Because he had been barking at himself and yipping at those around him, it was only appropriate that Tom Weiskopf should go rough-rough-rough-rough with his first four shots toward the 17th green today. At last, this was the U.S. Open we have come to cherish.
The opening round? Oh, you could call it the Ohio State Bird Shoot. Or you could call it the Sonny Werblin Open. Or you could call it almost anything that gives the impression of wonderful golfers finding heaven where they expected hell. After 24 players had matched or bettered par, the intrigue today figured to be how diabolical the U.S. Golf Association could get.
Beyond violation of manners and traditions, the USGA regards low scores in its championship as the ultimate sin. It wants an examination of golf, not an abomination, so all sorts of evil possibilities surely must have been considered to humble these uppity heretics.
"Tomorrow," Jack Nicklaus had warned, "we won't be able to find 15 of the flags."
It is an article of faith that the USGA requires waist-high rough and fairways just slightly wider than Dolly Parton. And after Lon Hinkle had the nerve to take advantage of an oversight and play the eighth hole at Inverness last year via the seventh fairway, didn't the USGA haul in a 25-foot spruce overnight to discourage it?
A body this determined and inventive is capable of golfercide, or wiping out an entire field of players with a few bold strokes of its own. Perhaps a blue-coated fellow would be planted on each landing area and told to slyly kick every tee shot behind a tree.
Or maybe an official could be buried beneath each green, manning a periscope with a paddle attached that would pop out of the cup, spot any ball rolling dangerously close and swat it firmly into a bunker.This golfing star wars might get ugly, but the USGA had its sacred honor to uphold. Anyone who would import a tree one year might bring in Winged Foot and try an entire course transplant.
But the money managers at Golf Magazine were trembling even more. They promised to give any golfer who broke Johnny Miller's one-round Open record or Nicklaus' four-round record a $50,000 prize. That was $50,000 to each man who broke either record , not to be the first and subscriptions to everyone else.
"No limit," the announcement said.
Well, Nicklaus and Weiskopf probably should have battered Miller's 63 Thursday. And when a half-dozen playeers also seemed to have a chance to lower the 275 Nicklaus set here 13 years ago, it was suggested that a new spokesperson at Golf Magazine soon would be Emily Litella.
Miss Litella would be borrowed from Saturday Night Live, told to stand in front of all those greedy clones after the last round and cackle, "Never mind."
She still might be on standby. But the devious USGA and venerable Baltusrol conspired today to make 62s a near-impossibility once again, though several players have a chance at 274.
As Nicklaus predicted, no one found the pins too often today. Seve Ballesteros couldn't even find the golf course until it was too late for him to tee off. Possibly he drives as erratically off the course as on.
Still, his first-round 75 took much of the significance out of the Ballesteros disqualifiaction, especially since a guy once was disqualified from the Open for starting to early . That was Porky Oliver in the 1940 Open in Canterbury.
There was a 36-hole final round back then -- and the threat to rain and a storm after the first 18 holes. So while most everyone else -- including the official starter -- continued with lunch, Oliver and some others began again. Twenty-eight minutes too soon and without permission. Had it not been disqualified, Oliver's 67 would have earned a playoff for the title with Lawson Little and Gene Sarazen.
Today, the scores and flavor became decidely Open-like. Other than the incessant squeals from children at play in a pool across the road from the seventh green, an occasional loud burp from some heavy equipment on an access road and Tom Watson's eagle on the last hole late in the day, the Open sounds were silence -- a 180-degree emotional turn from the first round.
Thursday, the players everyone wanted to see play well were often flawless. It was a day filled with birdies and joy. As Open reality struck today, the golfers wore their stern faces again and the prevailing attitude was: "Quiet, please, men at work avoiding embarrassment."
Nowhere was this more evident than around Weiskopf, who was a mind-jotting 12 shots worse in the second round than in the first. He followed that record-tying 63 with a 75 that made him high Buckeye -- of six present or former State players -- for the day.
Naturally, he was a compelling figure during the ordeal, perhaps the only player almost as riveting in bogey turmoil as he is in the birdie flight. Golf has not yet tamed him, kept the anger after a bad shot from bubbling in public or kept him from venting his frustration on someone else.
Weiskopf was a 6-foot-3 storm cloud after a birdie on the first hole and a steady, six-shot decline was interrupted only with a birdie at 13. He was noticeably irritated at almost the slightest distraction, plopping his tee shot into the sand at 16 moments after regaining a tie for the lead. He was coaxed into harsh post-round criticism of tournament officials.
The pin sheets for the back nine, the ones telling the distances from the front of the green to the cup, were awful, he wailed -- grossly inaccurate on at least three holes "like maybe the USGA Junior champion walked them off. I don't know. And those were on three of the fair pin placements." Earlier, he had called three other pin placements "unusual."
"I don't understand it," he added. "It blows my mind."
With none of his usual twinkle, Lon Hinkle said: "If you missed (the flag) five steps on one side, you were dead; if you missed the five steps the other way, you three-putted."
The Open high had been at least temporarily tamped. Nicklaus is showing signs of returning to the human race, after a one-round return to a plateau only he among every golfer who ever lived has reached. And relatively unknown wizards around the green and patient strokers who rarely venture from the fairway are creeping back into contention.
After a three-under 67 moved him to within two shorts of the record six-under of Nicklaus for two rounds, the still-small voice of Mike Reid could be heard saying of the pin placements: "I liked 'em. They were difficult but fair. Yesterday, I'd have called them generous. But then I'm just happy to hit the greens. I don't go for the flags."