Golf / Grahame L. Jones : Crampton Says He Has Mellowed

Thirty years have passed since the DC-7 rolled to a halt on the runway in Houston, its 8 1/2-hour flight from San Francisco finally over.

For one of its occupants, a brash 21-year-old with a sweet golf swing, it marked the end of a much longer journey. After all, it had taken Bruce Crampton 32 hours simply to reach San Francisco from Sydney, Australia.

A lot has changed in those three decades, but two things remain constant: Crampton's swing is as sweet as ever and his reputation for irascibility apparently cannot be erased.

Just last month, in fact, in a profile on golf's fifth millionaire--behind Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Billy Casper and Lee Trevino--Sports Illustrated called Crampton, 51, "the most disliked player in the sport."

It was an unkind cut and, from Crampton's point of view, incorrect. He believes he has mellowed.

"I've certainly matured, let me put it that way," he said in a telephone interview from his home in Dallas earlier this week. "Having enjoyed the success that I have, I am more secure. I think some of my deeds in the bygone days that people have taken notice of were caused by insecurity."

Crampton, who certainly displayed none of his alleged crankiness during the interview--just the opposite, in fact--is rankled by his reputation for being, as Sports Illustrated put it, "ornery . . . frosty . . . abrasive . . . (and, quoting another, unnamed golfer) rude, selfish and inconsiderate."

"This stuff that's been written recently--and I don't want to get into that--I'm not that type of individual," he said. "I know how I was raised, I know what my morals are, what my ethics are. It's my feeling that if people chose to interpret my seriousness, my businesslike approach to playing tournament golf, my striving for excellence, if you will, in a negative manner, then that's beyond my control."

Then there is this business of Crampton's allegedly having, in Sports Illustrated's words, "memorized jokes to tell when he plays pro-ams," supposedly to improve his dour image.

"I'm not a Chi Chi (Rodriguez), but I've got a great sense of humor," Crampton said. "And, given the right environment, I can tell stories, too. What's funny now is they're all coming out and saying, 'Well, he's gone and memorized stories.' Well, how in the hell can you tell a story if you don't memorize it?"

How, indeed.

In a 20-year career on the PGA tour between 1957 and 1977, Crampton won 15 tournaments and finished second 17 times, including twice in the PGA, once in the Masters and once in the U.S. Open. In each of the latter four, Nicklaus was his nemesis.

In 1973, Crampton reached the peak of his game. That was the year in which he scored four victories, was the second-leading money winner, behind Nicklaus, and surpassed the million-dollar mark in career earnings en route to an eventual total of $1,374,294.

He twice won the Vardon Trophy, for low stroke average, and for eight years between 1968 and 1975, when he turned 40, his golf earnings topped $100,000 a year.

Then it all fell apart and, in 1977, Crampton retired, going into--and making a success of--the oil business. For almost eight years, professional golf was the furthest thing from his mind.

"I progressively got further and further away from it, simply because being as proud a person as I am, anything less than professional-looking golf shots just weren't satisfactory," he said. "When I didn't play for two or three weeks, I was just so inconsistent and my timing was off, it was no fun. . . . I wanted to play in a professional manner, or as I put it, hit shots with character."

Then he reached his 50th birthday and, suddenly, eligibility for the PGA Seniors Tour, which gave him a whole new outlook.

"Psychologically, turning 50 was a whole lot easier than turning 40," Crampton said. "Forty was like an ending. I knew that I didn't want to play much beyond 40, but when I turned 50 it was like a whole new beginning.

"I was going to be the new kid on the block, I could hit it as far as most of the players, I still had good nerves and all the ingredients to really do well. My enthusiasm and determination were back, plus the fact that we were playing for more money than I ever played for on the regular tour."

Some of that money, a lot of it, soon came Crampton's way. In 1986, his first full year on the Seniors circuit, he won seven tournaments and $454,299, and was named senior player of the year. This year, he already has won $134,675, and about as much again in "unofficial" earnings from such events as the World Senior Match Play Championships and the Legends tournament.

Last Sunday, at the $250,000 Champions of Golf seniors tournament at Castle Rock, Colo., Crampton shot a five-under-par 67 in the final round for a tournament-record score of 204, 12 under, and his first individual title of 1987.

It was, he said, his finest round of golf--ever.

"I really played well over the weekend," he said. "Any time that you can make nine birdies on a Pete Dye golf course, it's got to be special. That's what I did on Saturday. I had one lone bogey and shot 64, which was a course record, and I was pretty proud of that.

"And then Sunday, I think Sunday's round was probably as good a ball-striking round as I can ever remember. I only hit what I would call one poor shot. On the eighth. I hit a poor drive to the right and went in the bunker.

"Other than that--if you want to count the 18th hole where the ball finished about 6 to 10 inches on the fringe, flag-high and about 15 feet from the hole and I putted--I hit all 18 greens, including three 5-pars, in two. It was a particularly fine round."

It has been 30 years since that DC-7 touched down in Houston and Bruce Crampton has had a lot of fun in that time. The problem is, nobody recognized it.

Golf Notes

The final-round 67 shot by Dale Douglass in the Champions of Golf tournament last Sunday at Castle Rock, Colo., earned him third place and $17,800 in prize money, enough to lift him over the $1-million mark in career earnings. . . . Amateur Don Crowell of Westlake Village won the 28th annual U.S. National Seniors Open championship with a 54-hole total of four-under-par 212 at the Palm Valley Country Club in Palm Desert. . . . Sectional qualifying for the 62nd U.S. Amateur Public Links tournament will be held June 15 and 16 at the Temecula Creek Inn in Temecula. . . . The Angelo Ruggiero Memorial Tournament will be held Monday at the Los Robles Golf Club in Thousand Oaks. . . . Jericho Gonzales of Van Nuys won the Los Angeles City Women's golf championship with a 54-hole total of 223 at the Sepulveda Courses. . . . The Golden State Players tour moves on to La Verne with the staging of a $40,000 ($25,000 guaranteed) tournament at the Sierra-La Verne Country Club June 17-19. Leading money winners on the tour through its first six events were Mike Miles and Kirk Triplett, who shot a course-record 61 in the San Bernardino Open at Shandin Hills May 1. . . . The American Junior Golf Assn. will stage the Mission Hills Desert junior tournament for players 11-18 at Mission Hills Country Club June 15-18.

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