Head and spirits sagging, Jim Thorpe muttered to the flock of reporters gathered about him for the wrong reasons today after heat No. 1 of the Masters swimfest: "I came a long way to shoot 1,000. You mix rain and cold with bad swings and a whole lotta double and triple bogeys'll come."
They came like the rain, slowly at first and then in torrents. Billy Casper made a quadruple bogey on the second hole; most of the players shot their jacket sizes (38 to 42) on the front or back nine and all but made certain they would not be modeling a new green one Sunday.
Thorpe's drip-dry 88 wasn't quite the worst score today, but it vividly showed the wrath of his sport and Augusta National, how quickly even a fine pro's fantasies can turn to funk under conditions more suited to the affair made famous by the father of one of the nonfinishing paddlers, Nathaniel Crosby.
Thorpe had dreamed about playing here for as long as blacks dared do that, and qualified by finishing among the first 16 in the U. S. Open at Merion last year. For the last three weeks, the former Washington-area player said, he had tried to retool his game for the Masters.
"Tried to get the ball airborne," he said of adjusting his low-shot trajectory to produce the lofty flutterballs necessary here. "Lotta extra work with the irons. And on the greens."
The crowd around him in the clubhouse was building. Once Thorpe's race would have made him a Masters curiosity; his score was the magnet today. On the 18th tee, he was mortal, one of us, in the hackerlike position of not being certain he could break 90.
He'd said as much to his caddie as they walked down the final fairway.
"You're serious, aren't you?" Thorpe quoted the caddie.
Thorpe got up and down for par, which meant that he beat Frank Conner, whose game two weeks ago was good enough to get him into a playoff at the Sea Pines Heritage Classic, by a stroke. Ancient Herman Keiser withdrew after a 47 at the turn.
"Believe me," Thorpe said, "I tried. If I could have shot 87, I would have." Though hardly happy, he was smiling now. It's the only way to treat such an aberration.
Was he glad when the round ended?
"I kinda wish we hadn't started."
His partner, John Cook, had shot 82. Thorpe said each of them now and then would look skyward and say: "Why don't they blow the whistle, so we can quit. They didn't, so we went on making doubles and triples."
The whistle stopping play came soon enough to keep such as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and a few players trying to move from great to near-legend from drowning; it was not so quick to forgive Thorpe's and Cook's sins. Their worst ball was 95.
Old Masters ventured onto the veranda long enough to insist that April 6, 1936, had been worse. The fallout from a tornado made for madness that day. Thorpe and his fellow sufferers hardly were comforted.
"A good old-fashioned football game would have been better," the former Morgan State halfback said. "Everything here was perfect, what I'd heard and read about. Except the weather. Lotta players can play in (awful) weather. Watson's one. I'm just not good in it."
Thorpe said Cook putted his 20-foot birdie try off the green at the third hole. He made double-bogey there, after hitting his tee ball into a stand of pines.
"You get four or five over," Thorpe said of how his miseries compounded, "and you try to make a couple birds (and are punished even more for those high-risk shots). That's all it takes."
Thorpe had two 7s and four 6s; the worst it got was on No. 10.
"A pretty good drive," he said, "but a one or two iron from a downslope and it went way to the right. I skulled a wedge over the green and then hit another wedge fat, maybe a foot. If I'd hit that chip the way I wanted to, there's no doubt it would have gone off the other side of the green. So what do you do?"
Accept the stub--and the 7--and slink off as gracefully as possible, hoping that rain on the fire that rages inside doesn't leave too thick a trail of smoke.
"There comes a point," he admitted, "when you just want to get it over with."
Still, he would not make a mockery of the Masters. He had two pars on the back nine, and one of them was on the last hole.
"It got to the point where it was tough to grip the club," he said. "The second shot at 17 I hit one-handed. You don't want to turn the club loose, so you grip it a bit harder. Then you push it or pull it for sure. I had 199 yards to the front of the green at 13, but couldn't carry the creek with a four-wood. Usually, I hit a four-wood 230 yards. Today, I couldn't get it 190."
Thorpe first trod these sacred grounds Monday; it also rained then. He'll be back Friday for another whack.
"Never shot 88 in my life," he said. Certainly never at East Potomac, where, he said, "I have a lot of doners."
Resolutely, he said: "Some players shoot 80-82 in good weather. I did the best I could. Hit some chips that looked good, but turned out to be awful. The greens were so slick I expected the rain to slide right off. Here, you've got to know where you're going."