An Embarrassed Sander Loses Everything, Including His Shoes

Times Staff Writer

One day, Bill Sander is leading the Los Angeles Open after two rounds and beginning to think he's finally arrived after nine years as a professional golfer.

The next day, he shoots a 79 and wonders what in Hogan's name made him think he could win at Riviera.

"It's embarrassing," Sander says when he reaches the locker room, the 18th hole mercifully behind him. His eight-over-par round included a double-bogey and a triple-bogey on consecutive holes.

"There's nothing you can say," his caddy says.

So neither speaks as Sander shuffles through his locker, apparently having lost something other than the lead.

"I can't even find my shoes," Sander says, breaking the silence when a reporter approaches him.

Sander had such high hopes for his Saturday, entering the third round with a one-shot lead and playing in the final threesome with T.C. Chen and Danny Edwards.

Sander, 30, was the 1976 U.S. Amateur champion, played in the 1977 Walker Cup and then turned pro.

Since then, he hasn't won a tournament on the PGA Tour, never finishing better than a tie for fourth. When he fell to 151st in earnings last year with $38,564, he had to return to the qualifying school to regain his card for 1987.

In his first two tournaments this year, he finished 60th in one and missed the cut in the other. But last week, in San Diego, he tied for sixth and won $14,607.14. Through the first two rounds of this tournament, he was six under par after shooting 70 and 66.

Now he's two over par for the tournament, 11 shots behind Chen, and playing in a final-round threesome today with Mike Bender and Philip Parkin.

Sander lost the lead to Chen with three bogeys and two birdies on the front nine Saturday but still felt as if he were in contention.

"I wasn't doing anything great," he says, slipping on a pair of tennis shoes he found in the bottom of his locker.

"But at least I was playing golf.

"I thought I could bring it back on the back nine. I made two good shots on 10 to about eight feet from the hole and then three-putted for a bogey.

"I made a beautiful putt, but it hit the hole and spun out. The second putt did the same thing. It's not like they were bad putts. I couldn't do a thing.

"Then I just started throwing away shots.

"I hit it out of bounds on 12 and scrambled for double-bogey. My drive on 13 hit a tree and went out of bounds. Triple-bogey.

"I totally lost it. It was pitiful. I couldn't hit a shot."

He was seven over par with a 43 on the back nine.

One of the other players approaches Sander's locker and tries to console him.

"You can learn from it," the player says.

"Learn what?" Sander says.

The player shrugs and moves on.

"I felt like I just wanted to get out of everybody's way," Sander says. "I didn't feel like I belonged. It's a sick feeling.

"I played real good golf last week in San Diego. Here, too. I didn't see why it should stop. I don't know what happened."

"What do you do now?" the reporter asks.

"I go home, take a nap and try to forget about it," Sander says. "It's not that big a deal. It was just a bad day. Maybe I can come back tomorrow and shoot a good round. It'll make me feel better anyway. It won't make much difference in the money."

"Were you watching the leader board?" the reporter asks.

"I don't think so," Sander says. "Maybe I was a little bit. Oh, I don't know. I was just trying to play my game. I was having a hard enough time without having to watch the scoreboard."

A tournament official walks past Sander's locker, stares at him for a moment and then speaks.


"No," Sander says.

"I'm looking for Elkington," the official says.

Steve Elkington was a tour rookie last year.

Sander shakes his head.

The official continues his search.

"I'm leaving," Sander says.

He grabs two bottles of beer on his way out.

"Have another and you'll forget all about it," one of the pros tells him.

While Sander was struggling, his playing partners, Chen and Edwards, were on the leader board all afternoon. Chen shot a 67 for a one-shot advantage over Edwards, who shot a 68.

"I felt for him," Edwards says later when asked about Sander. "We've all been there. I know what it feels like. It doesn't feel good."

A reporter tells Edwards that Sander said he wanted to disappear on the course.

"He's been playing good," Edwards says. "He deserved to be in the group. But it's natural for him to feel that way. We've all felt it.

"He hasn't been in a situation where he's leading very often. Pressure has a way of breaking down your game. You don't even know it when it's happening. But I could see what he was doing. I would have liked to offer some help."

But Edwards didn't, even after the round was over.

"I think he just wanted to go off and crawl in a hole," Edwards says. "I like Bill. I may say something to him in a week or so. But for now, he has to deal with it himself."

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