Even those hardiest of all golfers -- the regulars at East Potomac Park -- are idle this week, although hardly depressed. They may be heard in occasionally loud celebration that one of their own, Jim Thorpe, is the 15th-leading money winner on the pro tour.
East Potomac spawning a world-class golfer would be one of the sporting classics of the year, for it is a haven for Washington-area hackers, a course where almost anyone can look about and see at least one swing worse than his own.
Most pro golfers are both born and made. They are raised near the 11th tee of a lush and testing course, weaned in sand traps. They birdie their way through puberty and adolescence, then major in long irons and wedges for a year or so at Wake Forest before following the sun to even more good fortune.
The East Potomacs of the world usually give a golfer false confidence, because he can hit the second-most vital club in his bag, the driver, every which way but straight and still make birdies. And public-course greens hardly are conducive to honing that all-important money stroke with the putter.
Still, the fellow known as Super Duck to many of the better area public-course players is doing nicely in his second venture on tour, having lost his card two years ago and regained it last fall.
He insists his several years experience at East Potomac was valuable, because it taught him to cope with, if not overcome, the aspect of pro golf as significant as the swing -- pressure.
"Say you have $30 bet on a match and you don't have any money in your pocket," he said. "That's prssure, the greatest pressure in the world. You know you can't lose -- and I very seldom lost those matches there.
"I did a little hustling. I'd win maybe $60 a day sometimes. I've lived in Falls Church since '74. I lived in Baltimore before, after I went to Morgan State on a football scholarship, but didn't play much football 'cause I was mostly on a golf course during practice."
Thorpe was talking from California the night before the first round of the Los Angeles Open, about how a four-foot putt last week provided nearly a year's worth of security and how Charlie Sifford and Lee Elder might well make him a rich man.
In four tournaments this year, Thorpe has made three cuts, shot 21 under par his last eight rounds and won $24,049. All but about $6,000 came by finishing in a three-way tie for second last week at Tucson, when he got golfing's gentry on his own turf -- a public course.
"It was like coming home," he said, referring to the area of his birth, Roxboro, N.C., as well as East Potomac. "It was the type of course I was raised on -- and I already was coming off a good tournament in Hawaii. In 72 holes, I made four bogeys and 17 birdies."
Thorpe missed birdie chances from inside 10 feet on two of the final three holes that would have tied him with the winner, Bruce Lietzke. But the four-foot, par-saving putt on 18 still helped enormously.
A golfer learns to survive before he learns to win on tour -- and that is exactly what Thorpe was doing. It was a swing of nearly $10,000, the difference between being tied for second and tied for fifth, and also a chance to bring order to his life.
"The most important thing is that I won't have to worry about losing my card," he said. "And it also means I won't have to qualify for some tournaments. I've received six or seven telegrams telling me I have sponsor exemptions for their events.
"I'm set up real good."
If Thorpe has not benefited from playing the best courses during his development as a golfer, he has not lacked the time to sharpen his game.His father was greenskeeper at the Roxboro course and Thorpe has known little but golf most of his 29 years.
He tried the tour after passing qualifying school four years ago, but quit after nine tournaments and about $2,000 worth of checks. More money was going out (it costs from $400 to $700 a week on tour) than coming in.
"I tried (qualifying school) again in Pinehurst and missed by a shot. I tried again at Albuquerque (in the spring of '78) and missed by two shots. From then till the fall school, I learned to control the driver.
"I'd pretty much given up hustling so I could work on my game. A lot of days, I'd sit around waiting on a match. And mingling with a lot of guys does your game no good."
Also, most of his hustling games were match play. Nearly all tour events are medal play.
"That hurt him some," said his good friend, Earl Robinson of Arlington. "It hurts him because he'd lose his concentration late in rounds (of tournaments or qualifying). In match play, you can have a bad hole or two and still win. There's no coasting in medal play.
"No his head's on straight."
Robinson did not bestow Super Duck on Thorpe. A man called Big George planted the notion; Thorpe helped it grow.
In East Potomac lingo, a duck is someone who cannot play. When Big George jokingly called Thorpe that, perhaps about the time he shot 29-30 one afternoon, Thorpe said: "If I'm a duck, might as well call me Super Duck."
And when Thorpe tied for the medal in the '78 qualifying school, having put his hustling days behind him for the most part, he said: "Now I know I'm ready."
There are no guarantees in pro golf. Thorpe has solid sponsors now and a solid winnings base. But The Bear still is in relative hibernation and many other fine players still are not yet serious about the season.
Thorpe remains confident, that he will win this year and that being black will make victory more profitable.
"When I was growing up, there were courses blacks couldn't play," he said. "But that's changed. Being honest with you, being black help me more than it hurts. What so many people (advertising types and sponsors) are looking for is some black guy to get hot and break through.
"If I can play well enough to win this year, well enough to crack the top 60, the future will be better because I'm black than if I was white. I've been told that by quite a few people. This really helps me."