Those footsteps established golf stars are hearing these days are from "rabbits," the onetime fringe players and young newcomers to the tour who used to be happy to make expenses.
The PGA tour is seven tournaments old and all have been won by the young Turks.
Jerry Pate won the Phoenix Open; Bruce Lietzke won the Tucson and Hawaiian opens; Rik Massengale won the Hope Classic; Tom Watson won the Crosby and the San Diego tournaments, and Tom Purtzer won last weekend's Los Angeles Open.
Massengale is the senior member of the group at 30. Watson is 27. Lietzke and Purtzer are each 25 and Pate, who won the U.S. Open last summer, is 23. But a year ago he was just another rabbit.
Lietzke, who passed up the Los Angeles Open because of his father's illness, already has won $123,350. But, more amazing, he has earned $2,000 more than most of the top names in golf, including Ben Crenshaw, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Ray Floyd, Hubie Green, Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf.
Miller is the major disappointment of the season. He has failed from another tournament and tied for 41st in the fifth.
Miller had won $680 this year. A year ago Miller had won the Tucson Open and the Hope Classic and had pocketed $100,000 with only six weeks of the season gone.
Nicklaus and Player have competed in only two tournaments and each missed the cut once. Weiskopf and Floyd, defending Masters champion, each missed the cut once in five starts.
Is it time for Nicklaus, Player and the others to surrender the spotlight? It could be too early to tell. In an interview with Watson after his two straight victories, the Kansas City promused on how tough it was to stay on top.
Every time I look at a starting field on this tour," Watson observed, "I think there is any one of 149 guys who can beat your or they wouldn't be in there."
Purtzer is the latest proof. He won his first tournament with the Glen Campbell - Los Angeles Open. He is a graduate of Arizona State with a business degree and turned pro in 1973 after winning the Arizona State Amateur championship. Last year he won $26,682; he took $40,000 home from Los Angeles.
A tour victory means more than the purse. Purtzer, as one of the rabbits, had to qualify for the LA Open; his victory assured him of an automatic invitation to this year's Masters. Eligibility to the first of the four major matches is extended to winners of any PGA tour events from the finish of the 1976 Masters to the start of the 1977 Masters. He also qualifies for the PGA Championship in August.
"Don't count us out," says Miller, a veteran at 29. "Usually, I start fast and people say I'm only a winter player. Now I'm in a slump and they're saying I'm through. But I think some of the veterans will be around to be counted when the summer comes around."
The 11th annual Tony Lema Memorial golf tournament at Marco Island, Fla., March 6-7, is attracting a top field of pros and celebrities. Lietzke has entered, along with Pate.