"You guys thirsty?" David Graham asked a tentful of sportwriters, which is like asking if we're broke. Of course. It goes with the territory, and Graham knows it, for he is a $100-a-week columnist for Golf World magazine. "You want some champagn?" posed the U.S. Oopen golf champion, and the distinguished journalists answered so shyly the sound rattled dishes in downtown Melbourne.
David Graham's smile took the darkeness away. He loved the moment, and we knew it. That is news. This is a reserved man who learned to hide his feelings so he wouldn't be hurt, who left his home in suburban Melbourne at 15 even though his father said he never would speak to him again if he did. Graham has the look of a distinguished British gentleman, a David Niven fresh from his weekly cut at the barber. Graham could break par in a tux.
Reserve be damned at this moment, though, for today David Graham won certification forever as a great player. He won the toughest tournament there is with work so patient, so precise, so invulnerable to pressure that Bill Rogers, who tied for second place, said, "The man hit 18 greens in the last round of the U.S. Open, and that's just unbelievable."
Two years ago, Graham won the PGA tournament, another of golf's four major championships that are the measure of immortality. With victory available then, he dearly needed to win there. He needed the money, a friend said, because he was broke despite Golf World's largesse. He needed to win, too, because the only other way he could make money was to go back to his old work, the insanity of the world tour. If this is Thursday, we're teeing off in Zambia.
Now, at 35, winner of seven American tournaments and nearly $1 million in his 10 years here, Graham's life has taken a solid shape that at 15 seemed an impossibility. His father wanted him to be a doctor perhaps, something respectable, certainly not a scrungy hangabout at a scruffy golf shop. Graham felt an affinity for the game. He didn't know why. He can't explain it yet. He just felt right with a golf club in hand. He couldn't explain it to a father who didn't want to hear it. He least spoke to his father 20 years ago.
"I ordered 25 cases of champagne," David Graham said, fairly shouting to his fellow scribblers.
By now his wife Maureen, who walked every hole for four days, had taken a chair at the foot of the interview podium. They shared glances. When he spoke of the PGA tournament, how much it meant to win, he looked at Maureen. He said, "Mentally, the greatest accomplishement was the PGA championship. As an Australian in America -- I'd lived here eight years -- the only way to stay on tour was to get in the top 60 money-winners. So I wanted not to have a bad year and lose the exemption. I didn't want any thoughts of not playing the tour and having to play the international tour again and. . ."
Graham moved his eyes toward Maureen.
". . .uprooting my family."
By winning the PGA and its 10-year exemption, Graham said, "I could plan the next 10 years of my life, and that plan is based on living in this country.
. . .I am forever grateful for what golf in America has done for me, and I'll never leave this country."
For that, America should be grateful, because in Graham golf has a master craftsman in the Nicklaus mold. They are buddies, Graham and Jack Nicklaus, who now uses clubs designed by Graham (the last set sold for $5,400). Not only is Graham a serious student of the swing, he is, with Nicklaus, a protector of the game's dignity. Even in the giddy moments of celebration today, he had the class to say it is important to lose graciously. It is so important, Graham said, that golf is a tyrant of conflicting demands.
He had an example. The example is telling of more than golf's character; it tells us all we need know about this man who is proving to his father that a man is what he makes of himself, not what someone thinks of him.
"As I walked down the first fairway," Graham said, taking us back to the playoff for the 1979 PGA championship, a playoff that came only because Graham made a double bogey on the 72nd hole, "I was instructing myself how to be a generous loser. I had no idea I would make that putt."
With Ben Crenshaw certain to make a par, Graham had one last chance, a putt from 25 feet. "At the same time, you have to keep thinking you can win. But if you lose, lose with dignity."
Graham made the putt, and made a birdie putt two holes later to win the PGA.
"I started the game of golf as a struggler," Graham said, "and so I have taught myself not to anticipate situations. Don't start acting like you've won a golf tournament when you haven't yet won it. I don't want to make an idiot out of myself. I don't want to do a dance on the greens."
But now, on a Father's Day that is as nice as they get for David Graham, he laughed out loud as he told his fellow journalists, "With 25 cases of champagne, if the people at the airlines want to go on strike, we'll all get drunk and fly home, anyway."
Such a marvelous columnist, this fellow David Graham.
The champagne was delightful.