Beating the Boss might present a precarious problem for most of us, but not for a bunch of crusty old guys who go by nicknames like Sarge, Mr. X and the King. So it was that Orville (Sarge) Moody and Bruce (sorry, just plain old Bruce) Crampton teamed up to win their second straight Legends of Golf tournament last week in Austin, Texas, pummeling par to earn $60,000 apiece.
Moody and Crampton tied Tommy Aaron and his partner, 50-year-old senior rookie Lou Graham, at 26 under par when Sarge birdied the 72nd hole with a four-foot putt. Aaron had holed out a 115-yard nine-iron for an eagle at the 70th. The playoff ended when Moody the Magnificent holed another birdie, this one from 12 feet, on the sixth extra hole.
In addition to the Aaron-Graham pairing, Moody and Crampton beat 28 other teams, including sentimental favorites the King and Mr. X, a.k.a. Arnold Palmer and Miller Barber, who finished fifth, two shots back, after having a share of the third-round lead. Meanwhile, in 14th place, 10 strokes behind, were the Boss, PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman, who turned 50 last month, and his horse, Al Geiberger.
"I don't think I scared too many people," summarized Beman, who took a few personal days away from his office in Ponte Vedra, Fla., to play in his first senior competition.
It was Beman's entry into the field that distinguished the 11th Legends. No commissioner of a major professional sport in America had ever competed with or against the same people he could slap a fine on, or penalize a few strokes.
Beman is a competitor—just ask the CEOs he gets to cough up the $50 million that the pros, young and old, are playing for this year. He can also play some—he won the U.S. Amateur in 1960 and 1963, the British Amateur in 1959 and, from 1967 to 1974, won $370,000 and four tournaments as a player on the PGA Tour.
Decreeing such things as the official tanning lotion of the PGA Tour probably doesn't give Beman the same thrill it did when he became commissioner in 1974, and, given his makeup, it's not surprising that he has the itch to compete at a high level again. In the last two years he has played respectably in the British, Irish and Scottish opens. The fact that the Legends is not a PGA cosponsored event and is not played for "official" money allowed Beman to say he felt "comfortable" about competing.
The commissioner asked Geiberger to be his partner last summer, before Geiberger had even started his senior career. But when Geiberger got hot, winning $380,000 and four tournaments in his first seven months, the other seniors suspected that Beman intended his appearance at the Legends to be more than a cameo.
The idea of the commissioner, who draws a salary of about $400,000, dipping into their buried treasure, with perhaps the best senior player as his muscle, didn't sit well with some of the seniors.
"He shouldn't be playing," said Bruce Devlin, who joined the senior tour last fall. "We pay him to be the commissioner, and he's taking the spot of some guy who's trying to make a living."
"It doesn't look good when the boss hogs the workers," said Sam Snead.
"He's taken the strongest young senior we have," said Bob Goalby.
"I have some quiet reservations," said Palmer. "What if he wins? What if he has to call for a ruling?"
Beman said he understood the objections to his playing, particularly from old-line seniors who might feel possessive of their tour. "I am not one of the original guys who played on tour for so many years," he says. "But I hope I've contributed to the game in other ways." As in attracting enough big corporate money to the senior tour to have made it very lucrative for former regular tour players, many of whom might otherwise be living in mobile-home parks and working on driving ranges.
"People don't always think right when it comes to Deane," said Barber. "It's jealousy. What's he hurting by playing?"
"I think it makes golf look good to have a commissioner who is a good player," said Butch Baird. Chi Chi Rodriguez, meanwhile, took comfort from Beman's choice of Geiberger. "I want a smart commissioner," said Rodriguez. "If Deane had picked [86-year-old] Gene Sarazen, then I'd worry."
Beman spent time over the last few months honing his short but straight game. Still, when the bell rang, he was nervous. Before a throng surrounding the first tee at Onion Creek, Beman nearly topped his opening drive, sending it on a low line 13 5 yards off the tee. Geiberger laughed in an attempt to ease the embarrassment, but Beman didn't. "Gee, I hope he didn't take that laugh the wrong way," said Geiberger ruefully.
After the shaky start, Beman settled into playing solid if unspectacular golf. His short swing, which he begins with an abrupt lifting of the club rather than a smooth sweep, kept the ball in play but rarely in birdie range. Once a great putter, Beman has lost some touch and looks unsettled, standing motionless over putts for more than 20 seconds before pulling the trigger. Though he garnered several pars for his team, he added only four birdies to Geiberger's total of 14 in their rounds of 67-67-63-67.
"I came here wanting to win the tournament with Al," he said, "but overall, I was reasonably pleased. The players made me feel very welcome. I only regret not holing a few more putts."
So did Palmer, who probably wishes he could carve his last win, an 11-shot victory at the Senior TPC in 1985, into 10 other one-stroke victories. It was left to Barber to try to bolster the old charger's fallen confidence. "I keep telling him, 'King, you're the King,' " said Mr. X. "Arnold gets down on himself. He says, 'I'm afraid to hit it.' I tell him, 'You've never been afraid of anything in your life. Go ahead and whack it.' "
But the King was very tentative on Sunday as the Palmer-Barber team played the 2nd through the 11th holes in one over par while the rest of the field, led by Moody and Crampton, was speeding in the other direction.
On the kids' tour, Sarge was always considered one of the worst putters in the history of golf, but last week he was the hottest putter in Austin. Since acquiring a Slim Jim model putter with a 50-inch shaft that he braces against his sternum while controlling the stroke with his right hand, Moody, now 54. has gone from the ridiculous to the sublime. This year he ranks second on the senior tour in putting, and at the Vintage Invitational in March he was flat-out unconscious on the greens, finishing 25 under to win by 11 shots.
"That big putter keeps me from getting a little jerk in my stroke," said Moody. "I've never gotten a yip with it."
By the way, both Crampton and Moody said they never gave a second thought to trying to beat the boss. "Actually, we are the boss," said Crampton. "Deane's employed by us."
Beman got a leg up by playing with Geiberger, but he couldn't regain his old putting touch.
The King still reigns, despite a three-year drought since his last victory as a senior.
The Boss wasn't on Moody's mind; Sarge just concentrated on winning.