"How Not to Play Congressional."
That's the idea of this story. Some of the very best players in the world are here this week for the Kemper Open at Congressional Country Club. But how boring it would be to carry a strategy story about where Tom Watson should hit his drive on the ninth hole, a 603-yard par-5. These guys could make par if we cut the cup into the office carpet.
Better, we thought, to do a story about the average backer playing this great golf course, because one of the game's charms is that the very worst players can tee it up on the same ground with the very best.
Meet Byron Rosen.
Byron Rosen is a prince among sportswriters, the creator and curator of the "FanFare" column that decorates the pages of The Washington Post as many as five times a week.
Despite the best efforts of golf instruction books . . . flying in the face of the good luck that should accrue to anyone who once wore the hand-me-down golf shoes of an old Washington Senator . . . proving once and for all that the Lord is too busy to answer prayers about shanking -- yes, it is true, Byron Rosen, Lord Byron, lives for the golf day when he can break his body temperature.
Byron is a 23-handicapper.
He shot a 63 at Congressional.
Then he drank lunch between nines.
And he shot a 59 on the back nine.
These figures are misleading.
Byron would have done much better on the front nine if a cat hadn't eaten his ball.
"Tell Watson to keep it out of the left rough on nine," Lord Byron said.
That's where the cat lives.
The ninth hole is, as we said, 603 yards long. Trees line the entire length of its fairway. A 50-foot gulch cuts in front of the green. For Tom Watson, this hole is a drive, three-wood and a wedge. For Byron, this is 603 yards of guerrilla warfare. He was in more trees than a hungry woodpecker.
It was Byron's fifth shot, or maybe his sixth, that disappeared into the left rough in that deep gulch.He had a downhill lie to the elevated green and he topped the shot, causing the ball to skedaddle along the ground like a white mouse running from a cancer researcher.
And the cat ate the mouse.
What Byron is wonderful at, perhaps because he has had so many years of practice, is finding golf balls. En route to his 122, he sent balls into the darkest recesses of Congressional's gorgeous acres.
There were times when Byron disappeared for days. He would write us letters. We would ship him, by parcel post, packages of cookies. And always, smiling brightly, golf weapon in hand, here would come Byron into the clearing to announce he had found it, he had hit it again, and again, and he was now shooting six.
So when this Tracer of Missing Titleists couldn't find his ball in the rough on the ninth hole -- and when we saw this black cat skulking around the jungle there -- well, it was obvious the cat had eaten the golf ball.
Too bad. Byron had been on a hot streak. He had back-to-back double bogeys preceding a bogey at the eighth hole. But now, with a penalty stroke for having hit a golf ball into a cat's mouth, Byron arrived on the ninth green in a dark huff, which is like a blue snit, only worse.
From 20 feet, he putted.
The greens at Congressional, Lord Byron will tell Lee Trevino if he should ask, are smooth and true. For a guy trying to break his body temperature, nothing is much worse than greens that are smooth and true. Those greens take your putts exactly where you hit them.
Lord Byron's putt from 20 feet rolled 15 feet past the cup.
The cat meowed.
From 15 feet, Byron left a putt three feet short.
From three feet, with a touch George Blanda would have admired, Byron kicked his ball into the hole.
Earlier when Byron came off the second green, he told his scorekeeper, "Gimme a Christy Mathewson."
"Huh?" the scorekeeper said.
"They called him 'Big Six,' didn't they?" Byron said.
As Byron kicked in his last putt on the ninth hole, the scorekeeper asked for the grand total.
"Gimme an Elvin," Byron said, and the scorekeeper wrote down an 11, which is Elvin Hayes' uniform number.
Sick and exhausted by the heat, Ken Venturi collapsed between 18-hole rounds on the final day of the 1064 U.S. Open at Congressional. He needed a doctor. In one of the game's most memorable victories, Venturi staggered around Congressional that afternoon, saying as his last putt fell, "My God, I've won the Open."
What Byron needed between nines was not a doctor, but a drink. When you've been typing sports stories for 20-some years -- tap-tap -- tapping the sensitive fingers of your putting hands against a metal typewriter for a thousand FanFares -- it is no wonder your putting stroke sometimes is reduced to a drop kick. Tom Watson has never written a column. That's why he is a great golfer. The ends of his fingers are still sensitive.
For his art, then, Lord Byron has sacrificed his golf game. You can tell by his golf swing. It is a picture swing and the picture is rated X. Because the ball does not always fly where Byron wants it to fly, he tries to guide it with body English. He turns his back to the ball until he is looking over his right shoulder at it. He keeps twisting. You worry that he will screw himself into the turf, he's twisting so much. With a club in hand, waving it as he twists and turns, Byron looks like a man trying to land a 500-pound swordfish.
And so would Tom Watson if he had to type for a living. Anyway, as long as Byron's fingertips were already numb, he figured he might as well go for the whole body. Waiter, bring Lord Byron a bourbon and water.
Congressional has been host to a U.S. Open and a PGA. It is 7,075 yards playing to a par of 70 for the pros. It is a piece of land that has (by Byron's census) 7,189,376 trees. By Sunday night of Kemper week, Jerry Pate may need that bourbon and water.
It worked for Byron.
He fed no Top-Flites to no cats on the back nine. He suffered no broken bones on the back nine. He finished with a rush, making back-to-back double bogeys on the 17th and 18th. And at the 12th hole, a 167-yard par-3 for the hackers, Lord Byron rolled in a 20-foot putt for his only par of the day.
"Let's have lunch again," he said triumphantly.