Don't ask Lanny Wadkins where he has been the past four days. He can't possibly know. Only an unconscious man could play golf the way he has over the vicious, gale-swept Sawgrass links.
Wadkins finished one of the most remarkable sustained performances of golf daring and fortitude in the decade today by birdieing the final hole of the Tournament Players Championship in a gaudy five-shot walkaway victory over Tom Watson.
That was only the bare bones of the brash Wadkins deed. His 67-68-76-72 -- 283 was five under par, making him the first man in the three years of the TPC at Sawgrass to break par.
For the final 54 holes of his trek, Wadkins played in winds that varied from 30 to 50 miles per hour, all but blowing the rest of the best field in golf off the course.
Only two players -- Watson and stoic young Jack Renner (289) -- finished within eight shots of Wadkins. The final nine today was not a golf tournament but a triumphal procession for Wadkins, who won more money today -- $72,000 -- than he did all last season -- $53,811.
Wadkins' only stated realization was, "This is probably the best 72 holes of golf I have ever played in my life."
Watson, the only player to break par at Sawgrass today, with 71, saw things a bit more clearly.
"I don't think people will realize what Lanny's score means on this course under these conditions," said the 1977 and '78 PGA player of the year. "It's like shooting 271 (the record) at the Masters. Five under par here is truly golfing the ball."
While Wadkins was carving his rock-solid 72, holding a lead ranging from three to six shots all day, the rest of the elite cast was blowing into the high, clear-blue sky. The day's stroke average was 78.5, the highest of the week, and the second-highest in the three brutal ego-smashing years of Sawgrass.
Casualties among the other leaders were enough to turn a strong man's stomach.
Among those who started the day in second place, three shots behind Wadkins, George Burns shot 83, Lee Trevino 78, Bill Kratzert 79 and Renner 75. The other man in early contention, Gary Koch, stepped to the first tee saying to his partners, "Let's have fun. This is impossible." Koch proceeded to shoot 82.
Of 71 pros, 23 could not break 80. Jack Nicklaus ended a bizarre week with a psychedelic progression: 67-73-62-78 -- 300. Poor Dan Halldorson, five under par in second place at the TPC midpoint, finished 81-89 for a 309 total. At least he beat bedraggled Bob Murphy, who set a Sawgrass standard for malfeasance with a final 92 for 312.
Wadkins' excellence had to share top billing with the universal futility that surrounded him.
"This is like miniature golf," said Trevino, who grew so giddy that he was rooting for his ball to go in bunkers. "You know, with windmills and ramps. It's goofy golf, not real golf."
At the sixth tee, where a crossing wind-tunnel effect had gales of more than 50 mph blowing shots 50 yards off line, Trevino looked heavenward and spotted a small private plane actually being blown backward by the wind.
"Time out," said Burns to Trevino, "Take me out, coach. I wanna go home. Where's my designated hitter?"
If a movie were made of Burns' round, it could be called "Oh, God," and the other George Burns might say, "Amen." Our man did not make a par until the 11th hole, starting with nine bogeys and a double bogey to go from second place to oblivion.
"This reminds me of the army," Trevino said. "I was counting by days to get out then. Now I'm counting the holes."
"Get it organized, Lee," a fan pleaded.
"I'm gonna get it organized tonight after I get off this damn course," Trevino answered. "Oh, what the hell... I guess it's not that bad. I could be in the hospital dying."
When Allen Miller trudged up the 18th fairway, he was waving a white surrender flag. "May I borrow it?" quipped Burns.
The only attitude that seemed to help was that of phlegmatic 22-year-old Renner, who said, "My golfing goal is to play 72 holes without ever changing the expression on my face. If Ben Hogan could do it, I can. Happiness is just as destructive on the golf course as unhappiness."
An excess of happiness was the only problem Sawgrass did not offer.
"Nobody in their right mind wants to play under conditions like this," said Wadkins, who is now the tour's leading money winner of the year ($134,947) and its first double winner (L.A. Open).
"No way in the world I'd come out and watch golf on a day like this. My eyes are red and tearing from the blowing sand. Jeez, I admire the spectators."
Yet Wadkins made one brave shot after another.
After bogeying the first hole, a sure gut-twister, he rammed home a 35-foot putt for birdie at the second. Wadkins then saved par on three straight holes from off the green. The save at four keyed his round. It was pure Crazy Lanny.
His second shot on the par-five was almost out of bounds. For his third, he tried to punch a wedge through an opening in a dead oak tree covered with Spanish moss. The ball, hit fast, barely made it through a gap not much bigger than a TV set. Still short of the green, he stroked a miserable chip to 15 feet.
Staring a bogey on the downwind par-5 in the face, Wadkins said, "I was worried for the only time all day."
His putt ran 360 degrees around the cup and down to save par.
After that, everything seemed easy. At the all-but-unplayable par-3 No. 6, Wadkins let the tornado blow his three-iron almost 50 yards right to left -- and watched the shot nestle six feet from the pin.
In all, Wadkins had three birdies, three bogeys and six saves of par from off the green.
"I made a lot of those little putts," he said, grinning. "When I'm not playing well, the game gets to me, like it does everybody else. But when I'm goin' pretty darn strong, like I was this week, I just keep on truckin'."
By the time Wadkins had finished the front nine at one-under 35, he had virtually ended this tournament, leading by six shots. Despite pin placements that he said were "almost off the charts," and greens where "the grass was looking up at you begging for moisture," Wadkins coasted home with something close to ease.
The PGA brethren had begun to say that no mortal man would ever break par for four rounds at Sawgrass if the winds blew. They may still be right.
The 283 that Wadkins shot here this week seemed touched by just a bit of golfing divinity. Some say that Lanny Wadkins makes his living by playing death-wish golf, constantly tempting the fates of game.
Those furies must have learned to respect the cocky little swaggerstick named Wadkins -- they seemed to guide him through the howling perils of Sawgrass as though magic was his caddie.