Suddenly, This Has Become a U.S. Calamity

Welcome to Action in the North Atlantic. Greetings from the U.S. Open regatta. The first Open in history where you don’t need a caddy, you need a canoe.

A cold wind accompanied by slanting rain swept into Oakland Hills golf course Saturday, dumping a final load of indignity into a sporting event that is already shaping up as an American calamity. It had already almost gone from an embarrassment to a humiliation. As someone in the press room remarked, the National Open may be just another U.S. product to be stamped, “Made in Taiwan.”

Golf is the most perverse of games people play. It’s not a game, someone said, it’s a sentence.

It’s a mass of contradictions. You hit the ball left to make it go right. You hit it right to make it go left. You hit it down to make it go up and up to make it stay down. You swing hard to make it stop soon, and you hit it easy to make it go far.


You take two shots to go 550 yards--and then take three or more to negotiate the final 25 feet.

Like life, it is illogical, unfair. It wounds in places that don’t show. It is cruel, capricious. It’s not an avocation, it’s a bondage. It’s like being married to a vampire.

No one goes to greater lengths than the U.S. Golf Assn. to uncivilize it. In no other sport do the promoters so compromise the conditions to insure a true champion. In football, a first down is 10 yards whether it’s the Super Bowl or Brown-Colgate. A touchdown is 100 yards. In baseball, the bases are 90 feet apart whether it’s the World Series or sandlot. The net in tennis is always the same height. Ditto the basket in basketball.

In golf, they fang the lion, poison the pen. They sharpen the horns, heighten the menace. It’s like moving the pitcher’s mound to 50 feet, raising the fences, increasing the defenses. They grow the rough, lengthen the holes, dogleg the fairways, dig new traps, plant new trees. They do everything but quicksand the bunkers, mine the fringes or lace the water hazards with piranha.


The announced purpose of all this, one of their term presidents once pronounced, was “not to embarrass the world’s best players but to identify them.”

Well, in this tournament, the world’s best player so far is identified as a product of offshore China who has never won a tournament west of Suez, may never have heard of Harry Vardon or Bobby Jones and probably never had anything but a cut ball and a mismatched set of clubs to play with till he was a grown man.

If you balk at accepting Tze-Chung Chen as one of the identifiable world’s best players, consider the other candidates for world’s best player the USGA has uncovered this week. How about these identities for the role: Jay Haas? The other Watson? Dave Barr, maybe? Skeeter Heath? Rick Fehr, perhaps?

If you question the cast the USGA pushed into the spotlight this week, consider what they pushed out of it: Players representing nine U.S Open championships, players representing nine Masters championships and players representing 11 British Open championships were put in limousines for home when Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Craig Stadler, Ben Crenshaw, Lou Graham and Hubert Green couldn’t make the cut on this tricked-out layout.


For Tze-Chung Chen, on the other hand, the National Open was just another golf tournament. While the rest of the pros considered the rough penal, the greens diabolical and the sand homicidal, T.C. solved the problem in the oldest way known to the sport. Sam Snead once told a pupil who wanted to know the best way to handle sand traps, “Don’t get in ‘em.” The traps, the water and even the double-break greens presented no problem to T. C. He just didn’t get in ‘em. His game was described by one competitor as “the Union Pacific.” He just put the ball on track and kept it there.

For a nation whose leisure suits are made in Korea, cars in Japan and stereos in Hong Kong, one more import more or less would hardly seem to upset the balance of trade. It’s not the fact the U.S. champion is stamped, ‘Made in Taiwan,” that should shake up the Chamber of Commerce. But the fact that a man who has served such an unimpressive apprenticeship should rout the field is what should make the golf Establishment wonder if its U.S. Open policy is the athletic equivalent of firing into a crowd.

The USGA’s last remaining option is to hold the Open under water. On Saturday, they damn near did. And still, a 145-pounder from Taiwan even handled that better than the natives.

Maybe they should just stick this thing back on a municipal track with rubber mat tees and drugstore balls and sand greens. Maybe our golf has just gone the way of the .300 hitter, the polite tennis player and the two-way football player. I mean, can you picture Ben Hogan, Tommy Bolt, Lloyd Mangrum and Sam Snead letting some rookie from some country they didn’t even know played golf win their Open? They wouldn’t even let the college boys from home win it on golf courses they didn’t have to dress up in gorilla suits to scare everybody into hitting crooked shots.