Bob Charles grew up in New Zealand and learned to play golf under windy conditions. But he doesn't like the wind. In fact, one of the reasons he plays so much golf in this country is to avoid it.
Yet, some of the left-hander's best golf has been played under difficult conditions. He won the first senior tournament, at Wood Ranch in Simi Valley where the 50-and-over group doesn't play anymore, mainly because high winds are a way of life on the course. He also won here two years ago when the wind blew, although not as hard as it did Thursday.
There were steady winds of 20 m.p.h., with gusts to 40 for the first round of the Vintage Chrysler Invitational tournament at the Vintage Club.
And you guessed it. The leader is Charles, who shot a 68, four under par, for a two-stroke lead in the 72-hole event in which the winner picks up $55,500. Miller Barber, the leading money winner this young season, was second at 70.
Gary Player, although he had to go to a doctor immediately after his round because the wind caused problems with a contact lens, led a group of five at 71. Tom Shaw and Lou Graham, J.C. Goosie, former champion Dale Douglass and Don January were also one under. January, once the top player on the senior tour, is not often a factor anymore because his schedule only allows him to play 12 tournaments a year
Orville Moody, who won the Vintage by 11 shots a year ago, and Larry Mowry were at par 72. But for the most part, scores were high on a course in perfect shape.
"Under the circumstances, that was a good round," Charles said. "I know I play well in the wind, but I don't enjoy it. I was fortunate to have pretty good control of my shots and was around the green all day. I made a 25-foot putt for an eagle on the 15th and an eight-foot putt to save a par. Otherwise, all my putts were short, even the 2 1/2-footer I missed for a bogey on the 13th."
Most of the birdies were on downwind holes, although Harold Henning, who soared to a 77 after consecutive second-place finishes, had trouble finding downwind holes. As he teed off on a hole halfway through his round he asked, "Why is it we seem to be hitting into the wind on every hole?"
Most of the golfers figured it to be a two- or three-club wind, but Barber said it was swirling and changing directions
"For instance, on the 15th (515 yards), it usually takes a driver, three-wood and a sand wedge to reach (the green)," he said. "But today, I hit a driver and was amazed when the next shot called for a five-iron. Under normal conditions, I can't reach in two."
There were other unusual shots and rounds. Mowry, who won the Suncoast tournament at Tampa, Fla., two weeks ago, started on the back nine. In his first six holes, he needed only five putts. Three saved pars and two were for birdies. He went to three under when he sank a 25-footer from the fringe.
On the 435-yard 14th, he hit a career drive, although it appeared he was hitting into a crosswind. Al Geiberger, in the foursome ahead of him, heard the ball hit behind him, turned and shook his head in disbelief.
Mowry's caddie figured the ball stopped 95 yards from the hole, making it a 340-yard drive. This from a man who was doing exercises between shots to try to loosen a stiff back.
"My putting saved me from disaster," he said. "The ball just wouldn't go where I was aiming it. Maybe the back had something to do with it."
He shot a strange par round. He needed only 23 putts, but he made only six greens in regulation and had three birdies and three bogeys.
"I missed a sub-par round because I failed to sink a 15-foot putt for a par on the last hole," he said. "I didn't miss many during the day."
Hardly anyone had a worse time with the wind than Geiberger. One of the favorites, he started on the back nine and shot a 38. On the front side, he had a pair of sevens en route to an 80, eight over.
Probably the biggest surprise among the leaders is Goosie. He runs the Space Coast mini-tour for pros in Florida and doesn't have time to play many tournaments. He will be 60 in May. He was mostly retired from 1961 to 1986.