Joe Kunes is a third-year touring pro who should inspire warm feelings from all golfers, from the Watsons to the public-course hackers, from everyone, in fact-in and out of sport-who ever had the urge to give some stuffy authority a swift kick.
Kunes did this today by hitting a golf ball through a tree.
He said it was not an act of defiance, merely the desperate ploy of a man willing to try anything to avoid the cut in the U.S. Open. Still, it was wonderfully symbolic, as hard and delightful a blow to the considerable ego of the U.S. Golf Association as anyone could imagine.
During the first round, the USGA had been placed in an unplayable lie of sorts when Lon Hinkle and several others realized that the shortest route to the eighth hole at Inverness Club was through the 17th fairway.
The eighth is one of four holes the USGA went to considerable trouble to create, a 528-yard par-5 with an almost 90-degree dogleg left that can be reached only after a massive drive. But a fellow could turn left in the tee box, fade a drive through quite a large opening and onto the 17th fairway-and cut 50 yards off the hole.
"I should have seen that opening when I was here last year-and last month," said Jim Hand, the tournament chairman. "I didn't. I'm free to admit it, but I'm not going to cry over spilt milk."
Hinkle made birdie the first round with a one-iron to the 17th fairway and two-iron to the eighth green. But he is long enough to have made 4 the conventional route. What made the USGA blanch was the relative pee wee, Chi Chi Rodriguez, following Hinkle's lead and almost reaching the green in two.
The USGA is infamous for devising the meanest courses for Opens, rearranging short par-5s into long par-4s, encouraging the thickest rough possible and offering absolutely no escape from the 18-hole torture.
To the delight of all Open players, past and present, the USGA got Hinkled. Lon showed them a way to temporarily unlock the handcuffs.
"It's kind of amusing," said Hinkle, who can be kind of amusing on and off the course. "There was some debate about which of us (he or Rodriguez) would go first-and when I hit it I waited for someone to run out and say: 'RELOAD.'"
The USGA decided to come out firing today. It could have eliminated the shortcut by moving the tee markers 10 yards ahead. But that would have ruined the "integrity" of the hole, Hand and USGA President Sandy Tatum insisted.
Instead, it was decided to plant a tree, a large one and fat enough to grab anything not smacked the proper direction. Somebody knew where one could be dug up and moved-and by the time the first group came through this morning a 25-foot Black Hill spruce was waiting.
In truth, it resembles a homely and undernourished Christmas tree, but it seemed to attract everybody in Toledo at various times today.
The first golfer was Lynn Janson-and as he walked onto the tee he gave the tree a mischievous glance, angled his body toward it for a moment and then drove the ball the USGA way. So did his partners.
"It would have been silly to try and hit it around or over the tree," he said later.
It was not silly to the first man in the next three-some, Kunes.
To the gallery of perhaps a half dozen, he matter-of-factly said: "Wonder if we can go through that tree?" Almost before anyone had time even to snicker at so preposterous a thought, Kunes had pulled out his five-wood and began to swing.
The ball ticked a branch, but it sailed through and about 195 yards down the 17th fairway.
"Malice (toward the USGA)?" Kunes said as he walked toward his ball. "My only malice is toward my driver. "I'm tired making doubles and triples." He was eight over par at the time and 15 over for the tournament, in need of a miracle to make the cut.
But he had a chance at the green with a three-wood, until he swung. As if silently willed by the USGA, the ball died perhaps 100 yards short and came to a stop on a stony cart path, in a gully with trees blocking any pitch to the green.
"Sure hate to tear up my pitching wedge," Kunes said. "Wonder if I could get relief?"
He could have, but he failed to ask the nearest officials, one of whom was Dow Finsterwald. Kunes smacked the ball up and through the trees and into the grass near the green, still 25 yards short of the pin.
The USGA men were eager to report that one of Kunes' partners had played the conventional way-and was about to putt for an eagle 3 (which he missed). They were pleased when Kunes chipped to eight feet and missed his par putt.
They were delighted three hours later, when Kunes used his 84th stroke of the day to sink a short par putt on 18. The guy with the reddish-blond hair and slightly chunky frame would be out of their lives the final two rounds, having shot 20-over-par 162.
"Just tryin' to make 3," Kunes said again, adding the irony that by playing the USGA way the first round he made birdie. And his father, Jerry, had been an assistant pro at Inverness years.
"If I'd just hit the three-wood right I'd have made the green," he said. "My poor play caused the 6, not the idea. There won't be too many more shots like mine, but you'll see some more."
He was right.
By mid-afternoon, at least four others had smacked their tee shots past the allegedly impenetrable tree and into the 17th fairway. Hinkle and Rodriguez were two of them, Chi Chi brazenly teeing his ball on a pencil to assure adequate height.
Hinkle birdie the hole, but Rodriguez also took a bogey 6.
And as the day wore on carts with USGA officials sped to the eighth tee from all directions, like cops attracted by some massive crime wave.
Once every decade or so the players manage to slap a small pie in the face of the officials. In 1954, Ed Furgol won the Open after playing his ball onto an entirely different course at Baltusrol. He did it on the final hole of the tournament, deliberately.
Just before the start of the PGA Championship Dave Marr won in 1965, officials plopped a new tree onto the course to keep players at the third hole from taking a shortcut through the sixth fairway.
After his first round, Rodriguez had predicted: "You'll see the largest hotdog stand in America next to that No. 8 tee tomorrow."
Perhaps by Saturday. CAPTION: Picture, Lon Hinkle sends his eighth-tee drive around the transplanted spruce, right, into the 17th fairway (see path A on diagram), rather than down the eighth fairway (path B). From there Hinkle birdied hole second straight day. UPI