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Original Issue

They never said they were perfect

The U.S. Publinx Championship yields a bumper crop of crazies

Awwwwww, yeah. This one is really for you, Maury Municipal. You and Sid Civic and Matt Metropolitan and all you dedicated public-course crazies who stand in line at five o'clock Saturday morning, shuffling in the dew and itching to tee it up so you can whup one of your 150-yard beauties out there into the high weeds; you who play bareback in furnace weather, overcoated in snow or slickered up in driving rainstorms; you plant guys coming off the night shift to drag your carts for the grand old factory team; you slice-your-drive, shank-your-iron, cut-up-your-Titleist, take-no-divot, kick-a-few-out-of-the-rough guys.

Yes, this is the tournament, this U.S. Amateur Publinx Championship, for all of you who whack the ball off a rubber-mat at the Highway Driving Range, coax it into a pipe at the Putt-Putt, trust your T shirts to the Arnold Palmer cleaners, scramble for your solid 105s and love every hacking, slashing, duffing minute of it. It is the one time each year when tournament golf drops its middle-class pretensions and becomes a four-day, blue-collar scramble among an assortment of bricklayers, hairdressers, welders, carpenters, mailmen, firemen, cooks and cops.

This year's version of the USGA-directed Publinx was held last week under charming, blowtorch conditions in the Arizona desert, otherwise known as the Papago course, Phoenix. It was won by tall, blond Fred Haney, who brought his big swing out of the cool pine forests of Oregon and played through 115° temperatures as though he were air-conditioned, producing a two-over score of 290 and thrashing the field by five shots. On his way to victory, the 22-year-old former captain of the University of Oregon golf team seemed singularly unaware of the history he was helping to enrich.

Above and beyond its kaleidoscopic field, the Publinx has other claims to distinction. It was initiated in 1922 as a concession to those amateurs throughout the country who could afford neither private-club membership nor travel expenses to a national tournament. A man needs no established handicap to enter the Publinx sectional qualifying rounds, and if he does qualify, most of his travel costs to the national tournament, plus limited per diem expenses, are provided by the USGA. As a consequence, the USGA makes all but the top four finishers and ties ineligible for the U.S. Amateur that year. Despite this deprivation and the sideshow flavor of the competition, the Publinx endures, as much for its theater as for its golf.

In the very first Publinx, two players approaching a green late in their match were somewhat surprised to hear a shot ring out and discover that one of their gallery had assassinated himself. That seemed to set the tone. President Warren G. Harding lent his name to the Publinx team trophy, won this year by Haney's Portland contingent. Diverse personalities have won the individual title: a Pittsburgh stenographer, a Philadelphia waiter, a San Francisco riveter, a Yonkers truck driver and the only black man (Billy Wright in 1959) ever to take a national golf championship. It regularly produces a character like 6'7" Yates Adams, who stamped himself the leading zany in the clubhouse in 1964 by swinging like a Ferris wheel and pouncing onto putts like a caged animal.

Last week the legend of Yates Adams was put to rest by a 24-year-old, 300-pound Hawaiian short-order cook and bartender named Clarence (Junior) Honan. "Call me Thunder," said Junior. "I make a lot of noise on the greens." Junior drew much attention with his yellow and black shoes, green so ks and invisible backswing. Though he had some trouble turning around, Junior managed to, as he put it, "Scream it out there." Out there too often turned out to be Papago's ample rough (' Next time I'm bringin' me a lawn mower"), and his 83-81 in the opening rounds missed the cut. But he vowed to work on his game between his occasionally monumental bartending jobs back home in the Islands. "I once did a party for 10,000 people," he said. "You talk about pigs."

The second day featured another big man, Gary Balliet, captain of the Michigan golf team, who took the tournament lead at 144 despite a shortage of equipment. "Broke my seven, lost my four, never had a three-wood," he explained to the press.

"Wonderful," glowed USG A official Frank Hannigan. "Francis Ouimet needed only seven clubs to win the Open."

David Eisner, a high school student from Loomis, Calif., won near immortality—and the Tommy Aaron Memorial Pencil—by aiding in the disqualification of both his playing companions. In the opening round, he gave Larry Castagnoli a stroke less than he shot on one hole, whereupon Castagnoli carelessly signed the erroneous card and de Vicenzoed himself out of the tournament. The next day Eisner marked down another wrong score on one hole for Fred Lufkin, a former runner-up in the Publinx, and Lufkin also failed to note the error before signing. Exit Lufkin.

"If the tournament lasts long enough," said one player, "Eisner will win easy." Unfortunately, his golf clubs were no match for his magic marker, and he missed the cut by seven strokes.

More acts of fellowship were to follow. When Roger Schurke, a Minneapolis pharmacist, finished his second round, his playing mate, John Miranov of Warren, Mich., refused to attest the scorecard. He said Schurke grounded his club in a hazard on one hole and should get a two-stroke penalty. Schurke insisted he grounded the club outside the hazard boundary. The pair spent 20 minutes in the scorer's tent arguing with the USGA. Miranov finally agreed to attest Schurke's card with a 9 instead of an 11 on the disputed hole. So he missed the cut by 10 strokes instead of 12.

Storming off, Miranov announced: "I don't talk golf to nobody."

"What a beautiful guy," Schurke said afterward. "Does this go on all the time?"

Publinx veterans would probably answer yes, but even they were surprised at the actions of 16-year-old Bruce Cochran of Jacksonville during the opening round. On the 2nd hole, Cochran holed a 20-foot putt for a par, but the caddie failed to pull the flagstick and the ball hit it for a two-stroke penalty. On the 15th, Cochran drilled a 40-foot putt on target for a birdie, but just as it was falling in the hole the caddie pulled the pin and knocked the ball away. Instead of being down in four, Cochran had to settle for a double-bogey 7. As he walked off the green, Cochran called the caddie a "stupid maniac." The caddie, in turn, suggested what Cochran might do. Cochran whipped around and leveled the caddie, splitting his lip and sending him sprawling past a sand trap.

"We'll have to do something," said the USGA's Hannigan, referring to the fisticuffs, not the caddying. "Francis Ouimet never hit anybody."

The third round settled down to a question of whether Balliet's interesting eight-piece swing could hold up against the onslaught of seven guys who had survived surly companions, scoring errors and flying fists to move within three shots of the lead.

Balliet faltered—he shot 77—and the lead was taken over by Haney and the tournament's sartorial nonpariel, Bob Blomberg, who had come out of nowhere—or rather, Alameda, Calif.—to shoot 71. He sported about in Bermuda shorts, dark socks, and a black mustache that drooped over a thin cigar. He said his education had consisted of two years of high school and three years in the hospital. "I had hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver," he explained. "They told my folks I wouldn't be around long, but here I am."

There, too, just one shot back with 18 holes to go were Archie Dadian and Lee Carter. Dadian, a former pro, was the pretournament favorite and a man with complaints of his own—he kept trying to explain all week how many times he had broken his hand without knowing it. Carter, a 17-year-old black who plays out of the same Tenison course in Dallas where Lee Trevino used to hustle, was the surprise of the week. He stayed near the lead for three days before succumbing to nerves and a final-round 81.

The last round began with Blomberg showing up on the practice tee in spectacular American-flag shorts and several USGA officials approaching coronary arrest. After a hasty meeting, USGA Public Links Chairman Bob Dwyer said something like, "You are sitting on the flag, son," and Blomberg was ordered to change.

"Land of the free," moaned the Californian. "What would they do if I came out nude? If I win this thing, the shorts are going back on for pictures."

Dwyer and his fellow guardians of national honor were spared this humiliation when the power-hitting Haney rolled in a couple of early 20-foot birdies and took a four-shot lead that enabled him to coast home. "I thought I'd win," said Haney. "I never heard of those other guys."