nine-putt, occasionally holding his putter upside down. "I'm injured, and I quit," he announced to an official. When he was asked, "What's your injury?" Tom replied, "I'm 25 over."

THE SHORT-PANTS REBELLION
There was a time when caddies couldn't wear shorts. At the 1996 PGA at Valhalla, more than one caddie showed up in shorts to protest the insufferable climate in Louisville, but they were informed they could either put on long pants or be escorted from the course. The incident brought to mind a day many years ago on the Monterey Peninsula. My wife and I were privileged to be taken to lunch at exclusive old Cypress Point. But because one of the lady club members in our group was wearing a designer pantsuit, we were denied admittance to the dining room. No slacks allowed. And it didn't matter to the maitre d' that there was hardly anyone else in the room, or that the woman happened to be the heiress to one of America's vast fortunes. "Give me a moment," she said to the maitre d'. Whereupon she disappeared briefly, then returned without her "slacks" on but with her raincoat tied around her waist. "Will this do?" she said, rather acidly, to the maitre d'. "That will do nicely, madam," he said. Thus we dined.

The Shirt From Hell
Illustration: Michael Waraska; Photo: Jeff Gross/Getty Images

THE SHIRT FROM HELL
The polka dot that Steve Elkington wore at Baltusrol in 2005. I take it back: It didn't look as much like something Joan Crawford sold on eBay as it did Ron Turcotte's silks when he was up on Secretariat.

YOU CAN NEVER FOOL YOUR WIFE
Barbara Nicklaus, after Jack's 79 in the first round at Oakmont in 1978: "He even walked sloppy."

DEEP TRIVIA
Name the only four players who won the NCAA and the PGA. Answer: Jack Nicklaus (Ohio State), John Mahaffey (Houston), Phil Mickelson (Arizona State) and Tiger Woods (Stanford).

TRADITION?
The PGA has been played in every month but January, March and April. It was played in February in 1971 at the original PGA National to avoid Florida's hottest months. Jack Nicklaus won, and his house guest for the week, Gary Player, tied for fourth. Saturday night, they watched "Mannix" together. Maybe one of these years Tiger and Phil can watch cartoons together.

BEST LATE BLOOMER
Paul Azinger, after winning at Inverness in 1993: "Twelve years ago, I'd never broken 70, and I couldn't break 80 two days in a row."

FLEETING FAME
Ed Dougherty, asked at the 1975 PGA at Firestone if he had ever been on a leader board before: "Yeah, at Westchester I made four birdies in a row, but then I started going bad, so while one guy was still putting up the Y, another guy was taking down the D."

BEST COURSES TO HOST THE PGA
The usual suspects: Oakmont, Southern Hills, Oakland Hills. Lee Trevino said this about Oakmont at the 1978 PGA: "The only way you can stop a ball around here is to call a policeman." Jack Nicklaus was overheated at Southern Hills—one of the few places where he never won a major—in 1982: "I'm not sure I could play well at Southern Hills if it were air-conditioned," Jack said. Then there was Paul Goydos reviewing Oakland Hills' renovation for the 2008 PGA: "If you had Rees Jones re-do Scrabble," Paul said, "he'd leave out all the vowels."

BEST RANT
I gave Tommy Bolt the award at Olympia Fields during the 1961 PGA after he was suspended indefinitely—it lasted two weeks—for using "vulgar and abusive language." Part of his rant: "Man, everybody cusses. I cuss, sure. But I cuss myself, don't you see? If they suspend everybody out here who cusses, they ain't gonna have nobody left on the tour but the folks who do the suspendin.' "

BEST EXPLANATION
Bruce Crampton, in 1975 at Firestone, after finishing second to Jack Nicklaus for the fourth time in a major: "We all suffer from human deficiencies. Jack just suffers from fewer of them."

SECOND-BEST EXPLANATION
Andres Romero, explaining a 78 at Oakland Hills after making a quadruple-bogey 8 at the 16th hole in 2008: "I was disconcentrated the rest of the round."

JACK'S CHARGE
Nicklaus almost won a sixth PGA at Riviera in 1983, shooting a final-round 66 to finish a stroke behind Hal Sutton. A win would have given Nicklaus a spot on the 1983 Ryder Cup team—he also happened to be the captain—but maybe it's a good thing that Jack didn't bump Tom Watson. All Tom did was go 4-1, giving Jack's team a 14½-13½ victory.

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