That high-pitched whine in the air isn't the end of the Indy 500; it's the arrival of the PGA -- that's the Perpetual Gripers of America -- at Congressional Country Club for the $400,000 Kemper Open that begins Thursday.
"These greens are in very poor condition," said Tom Watson yesterday as he sharpened his game in hopes of carting away the $72,000 first prize. "They're spotty. The fairways are beautiful, but the greens are really chopped up, like they played 10 member-quests in a row. They're very, very bumpy and the ball won't roll true. I don't understand why they aren't better."
Watson is just the most recent of the pros who have arrived here and found that some aspect of the 7,054-yard Congressional track does not meet with their personal conception of nirvana.
Tour struggler Barry Jaeckel, who has never proved terribly efficient on any kind of course, began the trend on the first day the pros began alighting on Congressional by saying that the ninth green was "the worst I've seen in seven years on tour."
As Tom Kite walked through Congressional's majestic grounds yesterday, the sixth-leading money winner on tour was asked: "How's everything?"
"Can't complain," said Kite.
Now that's news.
Heretofore, it was thought that there was no such thing as a golfer who couldn't complain. Golfers live in a world of minor nagging details, putts that hang on the edge of the hole. As a group, they're obsessed with minutiae such as the swing-weight of a driver or the loft in the face of a five-iron. Boil water for a pro golfer and he's liable to tell you that you did it wrong. Face it: These guys are congenital nitpickers; it may be part of the nature of the work.
That's why it was novel yesterday to hear Kite say: "We complain too much. You can't have everything. Washington is one of those cities, like St. Louis or Wichita or Oklahoma City, that's in a (geographic) belt where it's too warm in summer for bent grass (that flourishes in the north) and too cold in winter to allow Bermuda grass. You're always going to have growing problems in Washington, but you can't keep nagging about it.
"We need Washington in particular, because it's the nation's capital, and we need other major cities like it. We can't survive on this tour playing in the Pinehursts where the greens may be perfect but there aren't enough people to draw crowds over 100,000 in a weekend.
"If you want the money and the prestige and exposure that go with major cities, then you have to go to those cities, play their best courses and accept what you get. In Dallas, we play Preston Trail, which is an average golf course, but it's the best available. Congressional is Washington's best and it's a fine layout."
In large measure, defending Kemper champion John Mahaffey, who shot five-under-par 275 here last year, agreed.
"There are a lot of large cities where we don't play . . . Seattle, Cleveland, Detroit. We can't alwys play on a perfect, immaculate course like Jack Nicklaus' at Muirfield (Ohio) last week.We have to learn to adjust to whatever conditions we face.When I hear the complaining start, I just don't listen. I like what Lee Trevino says: If they put up $400,000 he'll play on the freeway."
Nonetheless, the word on the tour is that part of the reason that only seven of golf's current top 20 money winners are here is that Congressional's pretty, slightly bumpy greens have offended their putting sensibilities.
"Hell, I don't care if they all drop out," grinned Mahaffey. "I wish they would."
"I'm here because I like a tough layout, and this may be the longest course we play all year," said Watson. "You're going to hit a lot of mean long irons into elevated greens. There are no easy par-5s. All in all, it's just a bear of a course."
Anything else, Tom?
"They called me about four weeks ago and told me that field wasn't too tough," said Watson, who made his final decision thereafter.
"There's a conflicting event this week," deadpanned Watson. "Bruce Lietzke's marriage (to Jerry Pate's sister, with Ben Crenshaw as best man)."
There's also Jonny Miller's last-second back injury as well as the belated withdrawal of David Graham. "Oh, Johnny pulled that old one," said Watson, laughing, before being assured by sober souls that Miller would never fake an injury.
One of the tour's most perverse oddities is the way attention tends to focus on absent players. "It's a syndrome we have to get out of," said Kite. "We can't keep dwelling on the negative."
Actually, four of the current top six money winners are here -- Watson, Ray Floyd, Hale Irwin and Kite. Gary Player, Lon Hinkle, Larry Nelson and Gil Morgan are certainly decent box office draws. Also, if, as your arbitrary cutoff point, you pick the top 30 money men, rather than the top 20, the number of those who are here leaps from seven to 16.
Congressional regard these flaps over its greens and its field with fitting equanimity. "We're having trouble with a few greens on the front side," said Ben Brundred, the tournament chairman, speaking of holes such as Nos. 4, 6 and 9.
"We made a conscious decision to go after th poa annua (a grubby kind of grass) this year and wipe it out with tricalcium arsenate. We succeeded and even if a couple of greens aren't as far along as they were last year, the job's been done once and for all so that in future years the greens will be the best they can possibly be."
What remains for this second annual Kemper at Congressional is a good, if not great, field playing ona spectacularly beautiful, lush course that is suffering from marginally bumpy greens that may work against players here -- like Japan's Isao Aoki -- who live by the magic putter.
"This will be a test of tee-to-green ball striking, and ability to scramble around the green because everybody's going to miss plenty of greens," said Watson. "But I don't think it will be putting contest because nobody's going to make that many. I said (even-par) 280 might win last year and I was wrong. Now, I'll take 280 again."
Only one thing's certain about the winning score at this Kemper. Whoever shoots it will be the only golfer who won't complain.