Fickle Weather Looms at Andy Williams Open : Bob Hope Holds Court at Pro-Am Round

Times Staff Writer

April may be the cruelest month, but February's weather is the most fickle, at least in Southern California.

The weather is probably the key variable in this week's Shearson Lehman Brothers Andy Williams Open, which begins today.

After Wednesday's Pro-Am, San Diego native Morris Hatalsky offered a brief report on the condition of the course and how the weather affects it.

"It's real fast and a little patchy in areas," he said. "There are going to be some low scores if the weather stays like this. If the wind blows and it gets colder, the scores will go up."

The forecast was for variable cloudiness today, which seems safe enough, judging from Wednesday's weather.

After an overcast morning, the sun appeared shortly after noon, about the same time that Bob Hope was preparing to tee off in the pro-am.

Hope, whose group included former President Gerald Ford, Charger owner Alex Spanos, tour pro Craig Stadler and amateur Alfred Martinelli, offered a scouting report before beginning play.

On Spanos: "If there's important money at stake, Alex will go to the whip real fast."

On Ford: "There are more than 75 courses in Palm Springs (where Hope and Ford have homes). President Ford doesn't know which course he will play until after his first tee shot."

A few minutes later, Ford would prove the accuracy of his friend's jest.

But first, a little gag.

Driver in hand, serious look in place, gallery silent in anticipation, the former president was about to strike the ball.

On cue, Hope stole the moment by calling out "Uhh!" and marching over to give Ford a tip. This, of course, drew laughter from the crowd.

There was nothing intentional about what happened next.

Living up to his image as a golfer who can hit the ball in any direction at any time, Ford brought laughs at his own expense by weakly hooking his first drive into the crowd lining the fairway.

Standing nearby, Hope threw his driver to the ground, as if in surrender.

Ford, who has been enduring this sort of thing for years, gracefully went about business, leaving the tee to Hope.

As he was being formally introduced, Hope appeared to bask in the acknowledgment of his accomplishments. "Take your time," he said as the list was dutifully read.

Hope's first drive was significantly longer, but not appreciably straighter, than Ford's.

After driving his cart down the fairway, Hope found that a marshal had taken down a restraining rope and moved the crowd back.

"You should have kicked it out," Hope said, playfully admonishing a spectator.

As he was about to knock the ball out of the rough, a woman laughed, causing Hope to pause.

"They usually don't laugh until after the shot," he said. Then he hummed an unrecognizable tune and knocked the ball out of the problem lie. Once on the green, the problems lessened for the biggest celebrities in the Andy Williams field.

After making a short putt, Ford joked: "That was a lot better than my drive."

Hope also made his putt, which he followed by leaning back and shaking his arm in the exaggerated manner of a tour pro.

On the second hole, he chipped out of the high grass at the back of the green, but still had a long putt. "I should have used another club--or do they make one?" he said.

Such was the feel of the afternoon, which was to be shortened for Hope by a sore arm after four holes. He signed autographs for about 10 minutes, then drove off toward the clubhouse.

"Thanks, Bob," the proud owner of an autograph said. "I saw you at Los Alamitos in 1942."

Tournament play begins today with a field of 156 players. The field will be reduced to 70 low scores and ties for the final two rounds.

This year's lineup, which includes Seve Ballesteros, Andy Bean, Ray Floyd, Tom Kite, Stadler and Tom Watson, is considered the strongest in the past five years.

Six of the top 10 players on the 1986 PGA Tour money list and 11 of the top 20 are competing, plus seven of the top 10 on this year's winnings list.

The purse for this year's tournament has been increased $50,000 to $500,000, with a first prize of $90,000.

Defending champion Bob Tway, who earned $81,000 in 1986, captured his first tour event by beating Bernhard Langer on the second hole of a playoff last year. The tournament was shortened to 54 holes after one round was rained out.

Tway, a second-year pro, won four times in 1986, earning $652,780, which left him $515 short of leader Greg Norman.

His biggest victory was the PGA championship, when he birdied the last hole with an amazing bunker shot.

In addition to Tway, eight former Andy Williams champions are entered: Bruce Lietzke, Gary Koch, Jay Haas, J. C. Snead, Gary Hallberg, Woody Blackburn, Johnny Miller and Watson.

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