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Original Issue

The Spanish discover golf and its Player

With the skyline of Madrid as a backdrop and a Civil War battlefield to compete on, South Africa's Gary Player overcame a sore neck and the world's best golf teams to lead his country to its first Canada Cup triumph

There is about the same demand for a golf tournament in Madrid as there would be for a bullfight in Brooklyn. More is the pity, for the 7,096-yard course of the Club de Campo is one of the loveliest sites on which man ever sliced a ball out of bounds. From almost any hole you can look across a shallow valley to the city and its majestic Moorish architecture. There is dramatic history here, too, for it was on the hills of Campo that the Loyalist forces made one of their last stands against the besieging Nationalists of General Franco during the final stages of the Civil War. Alongside the 6th fairway is a crumbling stone wall no more than four or five feet high that still bears the artillery wounds of the attackers and the holes through which the defenders fired their rifles, a silent reminder of a grimmer day.

Golf in Spain is a rich man's sport for fairly obvious reasons. The annual dues for those who would play at Club de Campo, one of Madrid's two courses, run around $1,600 a year. So only the rich and the caddies ever get the feel of its fairways underfoot. But thanks to the presence of such international celebrities as Gary Player, America's team of Jack Nicklaus and Tony Lema, and a couple of local heroes named Ramon Sota and Angel Miguel, both former caddies, the crowd that showed up at the Club de Campo last week to see the 13th Canada Cup matches was large—9,000 on the final day. Their manners and their clothes bespoke their background. Their applause, while sincere, was in well-bred decibels, and they were, without any contest, the best-dressed gallery that ever graced a golf tournament. Every stitch looked as if it had been prepared in the establishments of Savile Row and the salons of Paris.

The number, if not necessarily the quality, of the teams in the Canada Cup matches keeps creeping upward, and this year the total reached 37 with the addition of Monaco, Morocco and Czechoslovakia. Golf is about as popular as capitalism behind the Iron Curtain, but somehow a couple of Czechs named J. Dvorak and M. Plodek managed to lay their hands on some clubs and balls and find their way to Madrid under the escort of a "nonplaying captain." Dvorak started off with rounds of 88-93, while Plodek was shooting 95-97 on a course that was not quite that hard, so it appears that the West does not have to worry about a golf gap for some years to come. Since so few of the countries that compete for the Canada Cup have any chance of winning, there was applause for the Czechs for just showing up—which is the attitude Canada Cup officials want to inspire.

It seemed for a while as if the Americans were expecting to give the Czechs a good run for the booby prize. Nicklaus had caught himself a wicked sore throat during the previous fortnight, and had gone home to Columbus. Ohio to nurse it on his way to Spain. On the Tuesday morning before the matches were to begin, Tournament Director Fred Corcoran went to the airport to meet Jack's flight, but no Nicklaus arrived. Jack finally got in on Wednesday, barely in time for a single practice round, explaining to Corcoran it had been "touch and go" whether he would get there at all.

"Touch and go?" Corcoran repeated after him. "Well, with me it would have been touch and jump if you hadn't."

It was immediately apparent that Nicklaus was the big attraction of the tournament. A large gallery was already waiting for him at the club just to watch him practice. Someone gave him a red golf cap with the word "Toro" on the front, and the Golden Bear became the "Golden Bull" to the Spanish press. Meanwhile, Jack's troublesome throat was being cared for by Dr. Everett Gaillard, an allergist from White Plains, N.Y., who happened to be attending the matches as Corcoran's guest. Much to his pleasure, Doc Gaillard, who was actually in Spain for a fishing trip, soon acquired the title of team physician, but he didn't realize he would end up as one of the busiest doctors in Madrid. Nicklaus' throat wasn't the only problem. Tony Lema's wife came down with some kind of flu, and before long just about all the Americans around had managed to develop some ailment or other.

Lema himself arrived on the scene anything but fit. For much of the summer he had been bothered by a sore elbow, so he took a four-week vacation from the game prior to the cup matches. The exact nature of Tony's ailment is still something of a mystery—perhaps a strained ligament or muscle—but he had been taking cortisone to relieve the pain. His golf showed the effects of the layoff, for he was hitting plenty of pelotas curvadas and pelotas diagonales (hooks and slices). On the first two days of play he turned in a pair of 76s, which was deeply disappointing, for he particularly wanted to do well since he obviously was replacing Arnold Palmer in the minds of the Spanish as well as on the scorecards of the U.S.

By Saturday night, it was plain that the U.S. invalids might just as well have stood in bed, for another invalid was running away with the whole enchilada. Gary Player, who had started with rounds of 70 and 69 and was playing superbly, awoke on Saturday morning to discover that he could scarcely move his head off the pillow. Exercise-crazy Gary had hurt his neck the evening before while trying to stand on his head, and had spent much of the night taking hot showers and pills. "I don't think I'm going to be able to get out of bed," he told his wife Vivienne. After a lot of effort, he finally dressed himself in a black turtleneck sweater with a heavy black cardigan over that and drove to the golf course full of doubts. Out on the practice tee he apprehensively waved his wedge a few times and discovered that the kinks in his neck were beginning to go away. Even so, he dared not warm up with anything more strenuous than the wedge. Then he took some wide swings with his putter and was amazed to find that the pain had all but gone. "I think maybe it's going to be all right," he said. "We'll just have to see what happens."

What happened was that Gary teed up—he is even using black tees now—and hooked a rather tentative drive. He then birdied two of the first four holes to go two under par. He and his partner, Harold Henning, a 31-year-old professional from Johannesburg, had taken a one-stroke lead on Thursday, and had widened it to eight on Friday. Gary himself, consistently hitting the ball safe and true down Club de Campo's narrow fairways, had a one-stroke lead for the individual title. When Player was able to finish the first nine Saturday in 35, Corcoran said: "It's all over. Nobody will catch Player the way he is going. The South Africans are running away from everyone." As if to emphasize the point, Player immediately went birdie, par, eagle. He and Henning came in with a 68 and 71 respectively, and while they finished the gallery felt free to settle down at the clubhouse for a leisurely lunch, knowing it would not miss much action. It was, after all, 2 o'clock, and it was Spain, where people eat on a kind of daylight-wasting schedule—2 to 4 for lunch and 10 to midnight for dinner.

Sunday was strictly for presentation ceremonies, as Gary shot a 74 to beat Nicklaus by three stokes for the individual trophy and lead South Africa to an eight-stroke team victory over Spain. The U.S. was third, another three strokes back. For Nicklaus, it was one of those tournaments that he seems to play at half throttle, cruising along with his delicate touch on the greens keeping him close to the top. He found a lot of hazards around the course, including the squadrons of bees and wasps that live on it. Nicklaus was stung twice. Lema, who finished in 21st place with a 298, was stung in the ego.

But if others smarted, Player could understandably enjoy his role as superbee. All year long Gary Player has been, if you will excuse the phrase, a little pain in the neck to U.S. golfers. He would spend weeks muddling around his Johannesburg, South Africa home saying how much he liked it there and how he wanted to be a farmer and how he hated to leave Vivienne and his five kids to go off and play golf somewhere. Finally he would lift a last few weights and down a last bowl of health mush and come to the U.S., where he would win things like the U.S. Open and the U.S. World Series of Golf and most likely the U.S. George Washington Bridge, if somebody would just put it up as a prize. All told, playing in only 13 U.S. tournaments and two quasi tournaments, he won $140,000.

Now he had teamed up with Henning to make off with the Canada Cup—a unique prize of international golf, one founded by U.S. enthusiasts and won by U.S. golfers the last five times in a row. In addition, he had taken the individual trophy, which people like Nicklaus and Hogan and Snead had called their own. And he did it in spite of having his own pain in the neck.

If the one-thousand-dollar prize money for the low individual score plus his half share of the $2,000 team money was hardly enough to cause a ripple in his bankroll, Player was still much elated over the victory. After the ceremonies were over he said, "Believe me, it is something to sit there and realize you have helped to raise your country's flag and to hear your national anthem played. It puts goose bumps right here.

"There's another thing, too, about a tournament like this," Gary went on, moved by all the pomp. "It brings golf to so many countries that never had much feeling for it. You sense that you have done something for your game. Just think what these matches did for golf in France in 1963, and then look at all the people who were out here. You just watch if golf doesn't start booming in Spain." Why not? It has obviously boomed in South Africa.


A MATCHED PAIR of South African winners, Player and Henning showed off similar outfits and similar follow-throughs while they were effortlessly taking all of the prizes at Club de Campo.