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Original Issue

O'Meara Makes His Mark

Mark O'Meara, who had been big in winnings but never a big winner, hung tough over the closing holes of the Crosby to finally earn a big title

The pro golf tour took leave of the marshmallow circuit last week, sailed up the California coast, docked at Pebble Beach and got down to some serious golf in the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am. After humbling the desert and embarrassing Hollywood and Vine with a stream of almost unconscious subpar numbers, the big fellows faced all the adversity the Monterey Peninsula can, and usually does, muster. This year that meant gale force winds, saltwater spray, linoleum greens, a little chilling mist and, ultimately, Mark O'Meara, who's neither blond nor clone, but proved himself one tough golfer. Suddenly the palms were sweating instead of swaying.

As usual, the Crosby produced an assortment of strange occurrences. Cypress Point, Spyglass Hill and Pebble Beach can be so challenging, even downright terrifying, that more often than not the tournament is the highlight of the winter tour. Thus the '85 edition had Johnny Miller's magic crutch, a super-elongated putter that supported him for two rounds and then failed; Hal Sutton's very own 87; the derailing of Lanny Wadkins; Marvin (The Refrigerator) Davis, one of the new breed of balance-sheet celebs; a victory bid from a vacationing Japanese pro who owns an indoor driving range; and, of course, O'Meara.

Late Saturday afternoon, on the eve of the final round, O'Meara, the tournament leader by two strokes, was in his car ready to head for a half hour on the practice tee, which he considers a good day's just dessert, when there was a tap on the window.

"That's wonderful playing, Mark," said a smiling Nathaniel Crosby, who is Bing's 23-year-old son and the tournament host. "Go out and win tomorrow. That'd be great."

It was great, because what the 28-year-old O'Meara did with his victory in one of the world's most enduring and endearing tournaments was redo his identity. His changing room was the Pebble Beach Golf Links, where on Sunday he nursed his lead with dexterity and prudence through troubled waters, finally to nail par putts on the 15th, 16th and 17th holes to complete his makeover and earn the $90,000 first-place check.

On any other course, O'Meara's last round might have been called tepid; he made only one birdie against two bogeys. But at Pebble Beach on a day that began with rain and ended in sunshine, 36-37-73, for a five-under-par 283 total, was more than respectable. Tied for second, one stroke back, were Larry Rinker, with birdies on four of the last five holes, Kikuo Arai and Curtis Strange, who had birdies at 10 and 14 and pars the rest of the way in.

On the 18th hole, the classic 548-yard par-5 that runs along some of the more scenic and treacherous beach front to be found anywhere. Strange had a chance to force a playoff, but his 13-foot birdie putt just missed the right edge of the cup. "I really thought Curtis was going to make it," O'Meara would say.

The other player with a good chance at victory was Arai (pronounced awry, which he wasn't all week). Nicknamed The Hat because of his driving range headgear, Arai hung a stroke back of O'Meara over the last nine holes. He was in the tournament for the third time, through a PGA Tour foreign exemption that he got by finishing fourth on the Japanese tour for the last four years. It was sort of a holiday for him. Every winter he brings his son, Kiichiro, 11, to the Western U.S. for asthma therapy.

Arai is the proprietor of an indoor-driving range in Hanno, 20 miles northwest of Tokyo, and the boys back on the mats must have been thrilled because, in 14 appearances on the U.S. tour since 1983, Arai had made the cut only four times. "Is O.K.," he replied to any question the English-speaking press asked him. His 18-foot birdie attempt from just off the green on the 18th rolled harmlessly by the cup. Still, was O.K.

Was O.K., too, for O'Meara, who last year, with a revamped golf swing, had 15 top 10 finishes and pocketed $465,873 on the circuit. That's the third-highest total in tour history, and though O'Meara finished second on the money list to Tom Watson, he remained a member of the chorus largely because his only victory came in the Greater Milwaukee Open. "My goal now is to show people I can play," he said last week.

O'Meara is a former U.S. Amateur champion and was PGA Rookie of the Year in 1981, but he was slipping into golfs shadows before he flattened his swing and found Nirvana. His guru is Hank Haney, a 29-year-old club pro from Sugar Land, Texas who dogged O'Meara through all four rounds of the Crosby. Because of O'Meara's clear blue eyes, rosy cheeks, enthusiasm for spreading the gospel according to Haney and penchant for hard work, some cynics refer to him as Moonie. Golfie would be more accurate. He owns two video cameras and two tape machines that he and Haney use to analyze his game—endlessly. The two men spent their evenings last week with their feet up, talking about golf swings: O'Meara's and everyone else's. "Hank knows how each of these guys plays," says O'Meara. "I believe in him. The guys on tour look at me, and see the way I've improved, and think: 'Maybe I should try it.' "

The amateur part of the Crosby has always had a heavy show biz aspect, but now, without new blood from the entertainment ranks—aw, Prince and Boy George were no-shows again—the field fills up with biggies of business. One very biggie was Marvin Davis, a real corporate heavyweight judging by his 300 pounds. Davis, who is one of the richest men in America, is a Denver oilman who also owns Twentieth Century-Fox and, coincidentally, the Pebble Beach Corporation. "He looks as if he follows the Eat to Rule diet," snickered one pro after checking out Davis's girth. Davis was the only player in the field who was allowed to use an electric cart, presumably one with beefed-up suspension and a built-in lunch box. Despite his connection with Pebble Beach, Davis and his partner Andy Bean didn't make the pro-am cut. The team of Jack Nicklaus, father and son, fared considerably better, finishing tied for second, nine shots behind Hubert Green and Dean Spanos.

One celebrity amateur of past years was a celebrity pro of sorts this time. Young Crosby, the 1981 U.S. Amateur champion, turned professional before graduating from the University of Miami in December. Although he failed to earn his PGA Tour playing credentials in the qualifying school, he did gain entrée to' the European circuit, which is to golf what Grenada is to the medical profession. Crosby missed the cut at his own tournament by two strokes.

This Crosby was also notable as the place where the Wadkins Express became a local just as it was threatening to barrel through every tour stop. Wadkins had won two of the first three tournaments and $172,350, shooting subpar scores that sounded like windchill figures. He won the Bob Hope Desert Classic with a—27, and his—20 in the Los Angeles Open was a tournament record.

Crosby courses are a different matter, however. On Thursday, a clear, cold day with 40-mile-per-hour gusts rocking everyone, but especially those who played Cypress Point, Wadkins suffered his first double bogey of the year. And it was preceded by his first triple bogey. Ah, the Crosby. Wadkins finished with a 73, his first over-par effort in 14 rounds, but still one of the best Cypress scores of the first day. Eventually he wound up tied for 10th atone-under.

The Crosby field is divided into three groups, which rotate each day to one of the three courses before the cut and final round at Pebble. To accommodate television coverage, which concentrates on Pebble Beach, the big-name players and celebrities are loaded into one group that first plays Cypress, then Spyglass Hill and then, for the folks watching at home, Pebble Beach on Saturday. So, it was the misfortune of Wadkins, and many of the top players, including Watson, Nicklaus. Tom Kite and Greg Norman, to have to play Cypress Point in the fierce winds Thursday, while O'Meara the anonymous was off with the "B" group at Spyglass Hill, which meanders inland a bit and is protected by tall trees. Cypress is more exposed and always catches the brunt of the wind.

Sutton, the tour's leading money-winner two years ago, eked out an 87. He was stunned on one hole to see the wind push his ball six inches as he was about to address it on the green. On the 17th tee, he almost whiffed.

Over at Spyglass, Miller, who's becoming quite inventive, sat in his car with the heater going full blast until he was ready to tee off. "I was almost sweating, and I never did get cold," said Miller, whose 68 gave him a one-stroke lead.

Miller was using a new putter, if that is what you can call a 46-inch club with two grips on it. The shaft reaches up the inside of Miller's left arm, nearly to his armpit, and he chokes down on the lower grip to keep his wrists from breaking as he strokes the ball. He made five birdies with his new stick and afterward said, "I hope it's not a WOO Week club." That, explained Miller, was a club that "works only one week." Actually, it turned out to be more whoops than woo. Miller held together Friday with a 71 at Pebble Beach, a round he called "a whole bunch of mediocrity," but after nine holes Saturday, he was no longer leading and had endured the hazing of fans, as well as his playing companion, Jerry Pate, who booed him for laying up on the par-3 16th rather than going for the green on the 233-yard hole that sits out in the Pacific Ocean.

Another leader board habitué, George Archer, who had opened with 69-70, figured he would have a bad day Saturday at Spyglass when that morning his Maltese dog, Buck, relieved himself in Archer's eye as the golfer was doing exercises on his living room floor. Archer, who's 6'5", said in all seriousness that he never before had a dog do that, "as tall as I am." Archer, squinting, shot a 76.

Meanwhile, O'Meara was working his way to a 68 at Cypress Point, having caught it on a moderately calm day, which means the life lines were stowed. Coming down the stretch, he made four birdies, once just missing a hole-in-one when his six-iron tee shot stopped two inches from the cup.

On Sunday, O'Meara went after his first important pro win. "I was playing conservatively, but no one was making a move, and on a course like Pebble Beach, you just try to hang on," he said later. His only birdie came at the par-5 6th hole, where he made a 20-footer, after he'd bogeyed the previous hole.

He also bogeyed the par-3 12th, hitting a three-iron left and leaving an 18-foot putt short. With Arai up ahead and Strange, O'Meara's playing partner, now tied at four-under, a stroke behind, O'Meara steadied himself with a six-foot par putt on the 15th, a six-footer for par on the next hole and a par at the 17th that will be remembered for some time.

Such is the difficulty of Pebble Beach that many of its success stories—Watson's chip-in on the 17th at the '82 U.S. Open is a notable example—involve the adroit way a golfer has escaped from the course's hazards. A five-iron by O'Meara at the 209-yard 17th Sunday left him with a buried lie in a bunker. "I was just hoping to get on the green," he said later. O'Meara blasted out, his ball rolling to a stop 12 feet past the pin, and then holed the putt for a heroic par that sent him to the final hole with his one-stroke lead.

After two one-irons, an eight-iron approach and two putts from 14 feet on the last hole for a safe par and Strange's missed birdie putt, O'Meara visited the press room. He sounded more relieved than victorious, more a survivor than a winner, but that's life for a golfer on the Monterey Peninsula. "Straight down the middle," Bing used to sing. "Straight down the middle." At the Crosby, unlike some places, that is easier said than done.





Strange nearly dropped along with his putt on 16.



Only at the trophy ceremony did Mark, with wife Alicia (left) and Mrs. Bing, dog it.



The Hat found his way in and out of Pebble Beach's hazards so well that he tied for second, which most certainly was O.K. with him.



Dad had to help Jack II find his ball, but ultimately Nicklaus & Son came out of the weeds to tie for second in the pro-am.



The Refrigerator was very well stocked.



Miller's long putter gave him a short lead.