Andy Bean survived a back-nine nightmare of bad shots, a harrowing brush with the rules of golf, and a hairbreadth miss of a 15-foot, final-hole birdie putt by Jerry Pate to win the Doral-Eastern Open by one shot today.
Bean sank a three-foot par putt on the 18th hole of the Blue Monster for a final round of 69 and a 10-under-par 278 total to take the $54,000 prize away from the second-place trio of Pate (70), Mike Nicolette (70) and Scott Hoch (69). Craig Stadler, the leader after each of the first three rounds, shot 73 today and finished in a three-way tie for fifth place at 281 with Calvin Peete (71) and Curtis Strange (67).
"I thought the wheels were going to come off comin' in," said the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Bean, who had not won on the TPA Tour in nearly a year, due largely to a broken hand early in 1981. "My hand's doin' good now. It was my head that was giving me some problems for a while out there today."
It almost cost him this victory when, on the 14th hole, his thoughtless practice swing under a tree apparently got tangled in branches and dislodged a bit of foliage. TPA official Warren Orlick, standing nearby, ruled that Bean should not be penalized two strokes for violating Rule 17.
That rule, culled to its gist, states: "A player shall not improve . . . the area of his intended swing by moving, bending or breaking anything fixed or growing . . . in making . . . the backward movement of his club."
After the players were finished, Tournament Director Jack Tuthill reviewed the decision following a number of phone calls by television viewers to tournament headquarters. Tuthill interviewed Bean before his score card was signed and checked with Orlick, then issued a statement saying that the dislodged leaves did not improve Bean's lie for the actual shot, so no penalty was assessed.
If Bean didn't break that rule, he bent it, and caused a heap of 19th-hole discussion. "My conscience is clear," said Bean. After the round, he sought out Orlick under the grandstand and said, "If there'd been any doubt, I'd have charged myself the shots."
Perhaps Pate saw it best: "Andy came up to me on the hole and said, 'When I took a practice swing, a couple of leaves fell off.' I said, 'No problem.' . . . I know he wouldn't do anything intentionally to break a rule and if he did, he would call it. And obviously he didn't, so it never crossed my mind again and that was the end of that."
Bean, who got his first of eight tour wins here in 1977, had a seemingly secure three-shot lead with seven holes to play after making five birdies on the first 10 holes of this beautiful, 7,065-yard watery grave of a course.
A Pate birdie at the par-5 12th, coupled with nervous Bean bogeys at the par-4 14th and par-3 15th holes, put the pair of perennial tour stars in a tie at 10 under par with three holes left.
At the 16th, Pate's driving, wild throughout the final nine, betrayed him. Pate's orange golf ball found rough so deep, just two paces off the fairway, that all his power with a nine-iron could not move the ugly agate the final 90 yards to the green; his lame shot plopped into a trap.
"That was the tournament blower," said Pate, whose bogey proved the losing shot as Bean steadied and parred into the clubhouse.
Pate made a first-rate last gasp, lacing a seven-iron to 15 feet from the 18th cup for a potential tying birdie. "But then I hit the worst putt I've hit this year," said Pate, a seven-time tour winner.
Bean's drive at the classic, breath-wrenching 18th was gorgeously brave, and his iron landed 10 yards from the stick, but his lag putt was a thing of unbeauty, leaving a final hooking yard.
"When you have a putt like that, you just go ahead and get it over with," said Bean. He curled it in the heart, then looked heavenward, whence had come more than a little of his help today.
First Stadler ran out of juice. "I just hit a lot of good putts that didn't drop. I putted Bermuda (grass) the way I usually putt it--horsefeathers," Stadler said.
Next, Nicolette and Hoch, two brave tour rabbits, were so delighted to be in among the lettuce of profit, munching away, that they played cautiously down the stretch and never threatened Bean on the back nine.
"Need it, need that money," Hoch said of his $22,400.
Nicolette was so unconcerned with winning that, he claimed, as he walked off the 18th green he asked his caddie where he'd finished. In addition to eschewing leader boards, Nicolette wouldn't even look at playing partner Jack Nicklaus (74--284, good for an 11th-place tie). He turned his eyes as though the Bear were a Medusa who would turn his swing to stone.
"I'd heard about how intimidated players are the first time they were paired with him," said Nicolette, who had two birdies followed by 16 consecutive pars. "So, after I introduced myself to him, I never looked at him, never even glimpsed him, for the first seven holes. I looked at clouds, trees, anything. He must have thought I was rude."
Bean's other bits of fortune came at the 10th and 13th holes, before television cameras arrived. Pate called those holes the turning points.
On the par-5 No. 10, Bean made birdie with a 20-foot putt after Pate, in great position to pitch close for a bird, fluffed it into a trap and struggled for par. At the 246-yard par-3 No. 13, Bean hit what he called "an authentic duffer's popup," leaving a three-wood shot 52 yards short. Pate had a 10-foot birdie putt and was thinking, "He makes four. I make two. We're even." Instead, both made three.
Unfortunately, the final tantalizing image from this last round may not be of Bean's well-deserved victory grin or Pate backing off the lead or the joy of Nicolette and Hoch. Instead, for many, it may be of Bean's meaningless--but nationally televised--practice swing, the stuff of which nit-picking is made.