IT DOESN'T take much to be a Legend of Golf these days. All you
need is a vaguely familiar name, a bagful of titanium and a
working knowledge of Burt Bacharach tunes to verify your age. It
was not that way 18 years ago, when the Legends, a two-man
better-ball tournament, so dazzled the world of golf that the
Senior tour was born. You had to have been a somebody to play
back then. Lately it has been difficult to separate the real
legends from the chaff. Thank goodness Sam Snead and his gang of
eightysomethings are still around to remind us what the standard
ought to be.
Such specimens were in short supply last week at the Stadium
Course at PGA West. Only a fourth victory by Lee Trevino and
Mike Hill, who shot a final-round 63 for an 18-under-par 198,
and the illustrious pairing of Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player,
playing together for the first time and finishing two strokes
back in a three-way tie for second, kept the event from being a
The unfortunate truth is that the Legends has lost its way,
becoming little more than television programming and a big
paycheck for guys like George Archer, Bob Murphy and Dave
Stockton. It began as a jewel of an exhibition founded by Fred
Raphael in Austin, in 1978, a concept so novel that it was
co-opted by Deane Beman and turned into the Senior tour. But it
has evolved into a charmless peculiarity that is neither an
exhibition nor an official tournament. It doesn't seem to honor
anyone or anything. Rather, it is one of five unofficial events
on the Senior tour, 54 holes with no cut and a purse of $1.1
million. The Legends was moved to Pete Dye's spectacularly penal
6,803-yard layout at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., a year ago,
marking the triumph of the marketing types who wanted better
weather and a high-profile venue instead of the tradition it had
acquired in Austin, first at Onion Creek and then at Barton
Creek. The tournament's amiable director, Tim Iley, is 33.
Do we really need another tournament that enriches players of
arguable stature? Let's face it, there is something dissonant
about putting the words legend and Jim Colbert in the same
sentence. Watching Colbert, who with Murphy shot the low final
round of 62 to finish sixth, dominate the Senior tour is like
seeing someone step into one of those headless celebrity
cardboard cutouts in a photo shop. You, too, can look like
Pancho Villa or Louis XVI.
The mission of the original Legends was to give us a chance to
see someone like Snead once more in competition. It was also
meant as a reward to a generation of champions who built the
game before the big money came along. But for any sign of the
event's original intentions last week you had to look beyond the
main draw to a sideshow called the Demaret Division. An
assortment of national treasures 70 and over--the players the
event was really meant for--competed in a 36-hole tournament for
a first prize of $15,000. It was won by Art Wall, 72, and Doug
Ford, 74, who despite their ages, shot 65-69 over Dye's
Sadly, they were treated as an afterthought by ABC, which gave
viewers a cursory glance at some inspiring visions, such as
Snead, a month shy of his 84th birthday, birdieing two of the
last three holes to throw a scare into the winners. "That Snead
is 84, and he's charging," Ford said. "I'd be amazed if he can
even see how well he plays." Snead and his partner, the elegant
70-year-old E. Harvie Ward, were in contention throughout en
route to their fourth-place finish at 137.
Snead concedes he doesn't see very well anymore. "I used to take
one look and know just how to hit it," he said, relaxing over a
rum and Coke after Saturday's 68. "Now I stand on the tee and
say, 'Jeez, how far is that?' " The man who won 135 tournaments
over six decades is frustrated by his physical failings and his
inability to execute shots. "My wife says I don't realize how
old I am," he says, laughing. Snead still plays a couple dozen
times a year, although he makes his golden retriever, Meister,
fetch his ball when he hits it into the woods. Among other
things, he has poor circulation in his legs. "This isn't my
caliber of golf," he says. "I'm ashamed of some of the shots I
hit. When you play only once a month, you can't do too well. And
my legs are bad. I'm all wobbly. It makes me hit it fat. I hit
it fat until I could scream."
For all his frailties, there is no mistaking Snead for anything
but a legend. In fact maybe it is time to reaffirm the
definition. A legend has stamina and fights the erosion in his
game despite his years. A legend has encyclopedic knowledge and
a valuable memory. A legend provides a sense of perspective,
sometimes, like Tommy Bolt, 78, in a voice bawling with wit and
honesty. Bolt and Jack Fleck, the Demaret Division defending
champions, shot 71-65 to tie Fred Haas and Fred Hawkins for
When Bolt won his U.S. Open title in 1958 at Southern Hills in
Tulsa, Nicklaus was 18 and finished 41st. The runner-up was an
unknown foreigner named Gary Player. "I have no memory of him at
all," Bolt announced last week. Two years ago, when Bolt was the
honoree at the Los Angeles Open, he met Payne Stewart for the
first time. Stewart was wandering through the clubhouse in a
pair of baggy shorts. Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray
pointed him out to Bolt. Bolt surveyed Stewart from head to toe
and then sauntered over. "I hear you're Payne Stewart's caddie,"
he said, snorting.
A legend has contributed something to the game. Like Jug
McSpaden, 87, a 70-year member of the PGA. "Talk about a
legend," Trevino says. "Now, there's a real legend." On the
practice tee last Wednesday, as Trevino struck up a conversation
with McSpaden, who is one of the inventors of the modern golf
shoe, Chi Chi Rodriguez loitered nearby. Hearing that McSpaden
had played in the 1935 Masters, Rodriguez was incredulous.
"That's the year I was born," he said.
"My ambition," McSpaden confided to Trevino, "is to play this
event when I'm 90."
McSpaden, who with 70-year-old George Bayer shot 150, is a gold
mine for history buffs. In casual conversation he talked about
the days when he made wooden clubs and about the first time he
saw metal woods--in 1935. Bill Melhorn had brought some of the
experimental clubs to a tournament, and Gene Sarazen kidded him
about the "tin cans."
McSpaden's memory was rivaled by that of Paul Runyan, the 1934
and '38 PGA champion and the oldest competitor in last week's
field, by one month over McSpaden. Runyan, driving a cart during
his practice round, cheerfully recalled the first time he hefted
Sarazen's newly invented club, the sand wedge, in 1930. "It was
exceptionally heavy," Runyan said. He also recalled the
transition from hickory shafts to steel. "Much more dramatic
than from steel to graphite," he said. Runyan and 77-year-old
Eric Monti struggled through rounds of 80-75 to finish last, but
Runyan was grateful to be in a tournament. He plays two rounds
every week in addition to two or three sessions on the practice
tee. "I'm a pig in heaven," he says. "Competition like this is
one of the joys of my life."
The sentiment was shared by others, including Fleck, who seethes
at the lack of playing opportunities for those in his age group
and is attempting to mount an insurrection of sorts. Fleck is
seeking investors for what he calls "a major champions' tour, 65
and over." As matters stand, there are only three realistic
opportunities for the old-timers to play: the Legends, an
exhibition at the Tradition and the Senior PGA Championship.
"There's nothing for us at all," says Bolt, who adds that he
still plays golf "every day it doesn't rain." Ironically, Fleck
considers the Senior tour to be ageist. In fact, many of the
older players who competed in the era of fewer tournaments and
smaller purses feel that they are being discriminated against by
today's Senior tour.
In the meantime the legend standard will have to be carried by
the Trevinos, Nicklauses and Players, who are certainly doing
their part to stay young. Nicklaus, on a cabbage soup diet (page
G32), has dropped 17 pounds since January and installed a new
exercise set in his backyard. He and Player proved to be a
magical team, in contention until the par-5 16th hole on Sunday,
when Nicklaus went for an eagle. His two-iron approach rolled
through the green and down a precipice into a ravine. When his
pitch sucked back down again, he and Player had to settle for
par. Worse, Nicklaus's tee shot fell short of the island green
at the par-3 17th and into the water. When Player three-putted,
they took their only bogey of the day and fell into a
second-place tie with Harold Henning and Rodriguez, and the
second-round leaders, Orville Moody and Jimmy Powell.
Player wore a corset all week to protect his back, which he had
strained lifting weights. And Trevino went jogging twice,
despite a sore left knee. Doctors have advised him to ride a
stationary bike instead, but he doesn't care for the idea. "Ride
two hours and never go forward?" he said on Sunday. "Makes no
sense to me."
Trevino thought of McSpaden. The afternoon they had chatted on
the range, McSpaden had practiced longer than he had. "I was
afraid he was going to drop dead," Trevino said, "although he's
in better shape than I am. I'd love to get there. I hope I'm
playing in my 90's." Actually, the notion of going out while
holding a club has occurred to at least one of the 70-and-over
crew. Runyan has a fantasy. "I'd like to go out there, take a
swing at the ball and just drop dead," he says. "And I'd like to
think it's a good shot."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BURGESS In his favorite dream, Runyan, who at 87 was the oldest player at PGA West, goes down swinging. [Paul Runyan]
FOUR COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BURGESS Some of the genuine legends at the Legends included (clockwise from bottom) Bolt, Snead, McSpaden and Arnold Palmer. [Jug McSpaden; Sam Snead; Tommy Bolt; Arnold Palmer]
COLOR PHOTO: BEN VAN HOOK [Doc Giffin and Larry O'Brien] TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN BURGESS Nicklaus (top, left) and Player gave chase, but couldn't catch the winning team of Trevino (above, left) and Hill. [Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player; Lee Trevino and Mike Hill]
In golf circles Doc Giffin and Larry O'Brien are almost as well
known as the two legends they represent, Arnold Palmer and Jack
Nicklaus, respectively. Giffin, 67, a former golf writer for The
Pittsburgh Press, will observe his 30th anniversary as Palmer's
right-hand man in July, while O'Brien, 69, has worked as
Nicklaus's publicist since leaving Montreal, where he had been a
radio announcer, in 1972. Considering how much they have in
common, it is remarkable that Giffin and O'Brien had never sat
down to compare notes until SI brought them together recently.
SI: You two are unique. Nelson, Snead and Hogan didn't have
aides like you. How would you describe your roles with Arnold
Giffin: The original idea was to be like a traveling secretary
in baseball. My job is to make sure that everything on Arnold's
schedule gets done. The people in Cleveland [IMG] put together a
business schedule, and I do the tournament schedule.
O'Brien: I think our biggest strength is that we've never passed
ourselves off as managers.
SI: Loyal as both of you are to your man, you also seem to have
a lot of appreciation for the other guy.
Giffin: When I was the PGA press secretary from 1962 through
'66, Jack was just starting his career. In fact we both joined
the Tour the same month. Jack's first tournament was in L.A.,
and he tied for the last money spot.
O'Brien: Yeah, his first check was for $33.33. I've still got a
copy of it. But you know what's interesting, Doc, is that I was
with Arnold when he won his first pro tournament, the 1955
Canadian Open. I was doing the broadcast and went into the
locker room looking for Mr. Palmer. I was well into the
interview when I found out I was talking to Johnny Palmer, not
Giffin: Arnold was good for Jack early in Jack's career. He
watched the way Arnold handled the press. Once, when the press
wanted to interview Jack after he had shot a 78, he told Arnold
he didn't want to do it. Arnold told him, "Look, if they invite
you in there, you go."
SI: Were Arnold and Jack friends from the beginning, or is it
true that they really didn't like each other all that much?
Giffin: If there was a time when there was something less than a
friendship, it was when Jack left Mark McCormack and went out on
his own. They had a rivalry because they were competing for the
same things, but to me it was overblown.
O'Brien: It just sort of went away, and I think what happened at
the  Memorial had a lot to do with it. We have a committee
that decides who is going to be the tournament's annual honoree.
Jack had never gotten involved in choosing the honoree--that's a
sacred cow--but he stood up and said, "I'd like it to be
Arnold." He said that although the honoree is not supposed to
still be active, he thought Arnold should get his due while he
was still around to enjoy it.
Giffin: It wasn't a case of suddenly going from an enemy to an
olive branch. At worst there was coolness between them. There
was always great respect for each other's ability. When
something important came along, they would always consult.
O'Brien: We're both on the same side of a fight with the PGA
Tour, which has robbed Jack and Arnold of a title. They won the
PGA National Team Championship in 1966, but the Tour claims that
at the time there was a regulation making it unofficial.
Giffin: The Tour did a book, and when it came out, Larry and I
both noticed that they had reduced the victory totals.
O'Brien: We're up to 99 [career pro wins], and it should be 100.
The next time Jack wins, it'll be called a historic event--his
100th--but it's not.
Giffin: I can think of a plus, though. You get a double dip.
You're claiming 100 now, and they'll claim it then.
SI: Today it seems that the Palmer-Nicklaus rivalry is mainly in
the area of golf-course design.
O'Brien: In our exhibitions we focus a lot on overseas, where
they can lead to golf-course design work. But Europe has gone
flat. Our big boom now is Asia.
Giffin: They have different outlooks about it. Arnold prides
himself on designing a golf course that can be played by all
levels of golfers. Jack's golf courses are more severe.
O'Brien: All I know is that Jack designs golf courses to the
SI: In their prime, who was the better player?
O'Brien: That's like comparing DiMaggio and Williams.
Giffin: I don't think anybody will equal Jack's record in the
majors. By the same token, I can't imagine anybody with the same
combination of personality, drive and talent as Arnold. I just
wish there were more people like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.