The little stream running the length of the 16th fairway at Cherry Hills probably hasn't changed much since 1938. It is about five feet wide, its banks four feet high. The water is clear, flowing swiftly. Grass grows occasionally in the sandy creek bed. The Rocky Mountains still stand in the distance.
Ben Crenshaw will remember the setting a long time. He took an 8 on the 16th Thursday in the opening round of the U.S. Open en route to shooting himself out of the last two days of play. But Crenshaw was a piker, compared to the trout enthusiast who created a 40-year-old Open record on this hole in '38.
The man is gone. Ray Ainsley is now identified as "the late golf professional from Ojai, Calif." But his story, with annual embellishments, lives forever.
"Ansley's troubles started with his second shot in 16, on the second guide told this reporter yesterday after having led the easterner to the scene of the crime. "He hooked his shot out of the rough. The ball landed on this bank, not all that far from the green, and rolled into the creek. Then the fun started."
At this point the guide's historical instincts took over. He pulled from his pocket a clipping that featured UPI columnist Henry McLemore's coverage of the half-hour drama.
"I can't vouch for everything written here, but there are a few old people around who swear to most of it," the guide said. "I'd simply warn everybody to proceed at their own risk."
"Ansley, an unknown until Friday, bounded to fame when he scored 19-15 strokes over par," McLemore began. "For almost half an hour he stood in a swift-moving creek that borders the 16th green and belabored his ball with blows.It is recorded that a little girl who witnessed his effort to knock the ball from the creek turned to her mother when Ainsley finally got it out and said:
"Mummy, it must be dead now, because the man has quit hitting it."
Ainsley had fired a 76 in the first round. He ballooned to 96 this day, needing nearly one-sixth of that total just to get out of the creek.
"The official scorer became confused in a maze of figures as Ainsley swatted at the ball," McLemore continued. "After many strokes, the scorer turned to Ainsley's playing campanion, Bud McKinney, and called, "Pick up the count. I'm through."
"McKinney counted as high as he could, but not having majored in mathematics, he quit after one of Ainsley's blows lifted a speckled trout high into the air. A spectator suggested that Ainsley play the trout and not his ball . . . He was a sad sight at this point. He was covered from head to foot with sand, and his clothes were soaking wet.
"Each time Ainsley missed the ball, the current would sweep it farther downstream, and he would have to run along behind it, trying to get in a decisive blow. No man ever showed more gameness."
Ainsley's persistence prevailed, eventually. He managed to back the ball into a neutral eddy, and blasted out.
"The spectators cheered - until they saw that it had landed beyond a tree on the far side of the green," McLenmore wrote. "An amphibian by now, Ainsley adapted himself to dry land with remarkable alacrity and strode into the bush. After much thrashing, the Californian beat the ball onto the green and putted it into the cup."
Ralph Guldahl should have been the most interesting performer at that 1938 Open.He was in the process of winning America's most prestigious golf tournament for a second straight year. But Guldahl's victory march went darn near unnoticed.
"When Ainsley finally finished he was besieged on the clubhouse lawn," McLemore reported. "Hagen was forgotten. So was Jones. So was an assorted group of state governors, and so was Henry Picard, whose second consecutive 70 had given him the halfway lead."
One thing has changed at Cherry Hills from '38. There are no trout in the creek at the 16th where Ainsley took his 19. But a black hose or pipe is embedded in much of the stream's floor, for reasons which escaped both the guide and myself.
"It's too bad it wasn't there then," the guide remarked. "Ainsley should have taken it and beat himself, for being so dumb for not having taken the penalty and laid out."