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Original Issue

Catch-22 on the tour

The Quad Cities and GMO both have this little problem: survival

The big mind-bogglers in golf are not whether Jack Nicklaus exhales on his downswing or Johnny Miller dabs a rinse on his hair—or even whose caddy swings a club foot in the rough. The real imponderables have to do with the survival of such tournaments as the Greater Milwaukee Open and the Quad Cities, a pair of events that, like science-fiction creatures, refuse to die.

Both have been repeatedly beaten, abused, stomped on and left for the morticians. But on each occasion their indomitable officials have bound up their wounds and made ready to jump off the cliff once again. GMO and Quad Cities—they sound as if they come with or without radials as standard equipment.

The tournaments are scheduled the week before and the week of the British Open, and most of the better-known professionals stay away. While the lords of pro golf were at Carnoustie for most of the last two weeks, the peasants were quietly mashing their way through the GMO and the Quad Cities for $210,000 in total prize money. The humble entry lists read like random selections from the telephone book. At Milwaukee two weeks ago, just 10 of the top 40 money-winners showed up. Last week at Quad Cities, where the course is surrounded by cornfields and modest rural homes in which a man might feel comfortable with a tractor parked in the front yard, only four of the top 50 and 20 of the top 100 players appeared. It isn't the prize money; the nut of the problem is that a tour star can market a good showing in Britain, whereas even if he wins Quad Cities, that won't sell a single one of his golf clubs in a Hong Kong pro shop.

The local bigwigs keep trying. Last year Milwaukee officials changed their dates so the tournament would end on Saturday and hired helicopters to fly players to Chicago's O'Hare Airport so they could catch a flight to Britain for an extra day of practice. Of the big names, only Lee Trevino showed up, but his presence helped boost attendance by almost 20,000.

This year GMO officials sent out letters to scores of players and token gifts such as gourmet cookbooks to their wives. They showed up at four tournaments to recruit names. One obscure young pro, Jim Wittenberg, sent a thank-you note saying he'd be delighted to come. The GMO people were so thrilled they gave Wittenberg a sponsor's exemption, meaning he didn't have to qualify, and paid for his motel room and meals. But most of the stars stayed away, and attendance plummeted. "You put all of the work in and one of the big names says he won't come, and it breaks your heart," says Ken Thelen, the tournament chairman. Thelen labored so industriously for the GMO that he could not find time to play golf himself for almost six weeks. Three days after the tournament, he was making plans for next year. "We've got the July Fourth weekend," he said enthusiastically. "It's the Bicentennial celebration. I'll have all the workers dressed in red, white and blue, put up signs and...."

The first GMO was played in 1968 for a purse of $200,000—and lost $78,000. Since then, even with a lot of help from private industry (Allis-Chalmers has been a major sponsor), the event has struggled to pay its bills and find some loose change to donate to community charities. This year the GMO was played for $135,000, and officials were delighted when U.S. Open champion Lou Graham and one of his challengers at Medinah, Frank Beard, entered. GMO publicity trumpeted that Graham was one of six U.S. Open champions in the field, but Graham missed the cut and so did Beard, and for the most part spectators were watching people like Jack Fleck and Ed Furgol. The only top name to do well was Dave Hill, who finished fourth. Veteran Art Wall, a star on the circuit 16 years ago, shot three straight 67s to win. His "comeback" at age 51 provided an unexpected freshet of publicity. And even Wall's presence had as much to do with baseball as golf. Bob Kalupa, a GMO director, looked him up at the Byron Nelson tournament in Dallas and asked him if he would play Milwaukee.

"Are the Brewers in town?" asked Wall. Assured that they were, Wall said he would be, too. He was one of a myriad of golden oldies who played. Sam Snead was there. In 1968 Snead finished second in the GMO and won $24,000—and that, at the time, was the biggest paycheck of his career.

Both the GMO and the Quad Cities would be successful if they could get new dates so that they would not have to buck the British Open. On the other hand, they would not need new dates if they could get some quality players. But they can't get the players without the new dates. It's the Catch-22 of golf.

As recently as seven weeks ago the Quad Cities was on the verge of cancellation. A press release to that effect had been printed and was ready for distribution when PGA Commissioner Deane Beman saved the event by allowing the prize money to be dropped from $125,000 to $75,000. Beman may have a fond spot for the Quad Cities: he is its alltime leading money-winner with $28,250, winning it in 1971 and 1972. He also won the GMO in 1970.

The local Jaycees took over running the tournament this year after its major sponsor dropped out. They dubbed it the Ed McMahon Quad Cities Open when the TV star agreed to be co-host. McMahon arrived on the scene Friday, explained that next year he hoped to encourage some celebrities to participate in the pro-am feature and stayed to present the winner, one Roger Maltbie, with the first-place check of $15,000.

The Quad Cities are on the Rock Island Line and largely obscure. The Jaycees had hoped that the tournament would help identify the four towns of the area: Bettendorf and Davenport in Iowa and Moline and Rock Island in Illinois. Early in the week they were optimistic. "Not everybody can have Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player," said honorary chairman Bob McGriff. "We have Sam Snead and Doug Sanders." Cliff Montgomery, a co-chairman, said, "Our main objective this year was just to hold the thing together and not lose our shirts." Then the attendance figures rolled in. On opening day less than 4,000 fans showed at Oakwood Country Club. A total of 21,000 attended in all. The crowd at the one-day pro-am before February's Jackie Gleason Inverrary Tournament was 41,720. Johnny Carson himself would have trouble matching that figure on the Rock Island Line.