Not to make a big hullabaloo, because it isn't open-heart surgery they're doing, but it's bush anyway. Johnny Miller got himself disqualified from the Kemper Open. Tom Weiskopf said he had "personal reasons" for skipping town. Whatever, people who put up $400,000 for a golf tournament have been shortchanged by alleged professionals.
Heaven help us if we are ever under the eye of, say, a surgeon no more sincere at work than these princes in pastel. Halfway through the operation, if he bogeys an artery, does the doctor walk off the course? Does a lawyer arguing for a client's life quit in mid-sentence if he realizes the odds are a thousand to one against winning?
"Glad to see you're staying," someone said to John Mahaffey, who shot a first-round 78, the score not good enough to keep Miller here.
"I might learn something," Mahaffey said. "There are no driving ranges on a jet."
Golf belongs to grinders such as Mahaffey, who hasn't let injury to mind or body keep him from greatness. The little guy once couldn't hit it out of his shadow, yet he won the PGA Championship after having his heart broken in two U.S. Opens. Golf reveals, inevitably and invariably, a player's will.
"Golf is the ultimate testof yourself," said Roger Maltbie, who began here with an 80 and stayed to shoot 70 yesterday. "Whatever you've got inside you, the game will bring out. If you're weak or if you're strong, this game will show it."
"We are all dogged victims of inexorable fate," Bobby Jones wrote of golfers. The adjectives tell all about the game and its masters. Fate grinds on, everyone a victim, and only persistent strugglers survive for long. When a fellow with unusual talent also is unusually dogged, he is a champion.
Jack Nicklaus began last year's British Open with 81.
Did he walk out in mid-surgery?
He shot 66 the next day. This dogged victim finished ninth in the tournament when some men might have skipped town.
Chi Chi Rodriguez, who quit afer nine holes of Wednesday's pro-am with a "bad back" only to play the tournament proper, sees nothing wrong with skipping town. He says it costs $2,000 a week to play -- with no guarantee of a paycheck.
"I don't believe you owe a tournament anything," Rodriguez said. "Now, when they guarantee us money, we would owe something."
As short-sighted logic, Rodriguez's speech is priceless. The PGA Tour exists because thousands of volunteers put on tournaments. Sincere surgeons work in first-aid trailers and big chiefs of megabuck corporations run scoreboards. Should Chi Chi, Tom and Johnny pay for such help, that weekly $400,000 tournament would be, maybe, a twice-monthly deal for $200,000.
Even Rodriguez should see that tournament sponsors are, in effect, guaranteeing money to the alleged professionals just for showing up. It is a partnership, after all, with the sponsors/volunteers/customers putting up money to see good players such as Miller and Weiskopf.
Players don't owe any tournament their presence. If they show up, they owe their best work. However real Weiskopf's "personal reasons" are, they didn't keep him from a paid appearance in a beer company's pro-am the day before he walked out on the Kemper.The beer company paid Weiskopf perhaps $3,000, the Kemper paid him nothing directly.
The Kemper gives the Weiskopfs and Millers a chance at a piece of $400,000 for knocking a little ball around a pretty pasture. By walking out on a commitment, players cost the Kemper and the PGA Tour credibility with customers everywhere. Whatever good a Dave Stockton did with thank-you notes he wrote after tournaments is negated when a Johnny Miller skips town after a bad round.
"You can't let this game destroy you, and it can," said Maltbie, whose roller-coaster career is on the rise again. He lost his winner's check of $40,000 in a bar the night he won the 1976 Quad Cities Open. He lost his game shortly thereafter, falling in a descending spiral from 18th on the '76 money list with $117,736 to 155th with $9,796 three years later. He moved to 84th on the list in '80, 58th last year and is now 35th.
He remembers the bottom.
He shot a 42-50 -- 92 in the 1979 Memorial Tournament, only three years after winning the same tournament.
In rain, cold and wind that made the chill factor 13 degrees, the average score was 79. It was no excuse, Maltbie said.
"I just flogged it around the last nine," he said. "We were walking up to the 17th green when my caddy asked, 'Do you know what you're shooting?' I said no and he told me. 'Oh, my God,' I said."
Maltbie signed for 92, instead of somehow disqualifying himself, and over drinks he laughed about it.
"Later that night, when you're not putting on a show, when it's only yourself, I knew I was wrong in playing the way I did," Maltbie said. "It was certainly not professional, what I did. That night I was really depressed, and . . . "
" . . . maybe it taught me a lesson. I hadn't shot anything higher than a 79 since. Until this week, anyway."
Trying to make the cut yesterday, Maltbie birdied the 17th and left a 20-foot par putt on the lip at the 18th for 70. He is a pro.