Spring is drawing near and invitations have already been mailed to golfers who will comprise the field for the 1969 Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga. Most of those chosen are picked by formula: all former Masters champions, the first 24 finishers of the year before, the first 16 finishers in the U.S. Open, the U.S. and British Amateur champions and so on. But there is also one wild-card choice available: the former Masters champions are allowed to get together and extend an invitation to one man who otherwise does not qualify.
We hope the champions will ask Charlie Sifford this year. The cigar-smoking Sifford won the important Los Angeles Open in January, and he has been a sound, consistent performer over the years. To the past three Masters, the champions have invited, successively, Mike Souchak, Gardner Dickinson and Tommy Jacobs. Sifford's credentials seem at least as valid (he has won two PGA tournaments since 1967, which is as many as Souchak, Dickinson and Jacobs have won together).
Sifford would be the first black man ever to play in this distinguished tournament. We think the Masters champions would do a service to golf if they invited him.
There is nothing like an undefeated football team to spread a college's fame far and wide. Penn State, which used to get nervous if a prospect came from as far away as Ohio, has a recruiting tentacle reaching all the way down the Mississippi to New Orleans. Jerome May, a third-grader in Metairie, La., has written to Penn State declaring that he wants to go there some day, "because it is my favorite college team. I think Penn State are champs because you won every game.... How do I get to be a student at Penn State College?"
Warren R. Haffner, associate director of academic services at the university, answered young Mr. May. "In order to become a student at Penn State," Haffner replied, "you will have to study hard and receive good grades."
He might have added that a few lessons in downfield blocking wouldn't hurt, either.
THAT LONESOME ROAD
The home-court advantage in Western Athletic Conference basketball games, mentioned here a few weeks ago, was embarrassingly evident this season in the home-and-home series between Arizona and Utah. In Tucson, its home base, Arizona crushed Utah by 26 points, 90-64. When the teams met later in Salt Lake City, the Utes retaliated with a 30-point triumph, 105-75.
In case you're betting and trying to get an edge on the spread, that adds up to 56 points of home-court plus.
ST. LOUIS OMEN
Major league hockey's expansion last season has created a startling surge of interest in the ice sport. In St. Louis, for example, where the Blues are leading the new clubs in the National Hockey League's West Division, one sporting-goods store (Giesler-Jorgen) reported selling 500 hockey sticks in a single mid-January weekend. Casey's, a three-store chain, reported selling 3,600 sticks the same weekend.
Ken Connor, manager of the Casey chain, said that people phoned from as far away as Decatur, Ill. (110 miles to the northeast) and Columbia, Mo. (120 miles west) to ask if hockey sticks were available. Assured that sticks were in good supply, they showed up in St. Louis a few hours later to buy them. Even expensive items like goalies' gloves ($50 per set) sold rapidly.
Walter Jorgen of Giesler-Jorgen said, "After a weekend like that you figure by now every kid must have a stick. But the next weekend we sold another 150. January is traditionally a slow month for sporting-goods companies, but our business this January was phenomenal. And 85% of the sales were related to hockey.
"Last April, when the Blues were in the playoffs, we actually sold more hockey sticks than baseball bats. And the interest continued well after anyone could have found any ice. It kept up right on into June."
One reason is the "iceless" puck, which sells for $1.95, compared to 95¢ for the official NHL puck. The iceless puck is made so that it will slide on concrete or wood, whereas an official puck tends to roll. Kids not in organized leagues, which play on rinks, often play without skates on parking lots, tennis courts, streets, alleys, basements or even—when Mom isn't around—living rooms.
And all this in more or less southern St. Louis where, two years ago, virtually no one in town knew the difference between a body check and a slap shot.
PAR FOR THE TORT
Hitting people on the head with golf balls was the subject of recent litigation in two widely separate sections of the country, and the consensus appears to be: go right ahead—it's up to your fellow golfers to get out of your way. In Massachusetts the State Supreme Court ruled that it was not even necessary to shout "Fore!" as your errant drive wings its way toward an unsuspecting skull. It would be a courteous, and even kind, thing to do, but it is not legally obligatory. The court held that anyone who goes out on a golf course should know that once in a great while a golf ball will not go precisely where a golfer aims it, and that by the very act of stepping onto the course a person accepts the risk of being hit.
In Nebraska a jury of seven women and five men rejected a personal-injury suit brought by one golfer against a member of his foursome who hooked one off his skull. The argument here, though not quite as all-embracing as the one in Massachusetts, nonetheless said much the same thing—golfers assume some risk when they go out on a course, and they should know that errant shots (a pleasant euphemism for ghastly hooks and morale-breaking slices) are all too common.
One last touch in the Nebraska case: the attorney for the plaintiff brought two golf clubs into court to demonstrate how what happened happened. The clubs were duly entered as evidence, and the attorney had to obtain a court order to get them back.
CAN'T WIN 'EM ALL
Under the heading "Sporting Fixtures," in a calendar of events for 1969 sent out to prospective visitors by the Irish Tourist Board, is the notation: "Glasnevin Cemetery. Every Sunday morning at 11:30 a.m. during the months of July and August there is a conducted tour of the national graves and monuments in Glasnevin."
Bud Leavitt of the Bangor Daily News in Maine phoned his old friend Ted Williams in Florida after the word was out about Ted's new job with the Washington Senators.
"What do you want?" asked Williams.
Leavitt said he thought he would just phone to ask how much Ted was weighing these days.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Well, what can I say? I'm as excited as a kid about this thing. Really excited about it. Really excited."
Some people think you'll strike out as a manager.
"Well, if I strike out, I won't recuperate in the poorhouse. I've talked all this over with you. You know my feelings and philosophy. I'm not going to work any one-year miracles."
What about players wearing long hair?
"I'm not going to fuss around with a guy's barber if he can hit the ball. But I sure as hell don't want to see any of my players walking to the plate with beards. Why do you ask such stupid questions? How much snow you got in Maine? Is my camp at the Miramichi all right? Check it out for me. Give Roy McKay a call in Canada and tell him to keep the roof shoveled."
What about your coaching staff?
"One of them won't be you, you can bet on that. I might hire Lloyd Clark, if he was available, but he's too good a game warden. That was some picture of Lloyd with those bobcats in your paper last week. How much did those three cats weigh? One hundred pounds? Wow. I don't know about coaches yet. I'm going to lean very hard on that little guy, Nellie Fox."
What about Vince Lombardi taking over the Washington Redskins?
"That's great. He's an organizer. Look at the staff he's put together. Now, if I could get Al Dark to coach first base, Eddie Stanky to handle third and Walter Alston to sit beside me on the bench, I'd be in pretty good shape."
How are your wife and your six-month-old son, John Henry?
"They're fine, just fine. The kid's going to be a good hitter. He steps right up to the milk bottle and draws hard. Listen, I gotta go. Fishing's lousy here but I'm going out for a few hours. I have to get away from you wolves. Oops, I have to keep reminding myself to be nice to you knights of the keyboard. Give my love to your commanding general [Mrs. Leavitt] and the two girls. Say hello to everybody up there, and keep your snow shovel handy."
WITH ORANGE SAUCE, PLEASE
The Ducks Unlimited office in Chicago is getting some strange telephone calls these days. The conservation organization's phone number apparently is only one finger-lickin' click away from the number of a carry-out restaurant called "Chicken Delight."
Charley Wolf, former coach of the Cincinnati Royals and Detroit Pistons, is now in the car-leasing business in Cincinnati, but he is still coaching. Charley handles the seventh-and eighth-grade teams at his parish church near Fort Mitchell, Ky.
As a pro coach, Wolf had strict rules governing things like dress and curfews and personal conduct, and even at the grade-school level he remains a man with strong views. "I won't play a zone or even practice against a zone," he says. "At that age, I want to teach them individual responsibility in guarding a particular man. It's much easier going from man-to-man to a zone."
But if he is just as stern in his coaching ideas, Wolf is much more relaxed competitively. "I think we finished this season about two and 13, or something like that," he says. "We practice only one day a week and play on Saturdays."
A couple of years ago a 10-year-old boy named Lonny Gustafson was hit in the chest by a pitched ball in a Little League game in Fremont, Calif. He was not seriously injured, but he was sufficiently bruised, physically and mentally, to be kept out of baseball for the rest of that season. His father, Don Gustafson, frightened by the incident and disturbed by its implications, got to thinking and finally asked an orthopedist he knew to make up a plaster-of-Paris cast to cover Lonny's chest, including the diaphragm and the lower ribs. After the cast had hardened Don tried it on Lonny, made a few alterations here and there and then asked a plastics firm to construct an experimental model. Straps were added and—voila!—the first batter's chest protector. When it was tested in games, two youngsters who were struck in the chest were unhurt, even though one pitched ball hit a boy so hard that it bounced all the way back to the mound. Gustafson's invention was purchased by the Wilson Sporting Goods Company and is listed in Wilson's new spring-summer catalog. The lightweight protector has been made mandatory equipment for some Little League teams already, and the Air Force Academy plans to use it this spring in baseball practice.
THEY SAID IT
•Lieut, (j.g.) F. Carl Schumacher of the U.S.S. Pueblo, after mentioning that the crew had used a misshapen soccer ball to play American football with during their months of captivity in North Korea: "The Koreans couldn't understand our love of football. I think they thought it was too dangerous and that we were out of our minds."
•Morris (Bucky) Buckwalter, Seattle University basketball coach, after being involved in a minor automobile accident: "I set up a moving screen and the other guy ran into it."