Reality has a persistent way about it. It can flatten even the most promising of fairy tales. It did exactly that last week on the roller-coaster fairways and slippery greens of the Wakonda country club in Des Moines during the 63rd National Amateur golf championship. Deane Beman, the very tough-minded little 1960 winner from Bethesda, Md., defeated Dick Sikes, the likable former Amateur Public Links champion from Springdale, Ark., 2 up with one hole to play, just when the latter's improbable story seemed about to reach a climax.
Two years ago Beman, at 23, was working hard to prosper in the insurance business and already was a golfer with a solid international reputation. He had won the 1959 British Amateur and the 1960 U.S. Amateur and had been named to play on two Walker Cup teams.
Two years ago Sikes, at 21, was just one of a fatherless family of nine children, struggling hard to scrape through the University of Arkansas on a partial golf scholarship. That summer he went to Detroit for the National Amateur Public Links Championship. At Detroit, Sikes was central casting's version of what the perfect publinks golfer should be. He was a skinny kid who survived on soda pop and peanuts. Throughout the tournament he carried his own golf bag, a meager canvas receptacle that looked like it had been salvaged from the darkest corner of the cellar. In the bag he had not one but three putters, and he putted so sensationally with each that he won the tournament.
The following year, Sikes, who prefers to be called R. H. (for Richard Horace) became only the second player in the Public Links tournament's 40-year history to win twice in a row. From that point on, international golfing doors flew open like starting gates at a horse race. He went to Japan and Great Britain on U.S. teams. He came to Des Moines early this month, after winning the National Collegiate championship in June, to play on the U.S. Americas Cup team against Canada and Mexico. This automatically qualified him for his third try at the U.S. Amateur title. Sikes was still the polite young man of two years before, but now he had some poise, some polish and a caddy to carry his large kangaroo-leather golf bag. To complete this success story, he only needed to win the National Amateur, something no public links golfer had ever done. He came very close. Raised in the hard pan and hard-scramble school of public golf courses, he had developed a devastating short game and an uncanny putting technique. This involved first using his putter as a plumb bob to determine his line, then kneeling down like a giant praying mantis to inspect the situation from that angle, then circling neatly to the left and finally stepping up to the ball and hitting it, often as not into the hole. These skills took him past seven opponents last week and into the finals against Deane Beman.
Beman is a different kind of player. He works very hard on a golf course at all times because he is quite small—5 feet 7, 150 pounds—and gets very little distance. He is laboring, and it shows. He has developed a smooth, highly effective putting stroke, however, and his short game is as good as any pro's. The 36-hole final between Beman and Sikes promised to be one of the Amateur Championship's great putting duels. So—another fairy tale flattened—it turned out to be nothing of the sort.
At the end of 13 holes Saturday morning, Sikes's long game, not his putting, had brought him a three-hole lead, and he was playing so soundly that it seemed this margin would surely increase. The fact that it did not was more a testimony to Beman's astonishing resilience than to any weakening by Sikes. Beman had been playing a faltering, cautious version of his usually aggressive game, but now he began to attack.
"I just started to hit the ball better," he said later. "It wasn't that I changed my strategy or anything like that. It was more that I caught a sense of the urgency of having to hit the ball better." Urgent he was, as he won four straight holes with three birdies and a par to seize the lead at the end of 18.
After the lunch break Sikes evened the match by making his only good putt of the day, a 12-footer, on the 8th green. But that was the last time Sikes was really in the game. Beman parred the 10th hole to go 1 up. He then supplied the coup de grace with a birdie on 14. Sikes tried to catch up, but he missed putts of 15, 20 and 10 feet on the next three holes and was beaten.
It had decidedly not been a putter's day. Beman had nine one-putt greens in the 35 holes played, but only two were longer than six feet. Sikes fared far worse. He had 10 putts in the 10-to-15-foot range, but only made one of them.
The 1963 final provided two excellent young golfers in a tough, hard-fought match, but it generated such limited excitement—only 75 spectators were on hand when Beman and Sikes teed off—that an interesting question arises: Can the Amateur Championship survive as a major event at a time when the tremendous boom in the professional side of the sport has pushed the amateurs so much out of the limelight? Is the Amateur losing its prestige?
"With the general sporting public, yes," says Joseph C. Dey, the highly efficient executive director of the United States Golf Association. "I hear people ask 'Who is the Amateur champion?" This is a question that never would have been voiced back when Bob Jones and Francis Ouimet were playing. But among people who play and really know the game, there is an opposite trend. The Amateur gets more and more entries every year, currently close to 2,000. The tournament may be poorly attended by spectators, but it is well attended by players. Early in the week we have more players than spectators, and this is just fine. We feel that the Amateur is purely a players' tournament, not a spectators' tournament."
Lean, 39-year-old Charlie Coe, the 1949 and 1958 Amateur winner who lost a semifinal match with Sikes on the 35th hole last week, agrees that the Amateur is not slipping, even if its public reputation is.
"There are more people playing golf, amateur golf, all the time," he says. "I doubt if professional golf will ever seriously riddle the ranks of the good amateur players. Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus might be able to make a lot of money out of playing golf, but they are exceptional cases. I'll admit when I was younger I gave that phase of golf a thought, but not much of one. I'm like a lot of others. I like to enjoy life, take it easy, know what I'm going to be doing the next day. You can't do that when you're playing a lot of tournament golf."
Deane Beman, while he is hardly one to take life easy, is exactly the type of player that Joe Dey and Charlie Coe have in mind when they say that the supply of fine amateurs will not run dry. This year Beman has entered few events. "I simply haven't had the time to play," he says. "But I was hitting the ball well when I came here. What I forced myself to do was to concentrate extra hard."
When it came time to accept the big, gold winner's trophy, his concentration was still apparent. In fact, he did not seem unduly elated. But his pretty brunette wife, Miriam, was on the verge of tears.
"I know how much this really means to Deane," she said. "Much more than winning the first time. He's working up to 18 hours a day on his business now, but he has tried so hard to keep his golf game in shape. It was awfully hard. I was serving dinner plenty of times at 11 o'clock at night.
"But it's worth it," she added, clapping her hands gleefully. "Think how nice that gold trophy will look back on our marble coffee table again."
SOMBER WINNER DEANE BEMAN TURNED THE TOURNAMENT INTO A LABOR OF LOVE
PLUMB-BOBBING WITH PUTTER DID NOT HELP LOSER SIKES