"If Sawgrass is a major test of golf, I'm the pope," said Joe Inman moments before a 40-mile-an-hour gust of wind blew over a scoreboard that knocked him cold.
Inman regained his senses, finished shooting his 81 and eventually carded an astronomical 301 for the four rounds of the Tournament Players Championship. That was good enough for 34th place in an orginial field of 141.
"When I grow up, I want to be like this Sawgrass golf course," said Leonard Thompson, who shot 302. "Long and mean."
Aaaaarrrrr uuuurrrrr wwwwrrrr," said J.C. Sneald as his planters hat blew off, struck his ball on the green and cost him a one-stroke penalty. It ruined his chance to better 295.
Not eveyone left with such harrowing impressions of the first of what is expected to be many TPC's at Sawgrass.
Mark Hayes, whose on-over-par 289 was the highest winning score on the tour in five years, said he was proud to collect $60,000 and a 10-year exemption from qualifying after playing such "an excellent, tough course."
Deane Beman, commissioner of the Professional Golfer's Association, and prime mover in bringing the TPC to Sawgrass, was as pleased as the man with the ball concession.
"This golf course has left its mark," cooed Beman after the last double bogery had been recorded. "It's the most difficult test of golf I have seen that is still far. It is the ultimate inspection of your game.
"This tournament has been a trail of patience and maturity.
The PGA has a three yer contact to play the TPC at Sawgrass, and Beman is reportedly negotiating to purchase the course to provide a permanent home for the tournament.
Beman does not like to talk about the possibility of the TPC becoming a fifth major tournament on a prestige par with the U.S. and British Open, the Masters and PGA. "I don't compare this to anything. We want our event to be the finest in the world," said Beman who is already aware that the TPC field is stronger than either the Masters or PGA.
What the TPC and remodeled Swirass (opened four months ago) lack is tradition, a wealth of historical anecdote. In short, character.
Sawgrass provided gtbs of that in its first whack at hosting the $300,000 TPC.
Tom Watson said you would have to go to Australia to find a course on which the wind blew harder on a regular basis. I" and thee you can't stand by the traps or the blowing sand will burn you."
Johnny Miller "accidentally" forgot to find out if his 77 77 for the first two rounds made the cut. It did. Miller cal from Arizona to aplogize for his early departure and to send his condolences to the rest of the field.
Jack Nicklaus claimed it was some thing he ate that almost made him withdraw in midtournament. Others noted that his stomach ailment improved as the wind subsided.
Yes, the wind. No one knows how hard it blew on Friday. A anemometer was put up to measure the velocity.
The anehometer blew over.
By Sunday the wind had calmed to a nasty, swirling 20-miles-an-hour.
Only one player broke 70 in the final round.
"TThere seems to be a trend toward more tough. U.S. Open-type courses," said inconspicuous Hayes. "Nicklaus" tougher than this. And the Western Open was moved to Butler National and that's almost as bad as Sawgrass."
With that trend toward more braincell killing courses has come a different tournament strategy.
For years top prize money went to those who attacked a course. Boldness was the trademark of the best American golfers, raised on long, open tracks as opposed to the more cautious British, long inhibited by their trecherous links.
"You'd have to put the pin in the third portable toilet to keep Miller Barber from going after it," said Don January, one veteran praising another.
But barber did not make the cut here.
The victory went to the young Hayes who said, "I didn't try to hit a single spectacular shot this week . . . I kept plodding along not changing my routine, going for pars. I masked my emotions. I didn't even smile until the very end."
"In the future we hope players will come here in advance to practice and think in terms of preparing their games for Sawgrass," said Beman.
That means a lot of fewer drive-and-wedge birdies, and a lot more scenes like pro Ben Crehshaw announcing to a locker room fullof fellow sufferers, "Your attention, please. We have Jim Colvert in the interview area. Jim tell us about your 88."