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Original Issue

Beaten by a quarry quandary

When Deane Beman floundered on Merion's famed last holes, Canada's Gary Cowan became the first foreigner to win the Amateur in 34 years

Daddy, what is an amateur?

An amateur, son, is a man of 25 or more who plays tournament golf for fun.

Well, Daddy, if he wants to play tournament golf, why isn't he a pro?

Because, son, he has $8,000 to $10,000 a year to spend on his golf.

What about all those young college boys, Daddy? Do they have that much money to spend on golf?

Watch the man hit the ball, son. I haven't got time for any more questions.

Last week, at the renowned Merion Golf Club outside Philadelphia, the U.S. Amateur Championship was played for the 66th time, the oldest golf championship anywhere in this country. No course in America has more tradition or golf history associated with it, so it was completely fitting that the 1966 Amateur should turn out to be not only exciting, but a tournament that showed the pattern of amateurs for years to come. There can be no doubt about it. Now that the old knockout match play is a thing of the past and the championship is decided by 72 holes of stroke play, it will henceforth become a contest of the old and the wise against the young and the strong. The middle ground of amateur golf is now clearly gone—they are all pros.

When you put the young ones on a big, wide-open course, such as Southern Hills in Tulsa last year, they can crash their drives out into the wild blue yonder, and there is no way for the old folks to keep up. But Merion is something else again. The winner at Merion must triumph through seasoned cunning or precocious guile. Power is not the answer. This course, which was so painstakingly and artfully created before World War I that it is almost the same today as it was then, will not allow you to take any youthful liberties. It is short by today's standards, but position is everything. It also has what Joseph C. Dey Jr. of the USGA calls the most difficult finishing holes on any championship course. The last three of these holes must be played across an abandoned quarry, and just the thought of them is enough to bring spastic jerks into the swing of the coolest golfer. Ask Deane Beman.

Beman is only 28, but he rates with the old folks because he is wise in the ways of the game. After all, he won his first major championship, the British Amateur, back in 1959, and he has won the U.S. Amateur twice since then.

Merion's closing holes, however, made Beman even older last week. He had played wonderfully consistent golf the first two days with an opening 71 on Wednesday followed by a fine 67 on Thursday. On Friday he was only one stroke over par playing through the 14th and sailing along so serenely that his four-stroke lead over 42-year-old Roger McManus, his nearest challenger, looked as safe as Philadelphia scrapple at a gourmet dinner.

Merion's 15th is a 378-yard dogleg. The drive from an elevated tee must carry 220 yards to clear a large bunker protecting the elbow of the dogleg on the right. Straight ahead and to the left is a road that borders the course at this point. Beman aimed left, never thinking he could reach the road, a full 270 yards against the wind from where he stood. But he hit an abnormally huge drive. The ball went just where he had aimed it, took a couple of bounces and rolled into the road. It cost him a triple-bogey 7. At the 16th hole, where the second shot is played over the quarry to an elevated and almost invisible green, Beman three-putted for a bogey 5. He also bogeyed 18. So, in just four holes, his safe lead had disappeared.

On the final round Beman played 14 faultless holes as golfer after golfer challenged and then dropped back. At 15 he again mis-hit his drive, but by the time he got to 17 he was an insurmountable three strokes ahead once more. Canada's Gary Cowan, 27, another member of the savvy set—he has been playing in major U.S. tournaments since 1958—was in the clubhouse but seemingly out of the running in spite of a superb 67. Ron Cerrudo, a 21-year-old recently from San Jose State and the last youngster with a chance, had just bogeyed two holes and looked through. But now, after being by far the best golfer in the tournament for 70 holes, Beman came apart. He pushed his tee shot on 17 into a trap and then skulled the sand shot across the green beneath some pine trees and only a yard or two from the out-of-bounds markers. Thanks to a fine putt, he got down in two for his bogey 4 and took a two-stroke lead to the 18th.

At that point, Beman was thinking only of Cerrudo, not realizing that Ron had taken a bogey 5 at the 18th by carelessly one-handing a short putt that failed to drop. Cowan, meanwhile, was in the locker room watching the action on television. He saw Beman hit a fine drive over the quarry and down the middle. When the announcer said Beman was taking out an iron for his second shot, Cowan headed for his car in the parking lot to get his jacket for the presentation ceremonies. "When I heard he was hitting an iron," Cowan said later, "I figured he was going to play it smart, lay the ball up short, chip on, take two putts for his bogey and win it."

On the contrary. Beman hit a three-iron into a trap short of the green. Again he failed to get through the sand properly, and the ball flew over the green, stopping in the thick rough just short of a TV tower. A weak wedge shot left him on the fringe of the green, and he did well to get down in two and tie the surprised and grateful Cowan at 285.

It hurt terribly after his disastrous finish, but a short time later Beman bravely faced the grilling of the press without flinching. In fact, he was philosophical. "I figure I'm in fairly good company," he said. "Didn't somebody do about the same thing in the Open?"

Somebody named Palmer, to be sure, and in Sunday's playoff Deane followed the Palmer pattern once more. Both Beman and Cowan played erratically but evenly until the quarry caught Deane for the last time. One of the best putters in golf, he missed a birdie try on 17, and then saw his short par putt hit the cup and spin out. Cowan, meanwhile, saved his par from the fringe, and did the same on 18 to finish with a 75 and win the U.S. Amateur by a stroke. Moments later Cowan was off to get his coat again. Wise old golfers always dress well for presentation ceremonies.