Of the record 8,468 entries for next week's U.S. Open, one came
from a 13-year-old boy in Kansas and another from a 70-year-old
retired club pro on Long Island, proving that age is irrelevant
if your dream is to play in the national championship. All that
matters is that you're good enough.
On May 13 PGA Tour rules official Vaughn Moise reaffirmed that,
at 54, he's still good enough, a discovery that was as
satisfying as it was reassuring. That was the day he shot a
three-under-par 69 in a local qualifier--a round that eliminates
90% of the entries--at Cowboys Golf Club in Grapevine, Texas, to
advance to sectional qualifying on June 4. So Moise is 36 holes
from showing up at Bethpage Black as a player rather than as an
official. "I've got to be honest, that would be pretty special
at my age," he says.
Moise, though, knows there's a fine line between a dream and a
nightmare. He played in the Open once before, in 1983 at Oakmont
(Pa.) Country Club. That year the USGA made the course nastier
than punk rock. He was 35 then, working in the oil business, and
way out of his comfort zone.
"Oakmont has this big, 36-hole putting green, and it was really
fast," Moise says. "Of course it was fast--it was Oakmont. I
took three balls to the green and tossed them down. When I
dropped them, they hit each other. One rolled 50 feet away into
the rough, and I lost it. Really, I never found it. Another one
rolled down and hit Tom Weiskopf's foot while he was putting. I
was too embarrassed to get it, so I putted with the one ball for
a while and then got out of there."
Later, back on the practice green, Moise glimpsed a ball slowly
trundling up to a nearby cup. He watched the ball curl around
the hole and stop. "It was about a perfect putt," Moise says.
"Then Jack Nicklaus walked up after it, and I heard him tell
somebody he thought the greens were slow. Slow! I couldn't keep
a 10-footer from going halfway to Cleveland."
Moise's first-round tee time was 3:33 p.m. In his group that day
and the next were Rick Smith, then an assistant pro at Scioto
Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, and now a swing coach for
numerous Tour pros, and Steve Moreland, a club pro from Tracy,
Calif. Says Smith, "We waited around all day and were nervous;
then [Moreland] started shanking shots. He was so tight he
couldn't release the club. He shanked full shots, iron shots,
chips--you name it--one after another, all the way around.
Vaughn came up to me and said, 'Rick, I can't look anymore.'
About the 13th hole I told Vaughn, 'I feel for the guy, but I
just made a double, and now I'm feeling for me.' When I see
Vaughn, we still chuckle about it."
Moreland wound up shooting 87-83, Smith 83-82 and Moise 82-78,
missing the cut by a mile. Now, 19 years later, Moise may get a
second chance. First, though, he must do well in the
sectional--one of 12 held across the country--at Shadow Hawk, an
exclusive new club in Houston's southwestern suburbs notable for
its Rees Jones layout, celebrity member Roger Clemens and
proximity to Jester I, a minimum security substance abuse
treatment facility. The two low scorers in the 35-man field
there will advance to Bethpage.
Moise carried his own bag at Cowboys Golf Club. At Shadow Hawk,
Steve Timms, the executive director of the Houston Golf
Association and the tournament director of the Shell Houston
Open, was to caddie for him. Says Timms, "The thing Vaughn's
always had to work on is not getting down on himself. If
something bad happens early in a round, you may not hear a word
out of him until you're ordering beer in the locker room. That's
why we call him Marcel Marceau. He'll go silent on you."
Mark Russell, a fellow rules official, has seen that side of
Moise when they have played together. "When he turns into Mr.
Silent," Russell says, "I'll ask him, 'Isn't this fun? Isn't it
a beautiful day? Aren't you having a great time?' He ignores me."
If there's a bit of a military bent to Moise's stoicism, it's
probably because his father, Frank, was a lieutenant colonel in
the Marine Corps, and Vaughn and his brother and four sisters
grew up on military bases in Georgia, North Carolina and
Virginia. "My father was a lawyer, so he wasn't what you think
of as your basic Marine," Moise says. "When I was going to
Louisiana State, I asked him what I should major in. He said
business. I didn't know what he was talking about. If you didn't
put on a uniform, I didn't know what you did."
Moise walked on to the golf team at LSU in 1966 yet ended up
captaining the squad for two years. He was a third-team
All-America in 1969, his junior year, when he won the
Southeastern Conference tournament. After graduating with a
business degree, Moise turned pro and intended to play on Tour
but repeatedly failed to get through Q school. He lived in New
Orleans for a few years, then moved to Houston, married Susan
Monsour, whom he had met in college, and got into oil-field
sales almost by accident. "I didn't know much about the
business, but I could play golf, and that was a big part of it,"
Moise says. "If you could play, you could sell the stuff--safety
valves and gas-lift valves and drilling gear."
In 1985, during a downturn in the oil business, Moise switched
jobs, joining the PGA Tour as a rules official. Vaughn and Susan
still live in Houston with their 18-year-old son, Alan, who's
headed to Auburn in the fall, and daughter Emily, 16, who's a
junior in high school. Moise is on the road 28 weeks a year
working tournaments, but he's home the other 24. When he's home,
he plays or practices pretty much every day.
"Until the last couple of months, he really was not playing very
well," says Ken Stockton, a past president of the Houston Golf
Association and one of Moise's frequent playing partners. "He
was afraid that he was getting old and had lost it in terms of
being competitive. Then he went out at Deerwood [Moise's home
course and the setting for the U.S. Open scenes in Tin Cup] and
shot an easy 64. He followed that with a 68 and was like, O.K.,
I haven't lost it. The last time I played with him, Vaughn hit
into a bunker on the 1st hole. When he got to the green, he
marked his ball and the next thing we hear is, 'Son of a bitch,
I hit the wrong damn ball!' You don't think we gave him grief
Moise, a reinstated amateur, has teed it up on occasion with
Tour players and is good friends with Steve Elkington, a fellow
Houstonian who gives this scouting report: "Vaughn has a strong
grip, grinds on his game, putts out everything and, if he
doesn't play well, will have enough Budweisers afterward to make
it O.K. I'd love to see him make the Open."
Moise last played in a national championship in 1994, at the
U.S. Amateur. He made it to match play and faced Tiger Woods in
the first round. Moise was one down and had the honor at the
17th hole, but rinsed his eight-iron shot while Woods hit the
green, won 2 and 1, and went on to win the first of his three
straight Amateur titles.
If Moise does make it to Bethpage, he'd better stay on his toes.
The Tour officials who'll be working the Open say
(good-naturedly) that they're itching to nail him with a
slow-play penalty. "They won't catch me," Moise says, grinning.
"I've learned how to play bad fast."
The clock watchers have no chance. Like Moise, they're dreaming.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY FRED VUICH DAY JOB When he's not making Tour rulings 28 weeks a year, Moise is home working on his game.
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL READY FOR HIS CLOSEUP Moise's home course in Houston is Deerwood, the setting for the U.S. Open scenes in "Tin Cup."
"Vaughn will go silent on you at times," Timms says. "That's why
we call him Marcel Marceau."