Road Rage in the Scoring Tent

By David Fay Illustrations by Mark Matcho
March 23, 2015

Fleck gave Bolt a hard shove and said, "Do you want to finish what we started in Australia?"

There's truth to the adage that you can learn a lot about a person's character during a round of golf. To that I would add that if you really want to learn about a tour player's personality, spend about five minutes in the 18th-hole scoring area after the round.

Some players behave like princes, regardless of their score. Good examples: Ben Crenshaw and Nick Price. On the other hand, Ben's college teammate, Tom Kite, would fall into what I coined The 67-76 Club. All smiles and compliments after a 67, but a steady stream of criticism—usually about the course setup, sometimes about the guy he was playing with—after a 76.

I preferred the guys you could count on to be jerks all the time over the chameleons whose score dictated their behavior. Let's just say that the players you've heard stories about typically lived up to their reputations. And don't think there weren't some LPGA players who could lose it, too. (By the way, it should come as no surprise that Jack Nicklaus was a model citizen: always pleasant, never saccharine, no matter his score.)

Gary Player was the most meticulous. He'd check his score twice, backward and forward, then hand the card to the scoring official, unsigned, and call out his hole-by-hole scores by memory. Only after the official confirmed his memory would Gary check his card one last time, and then sign it.

Players are responsible for only the hole-by-hole score, not the total. Adding up the numbers is the committee's responsibility.

I worked at the Metropolitan (New York) Golf Association in the mid-1970s. At the time, one of the area's leading professionals was Babe Lichardus. When Babe was paired with someone he thought played too slowly, he'd show his disdain by recording the slowpoke's hole-by-hole scores using Roman numerals. "I know the numbers up to 10, and I know I don't have to add 'em up—that's his job," Babe would say, pointing to the scoring official.

In the 1985 U.S. Senior Open, Dow Finsterwald and amateur Bill Hyndman were grouped together. They'd known one another for decades. When Bill opened up Dow's scorecard, I couldn't help but notice an oddity. Bill turned around and whispered to the volunteer (and unofficial) walking scorer: "Young lady, would you mind reading me Mr. Finsterwald's hole-by-hole scores, starting at hole No. 1?"

Dow's ears picked up, and he turned to Bill and said, "Bill, don't tell me you missed some of my scores." Then Dow looked more carefully at the card and saw it was completely blank. "Not one [bleeping] score! You didn't put down one [bleeping] score? What the hell's the matter with you, Bill?"

It was all sorted out, but that 1985 Senior Open was also the scene of my favorite incident. Tommy Bolt and Jack Fleck were paired together in the final round. Jack had a 70; Tommy, a 77. The two sat down in the tent, and, wordlessly, exchanged scorecards, checked them and signed them. But before they left my company, Bolt looked at me and said, as if Fleck were not seated right next to him: "Mr. USGA official, I don't give a damn if next year I'm leading this tournament by 10 shots going into the final round—if I'm paired with this no-good, miserable son of a bitch, I'm withdrawing." At which point, Fleck gave Bolt a hard shove and said, "Do you want to finish what we started in Australia?"

Bolt shoved back, almost pushing Jack off his chair and said, "Damn right I do!" Before any real blows were exchanged, I became the peacekeeper. Sort of. "Fellas," I said, "the next group is coming up onto the green, so please take it outside." Somewhat surprisingly, they nodded their heads, stopped the shoving and yelling, and departed.

To this day, I don't know if they managed to finish what they started in Australia—or what it was that happened in Australia. Perhaps some contemporary might read this and enlighten me. I'd like that.