At 22, Bobby Clampett sometimes skips to the practice range. He calls golf "the neatest game there is" and has played it about every way possible, once hitting three drives from his knees during the U.S. Open before being ordered off the course. In less than two full years on the pro tour, he has won nearly $300,000.
At 52, Don January won nearly as much money in the Legends tournament a month ago as he did his first five years as a pro. A couple of recessions ago, he was forced back on tour. He says the money keeps getting too good anytime he considers working for a living again. He once got a $7.82 check after finishing last at Phoenix.
"Shoulda kept it as a memento," he said, "but I cashed it. Needed the $7 back then."
In a generation, January has seen the milieu Clampett has entered undergo change in staggering ways and in some ways remain stagnant. Same sport, not the same game; same pressure, different reasons for not handling it. Both had families that tolerated their beating balls for hours each day as youngsters, Clampett in California for donut wagers now and then and January in Texas for cash.
"My first year (on tour, 1956), I thought I'd made all the money in the world ($17,731)," January was saying before he shot a one-over-par 73 in the first round of the Kemper Open yesterday at Congressional. "But when I figured everything out, it ended up at about $3,000 net.
"A room was about $8 then, and there'd be at least two of us sharing it. Sometimes three. We traveled by car, a pack of seven or eight of us, and rarely in anything new. You'd be changing a tire sometimes in no-man's land, driving all night to get to a pro-am for another chance to make $100.
"We had what I call winter players, guys who left club jobs when it got cold, and all-year players. We rarely had more than 90 in the summer, and that's when the money was good--$20,000 and sometimes $25,000 in purses. Now money's not a factor. A guy now will choke quicker for a title than he will for money."
He recalled the worst time money made him miss a putt:
"In the '60s sometime, when we first started playing for $100,000 (in total prize money). I was in Philadelphia, with a chance to win the tournament until I didn't birdie 17. Then I had this putt for par on 18 that wasn't a foot and a half, uphill on a very sloping green."
Ordinary hackers usually tap those in. January would have, but . . .
"I got to lookin' at the scoreboard . . . I knew the money breakdown, and when I figured it all out that putt was worth $5,800. Well, it didn't even go toward the hole"--he flicked his hand at a right angle to an imaginary hole and winced again in frustration--"just choked so bad it was unreal.
"Learned a helluva lesson: don't ever think about money over a shot."
The most pressure Clampett overcame was two years ago, not long after he turned pro and tried to get his tour card the easy way, without enduring the qualifying school. A spectacular amateur, he set as one goal never having to play his way into a tournament.
Having used all of his allotted three sponsors' exemptions without getting close to the $8,000 in 10 tournaments he needed for the card, Clampett found himself in the Buick Open muttering: "This is it."
Two decades ago "it" might have meant peanut butter sandwiches as a steady diet; for Clampett, thousands of dollars in prearranged endorsements and foreign appearances were on the line. After all, he was trying for a shortcut. Failure simply meant he would take the longer, school route to the same goal.
He didn't fail.
"Lotta birds the last round," he said. "Up and down from impossible places. Four under the last nine. Finished eighth and won $7,250. Got the card. Still haven't had to qualify (for a tour event)."
Clampett, who shot 70 yesterday and is tied for third, has a degree in French and several interests beyond golf. He loves practice, but loathes the sameness of his sport. Any dash of spice, anything within reason that brings a smile from the gallery Clampett cherishes.
In the '79 Open at Inverness, amateur Clampett thought it not improper to show off a few of the trick shots he had mastered to relieve the boredom of practice. He was serving as a marker for dew-breaking David Edwards in the final round, having failed to make the cut, so his score would not count.
Encouraged by young fans who had seen him show off on the driving range the day before, Clampett was on his knees when he hit his first tee ball. About 220 yards. Smack in the middle of the fairway. Nobody from the straight-laced USGA said a thing until the third hole. But a hole after the same fans got him to repeat the stunt on the 10th and 11th tees the blue-coats drove him off the course.
Clampett can turn a right-handed driver upside down, swing it left-handed and pound a ball 190 yards.
"I was playing an exhibition two weeks ago," he said, "in a cart jumping all over the course, playing a couple holes with different groups. Eight under for 12 holes at one point. Anyway, I came up to this group and there's a guy with left-handed clubs and another guy who's a 10-handicap.
"Left-handed, I'm about a 90-shooter. So I ask the left-handed guy if I can use his clubs, and the 10-handicap says he'll give me a stroke a hole. We had a ball. I made six and five on two par-fours, even topped a shot. Initially, they were nervous, me being this kid who's won all kinds of money.
"But in a game that's my profession, suddenly they're better than I am. Just because I did something different. We had a blast."
Because golf at the highest level now rewards the science of blasting, January frets. Courses are too long, too roughed-up, almost too well-manicured for his tastes.
"They (the younger players) lose part of the game of golf because they don't have to finesse a shot," he said. "All they have to do is run up there and hit it as hard as they can. To me, golf is watching Hogan and Hagen, hitting low-high slices now and then. And low-high hooks. And some that go low for a while and high for a while. Hit a six-iron from 125 yards, and make it do something, instead of grabbing that sand iron and watch the ground shake.
January's best tip came from the laconic Hogan. Eventually, it tripled his income, but it was five years before he understood what Ben meant.
"I told some friends about it, how long it took me to realize just what Hogan was talking about," January said, "and they said: 'He gave you a tip!' "