They crowded around Al Geiberger today - Arnold Palmer, Jerry Plate, J. C. Snead, many of his touring peers and some little known players who will compete in the U.S. Open starting Thursday. The 39-year-old Geiberger was the man of the hour, because of a 59 he shot over the Colonial Course in the Memphis Classic on Friday, a PGA tour record.
The sun was mouning in the hot sky, climbing to the 100 mark and Geiberger seemed reluctant to try the Southern Hills course with his pal, Dave Stockton, and Jerry McGee his playing partners at Memphis.
"I've been resting since winning the Memphis tournament Sunday," he said, "and I almost hate going out there. I feel drained from all the excitement."
Geiberger has had physical and personal problems. He is a gentle, friendly man with a courteous word for everyone. His physical problem was a bad stomach that bled internally because of the tournament tension. His personal problem was that his wife divorced him. He spent eight years in limbo after winning the 1966 PGA Championship. But he remarried, his tension-torn stomach no longer bothered him, and he started winning golf tournaments again.
His son and stepson, both 9, witnessed his 59. "When we got back to the hotel they raced up to the room to tell my wife I had a 59," said Geiberger. "She answered: '59 what?'"
Geiberger found himself in a unique situation after winning the Memphis tournament. He is under contract to Spalding but he uses a Ben Hogan ball. He never changed golf balls during his historic round.
"I donated the Hogan ball to St. Jude's Hospital in Memphis, the beneficiary of the Danny Thomas-Memphis Classic," Geiberger said. "Then came the complications. Former President Ford made a hole-in-one during the pro-am preceding the Memphis tournament and he had donated the ball to St. Judge'. It was auctioned off for $1,000.
"So I followde suit. But then I began to think about Spalding so I gave $1,000, in lieu of a Spalding ball, to the hospital and another $1,000 for myself. But that wasn't the end of it.
"The World Golf Hall of Fame at Pinehurst wanted the ball along with one of the clubs I used.Ben Hogan called me and suggested that his company would give St. Jude's $1,000 before the ball was auctioned. The deal went through.
Hogan said, 'Don't let it get around you used only one ball for an entire tournament round. It's bad for business.'
"Usually, I use from three to six balls for a round, we get them for nothing. But I guess it was superstition on my part and on the part of my regular caddie, Lee Lynch, who kept tossing me the same ball. I always tee up a ball with the label facing me. There were a couple of lines in the label but other than that, it was O.K."
Geiberger said he didn't realize the impact of his great round. "I know the boys (his sons) went looking into the Guinness Book of Records. All that night at the hotel I received telephone calls from all the country. The endorsements are starting to pour in - especially from a peanut butter company I represent. Maybe they'll call it the 'Geiberger 59.'"
Geiberger said he was going for the record of eight straight birdies established by Bob Goalby in 1961 and tied by Fuzzy Zoeller in the Quad Cities Open last year.
Geiberger started on the back nine and he thinks the 14th hole was the turning point.
"It was after I completed the 14th or my fifth hold that I caught fire," he said. "And that was a coincidence. Just as I was finishing the 14th - incidentally, I missed an eight-footer for a birdie - I heard fire engines. There was a fire in the parking lot adjoining the 14th fairway and the fire engines were screaming and there was all kinds of excitement. Eight cars were burned.
"Another thing that happened on the 14th was that a friend of mine, who has a house on that fairway, came out and gave me some crackers an inch thick with peanut butter - my favoriet picker-upper. I went on to make four straight birdies to finish that back nine and then eagled the first hole on my 10th, to start the second nine. Then I made two more birdies giving me seven straight holes under par. I needed one more bird to tie Goalby and Zoellar. I missed a 13-footer and told myself: "Oh, well. There goes your name in the record books."
Geiberger parred the next hold and birdied the sixth or his 15th. He picked up the story again.
"It was like the spontaneous roar from a football crowd, when I started to play the sixth hole or my 15th. I birdied the hole from 13 feet. That started it. One man in the gallery started to yell, '59, 59, 59.' Then I began to realize what he meant. He wanted me to break the tournament record of 60 held by about seven guys starting with Al Brosch in 1961 and including Sam Snead and Mike Souchak.
"Now I had three holes left. I birdied the seventh (16th), a par five, with a drive, a three wood, a pitch, and a nine-foot putt. The crowd had picked up the chant: '59, 59, 59.' I had to make a birdie on one of the last two holes to break the record.
"I told myself, 'If you don't put something ahead of you (a goal) you'll fall back.' When you have a hot round, it's like climbing up a steep hill with mud on it. It gets tougher. I knew that the birdie putt on the seventh was going in and I turned to watch the gallery. It was like they sensed something and now they all were roaring: '59, 59, 59.' I never saw anything like it in my 18 years on the tour. I parred the eighth hole, two-putting from 20 feet. So that put it up to the last hole.
"The ninth hole at Colonial in Memphis is a dogleg left with a trap catching a short knocker like me. But it must have been the adrenalin or something. I hit it right at the trap and carried it - something I had never done before. I was 124 yards away. I decided on a soft nine-iron and put it flat on the green, eight feet away. Stockton and McGee backed away. The crowd went completely silent. I wasn't thinking about anything but that putt, uphill and from left to right. I knew I couldn't leave it short. You build yourself up to that point I stroked it right in and then bedlam," and there is no time for nervousness. I stroked it right in and then bedlam."
"As I said, I'm drained. The Open will require accuracy and some great putting. I'm not a long hitter. I have a chance if that magic putter, which I wanted to give away two weeks before Memphis, does the same tricks for me. What's ahead? I don't know. I've won over $1 million on the tour - I just became the 13th man to do that. But I doubt anything will ever again be as important as that 59.
I broke the sound barrier, I pitched the perfect game. For once, it was mine - the best in the world."