On the PGA Championship golf tournament that begins Thursday, these observations. . .
The winner sill be a sensational driver who putts wells. Remember these names: Greg Norman and Raymond Floyd, John Cook and Gary Hallberg, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, Bruce Lietzke and Mike Reid, Lee Trevino and Dave Stockton. Add Bill Rogers and David Graham if you must, but neither is the lights-out putter this place is looking for.
Because it is very hot here, the Atlanta Athletic Club has chosen not to cut the greens to U.S. Open length. The greens are being watered daily, too. All that is so the grass doesn't die, leaving 18 browns.
Soft and relatively slow, then the greens offer iviting opportunities for the bond putter on a hot streak. And if anyone is to shoot "just under par," which Watson says will be good enough to win, he will need be sensational with the short stick.
Nobody ever won a major championship kicking the thing with his toe, of course, but the putting is especially important this week because the rough is forbidding. The Tifton 419 strain of Bermuda grass has been allowed to reach lengths up to four inches off the fairway and right up next to the greens.
"The rough is fair," Watson said sardonically. "By God, if you hit it in the rough, it's unplayable. With this Bermuda, it's soft on top. So the ball sinks to the bottom every time, and you have no prayer of hitting any shot except a short iron. To win, you can't hit it off the fairway 10 times all week; because of those 10, you'll make only two pars."
As demanding as this 7,070-yard course will be on driving, it offers no relief to the unfortunate who misses a green by, oh, a foot.
"There, it's a guessing game because you get so much rough between the clubface and the ball," Watson said. "You don't have any idea how far the shot will go when you hit it. You might hit it 20 feet past, or leave it 20 feet short with the same swing."
From there, it's all up to the putter.
The official program carrying a diagram of the 18th hole cries out, "Here Jerry Pate hit the greatest five-iron shot in history to win the 1976 U.S. Open."
No, he didn't. It was a nice shot, 190 yards from the right rough, winding up three feet from the hole. He made a birdie 3 and won by two strokes. The club commenorated the shot with a plaque in the rough, and the spot is chopped up with divots of members who drop a ball and say, "Let's see."
Because Pete is playing well this summer and rates as one of the favorites here, that five-iron shot keeps coming up in conversation. Golf Digest's cover story this month is Pate telling us how to hit five-irons. We find that Pate has donated to the USGA, for its museum, the very five-iron he used in '76.
This is much ado about nothing. As Pate stepped up to hit that five-iron shot, he had two strokes in hand.All he needed was a four. All he needed, really, was to not hit the ball into a pond in front of the green.
Now, any pro who can't hit a five-iron onto a green from a perfect lie isn't trying. Pate's ball was in the rough, but sitting prettily atop it. ("You're very lucky to get a lie like that in this rough," Watson said today). It was no problem. That the ball would up three feet from the cup was another piece of find luck, for Pate needed only to hit the green somewhere and then two-putt.
The birdie was pressureless dessert.
If the members of the club want to commemorate a truly brave shot struck at 18 that day, they ought to go back 40 yards in the rough. That's where John Mahaffey's ball burrowed to the bottom of the rough. Playing with Pate, he had gone from two shots ahead to one behind in two holes. He needed a birdie at 18, knowing full well Pate would make par from his blessed lie.
So from a buried lie in the rough, with 230 yards to travel, with a pond in front of the green, Mahaffey tried a 4-wood shot. Naturally, it fell short, in the water. And the splash made Pate's shots even easier.
Of golf's four major tournaments, the PGA is the best test. The Masters is a by-invitation-only plantation lawn party. The U.S. Open lets in amateurs who hyperventilate on sight of Nicklaus, either Jack or Barbara. Our mercenaries ignore the glorious British Open. Only in the PGA does the quality go so deep.
Yet the PGA Championship is an also-ran in the public's mind, taking on only a little of the glamor attendant its partners in the Grand Slam business. Maybe that's because it was, for the first 40 years of its 63-year life, a match-play tournament and thus out of sync with the other majors. It suffered, too, from being played on courses you can't spell, such as Wannamoissett, Pomonok and Llanerch.
The PGA has moved to better neighborhoods the last decade, going to courses often used for the U.S. Open.
Yet something is missing. The press corps for the PGS is thin. The TV ratings will be thinner. Maybe the tournament comes at the wrong time of the year. By August, the golfing adventures of most duffers have convinced us tennis is the only game for a sane person.