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Original Issue

Pass the zucchini, pardner

Against a backdrop of Texas chic, Wayne Levi won easily at Abilene

In the land of cattle and oil, a Levi won a golf tournament last week. It would be a better joke, of course, if Wayne Levi didn't pronounce his name levvy, if he did not come from Whitesboro in upstate New York and if he weren't a product of that noted golf school, Oswego State College. No matter. Levi was at home on the Abilene range as he bulldogged one of the best fields of the year in the LaJet Classic, leaving a passel of Tom Watsons and Craig Stadlers swatting the tumble-weed and wondering just how wise it was for the PGA Tour to take on the look of Texas chic.

For the record, Levi, a tour regular, won $63,000 in Abilene and moved up from 12th to ninth on the money list. You may not be aware of this because at this time of year the tour operates in considerable seclusion. For one thing, there is no televising of any tour event following the World Series of Golf. For another, it is also a period when golf must compete with baseball as well as high school, college and (sometimes) pro football on the nation's sports pages.

Six non-TV PGA Tour events have now been played since golf's World Series in Akron the last week of August, and a tough trivia question would be, "Who won them?" The answer: Calvin Peete took his third title of 1982 in the B.C. Open in Endicott, N.Y.; Bob Gilder, who has a fluffy new hair style he hopes will get him more media attention, won his third tournament when he won The Bank of Boston Classic in Sutton, Mass.; Bobby Clampett, who collapsed so spectacularly at the British Open, finally broke through with his first tour victory at the Southern Open in Columbus, Ga.; and Jay Haas put together back-to-back triumphs in the Hall of Fame Tournament in Pinehurst, N.C. and the Texas Open in San Antonio. These were the lead-ins to Levi's wire-to-wire victory last week.

Moreover, neither the Pensacola Open next week nor the Disney World in Orlando the final week of October, the year's last two events, will be televised, and the press rooms aren't likely to be overflowing with scribes either (there were about half a dozen in Abilene). Therefore, it would seem that when Stadler is officially crowned the money king after Orlando, and when the bloody race for next year's 125 exempt spots is over, Commissioner Deane Beman will have to seek a guest appearance on 60 Minutes in order for any of this news to get out of Florida.

Several things ended unofficially in Abilene, as it was. Stadler tied for 27th to earn $2,642, upping his season's earnings to $446,462, for a $59,653 lead over Raymond Floyd, his nearest pursuer, who didn't help his cause when he left town after the second round, believing he had missed the 36-hole cut with rounds of 72 and 74. Only after he arrived home in Miami did he learn that his 146 had in fact made the cut because Friday's high winds had sent scores soaring.

Floyd had done this once before this year, at the Tournament Players Championship at Sawgrass, but in that case he was able to get back to the tournament in a chartered helicopter and make his tee time the next morning with one minute to spare. Abilene wasn't that close. "I guess I'd better officially withdraw," he told a PGA official by long distance Saturday morning. There is now only one way Floyd can catch Stadler in money this season: win Orlando while Craig gets the measles.

Like Stadler and Floyd, Watson and Tom Kite had also entered Abilene with the hope of improving their money situations. Neither did, but Kite's 72-hole total of 293 no doubt locked up the Vardon Trophy for him. Kite had an edge over Watson going in, and a slightly better edge when it was over, and Kite isn't planning to play in Pensacola or Orlando, now that he can't catch Stadler in money. So he'll simply sit on his stroke average of 70.21 and accept the Vardon.

As for Watson, his victories in the U.S. and British Opens have almost assured him of Player of the Year honors. He finished 24 strokes behind Levi, tied for 66th. But all wasn't lost for Watson in Abilene. In his spare time he got to shoot a lot of birds in the big country that surrounds a town that reeks of Western charm and entertained the pros with more lavish parties, good food and hospitality than any other stop on the tour.

Abilene is pure West Texas. It's one of those flat places where the mesquite trees don't get much taller than your average NBA center. But off in the distance are the kind of mesas that pass for mountains to a West Texan, and only 12 miles from Abilene's Fairway Oaks Golf & Racquet Club is Buffalo Gap, a pretty oasis of live oaks in the Callahan Divide through which buffalo herds once rumbled. Last week the golfers discovered that the town of Buffalo Gap is on the verge of getting quiched. On Thursday night they went to a chuck wagon cookout at a working ranch and were served zucchini—zucchini?—with their steaks.

Until the LaJet Classic sneaked onto the tour last year, not much of sporting consequence had occurred in Abilene since the three local schools turned out an Olympic sprinter like Abilene Christian's Bobby Morrow or football stars like Clyde (Bulldog) Turner of Hardin-Simmons and McMurry's Little All-America, Brad Rowland. Oh, the Big Country is still passionate about high school football, and on Saturday there was more talk among Fairway Oaks members about the guard-around play that Abilene High had run for a touchdown than the size of Levi's lead.

Which somehow brings us to what a LaJet is. Well, it's basically an oil company locally owned by some chaps named Hal and Jack McGlothlin and Tony Andress, who also happen to own Fairway Oaks, a splendid new country club and development in Abilene, and a result of what can happen when a town "jumps the freeway," as they say in Texas. Charles Coody, the 1971 Masters winner and an Abilene resident, is the director of golf, and he had a good deal of input into the course's sporty par-72 design.

Fairway Oaks is unlike anything the pros see all year. It's even flatter than any layout in Florida, and surrounded on four sides by wind as it meanders through mesquite trees and hops over artificial ponds. Last week the course was in superb condition, and this had much to do with the low scoring.

LaJet got on the tour last year when the McGlothlins and Andress told Beman they were willing to make it one of the richest events around ($350,000), and added that they didn't mind a date opposite the Ryder Cup Matches in England in 1981 even though they knew they wouldn't attract the game's biggest names. Tom Weiskopf won the inaugural tournament in almost utter secrecy. This time, LaJet drew one of the best fields of the year. Everybody was in Abilene except Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Harry Vardon.

But as it turned out, the tournament eluded the big names. Levi's opening-round 64 put him one stroke ahead of people named Mike Morley (65), John Fought and Vance Heafner (66s). Stadler lurked at 66 as well, but wouldn't be a factor for long.

After Friday's very windy second round, Levi's 71 left him with a two-stroke lead over Bruce Devlin, a name, but close at hand were Bobby Cole and Gary Koch after identical rounds of 67-71. Wayne then stretched his lead to four strokes over Cole with a 68 on Saturday and was on the board at 203.

Levi, a fine player all through the bag and a scrappy one, was diligent enough Saturday evening to take his lead straight to the practice area. "I want to win this real bad," he said at the time. "The other guys tend to think I'm tough to catch when I have a lead, and I think so, too. That'll help. I'll practice tonight, then go home and let my three-year-old daughter run me ragged till about 10:30. I won't have any trouble sleeping after that."

Levi didn't have any trouble playing golf on Sunday, either. After he birdied the 3rd hole with a three-foot putt and the 6th with a 30-footer, he confessed to shedding all worries. His hands had sweated as he drove to the course, but his wife, Judy, had reminded him he was playing the best golf of his life and that if he just played "smart" nothing would go wrong.

Levi made three more birdies through the 15th hole, including an 18-footer on the 11th green, hard by the LaJet guest cottage and its mammoth inflated Coors bottle. He took a casual bogey at the 16th, then parred in for a closing 68 and a winning total of 271, 17 under par, and a six-shot victory over the glittering field.

As it happened, the runner-up was perhaps an even happier man than Levi. That was 25-year-old Thomas Gray, of Prescott, Ariz., who might have sucked himself right out of a job at a Safeway with the $37,800 he won.

Gray came into Abilene with $14,000 and change in winnings this year. He was 160th on the money list. As usual, he had to qualify on Monday. By Sunday evening, Gray had leaped to about 80th on the list, well within the 125 who will be exempt in 1983.

When asked what he had intended to do if he had failed to win enough to land among the exempted players, Gray said, "Go to the qualifying school again."

He was then asked what he would do with his life if he failed there.

"Uh, I don't know," he said, hesitantly. "I do have a degree in criminal justice from Arizona State, so...."

So he could always defend West Texas cowboys against the crime of serving zucchini too often.


Even through mesquite, an inflated beer bottle dominated the 11th at Fairway Oaks.


Levi got the course's number on Day 1.