June 25, 2007

Vote Now for Worst Major

In your decided opinion — and I'm not talking here about bad weather, mystery food, rank hotels or long bus rides — what's the worst year you can think of for majors?

No, seriously. I'm talking about a year so dismal that at nearly every major we press swine covered there was, somewhere along the way, this urge to carry the typing machine over to some excited, cheering fan in the gallery, and say, "Here, you're having such a good time, you do it."

The fun-filled worst-year question often comes up among the typists when we're at a major, and the leader board is overpopulated with Humpty Dumptys of all shapes and sizes. The question generally chews on our pants legs after it steals into a convivial tavern where we've gathered for decaf, diet sodas and sugar-free crumpets.

Since you've been shouting the question for two paragraphs now, I'll explain what constitutes a bad year, as in worst year, for majors. It has to do with the marquee value of the winners.

First, to fully appreciate the bad years you have to think about the good years. Good years have been plentiful. We just had one. For example, good years are when your Tigers, Nicklauses, Hogans, Trevinos, Palmers and Watsons jumped into our typing machines and said, "Are we on deadline yet?"

A truly good year would be something like 1962 when the majors, in order of appearance, were won by Palmer, Nicklaus, Palmer, Player. Or something like 1972 when we got Nicklaus, Nicklaus, Trevino, Player. Or the Triple Crown years — Hogan in '53, Tiger in '00, tossing your Walter Burkemo and Vijay Singh to the PGA and Masters archives.

For that matter, what about 1930? The scribes not only enjoyed Bobby Jones' Grand Slam but in the other two big ones involving pros that year they were dealt Gene Sarazen in the Western Open and Tommy Armour in the PGA. You could say that 1930 marqueed all over itself.

But it's more challenging to deal with the bad years. So a discussion will begin and somebody will always instantly nominate 1935. It's a worthwhile candidate. In the U. S. and British Opens you had Sam Parks Jr. and Alf Perry, two of the lurkingest unknowns ever, and the PGA gave you Johnny Revolta. That was three guys winning their one and only major.

You could argue that Sarazen's double eagle and Masters victory in '35 saves the year, but you might be shouted down.

There are other strong candidates.

Start with 1957. Sure, Bobby Locke won the British Open, but Doug Ford in the Masters, Dick Mayer in the U.S. Open and Lionel Hebert in the PGA gives new meaning to lackluster.

Go to 1969. Nicklaus and Palmer were deeply into lulls, so this resulted in George Archer at Augusta, Orville Moody in the U.S. Open, unknown-at-the-time Tony Jacklin in the British and a youthful Raymond Floyd in the PGA. Only later on do Jacklin and Floyd give '69 a better look.

One of my favorites is 1985. Bernhard Langer, Andy North, Sandy Lyle and Hubert Green. Hard to beat, huh? Maybe your only chance would be 1987 — Larry Mize, Scott Simpson, Nick Faldo, Larry Nelson.

Such winners are part of the charm of majors, of course. But they remind me of the Hollywood story about Samuel Goldwyn, the famous studio mogul.

When a young man was struggling, begging, crawling to get his first director's job from Goldwyn, who kept turning him down, the young man said, "But Mr. Goldwyn, everybody has to start somewhere."

To which Goldwyn said, "Don't you believe it!"