The clear, yet weird, message of the 82nd U.S. Open is that, to do well here, it's necessary to have given up hope.
The seven men who are under par after two rounds--led by Bruce Devlin (69--139) at five under, two shots ahead of Larry Rinker (67--141)--have one bizarre characteristic in common. All seven arrived at Pebble Beach with almost no conscious hope of contending, much less winning.
Perhaps the gates of Dante's Inferno aren't the only place where the sign "Abandon hope all ye who enter here" is applicable. Abandoning hope today were all who failed to score 151 or lower, the halfway cut figure.
The leader, Devlin, who, at 44, is older than any Open winner and has been semiretired for 10 years, was so distraught over his wild play in pre-Open practice that, the night before the first round, he experimented with a metal driver for the first time in his life and put it in his bag.
"Now that takes some guts," said Devlin. Actually, what it takes is extreme desperation.
The unfamiliar chap in second place, Floridian Rinker, 24, hadn't cashed a check or made a dollar on the tour for nine weeks before coming here. After finishing 211th in money winnings in 1981, he stands 210th this season, a thankless consistency. Today, Rinker made six birdies and an eagle in a 67 that was the tournament's best round so far.
The mystified man in third, three shots behind, is Scott Simpson (69--142), who came to the Pebble Beach Golf Links "just because I love it so much, but not with much hope of doing well." Simpson's back hurt so much that he withdrew from the Kemper Open two weeks ago and, for the first time in his life, went to a chiropractor this week. "He straightened me out," said Simpson.
Even the four fellows tied for fourth place at one-under-par 141 all arrived here with minuscule expectations. Calvin Peete (71 today) thought "the weather here is too cold for me. I didn't think I'd have much chance of winning." Lynn Lott (71), whose hobbies are fishing and studying with the Tour Bible School, stood 151st on the money list coming here. First-round coleader Bill Rogers (73), who played the last seven holes this evening in a shaky three over par, has been in a spring-long slump. And, finally, Andy North (71) has not won a tournament since lightning struck for him in the 1978 U.S. Open.
True students of scoreboard watching know that the news of this round probably is hidden back in the five-way tie for eighth place at even-par 144. If you want to find the horses, that's where you look: Jack Nicklaus (70), Tom Watson (72), George Burns (72), Tom Kite (71) and Bobby Clampett (73).
Take 'em against the field.
As Nicklaus put it, after one of the best ball-striking, worst birdie-putting rounds of his life, "Only seven guys in front of me? That's not very much."
Watson was the day's luckiest, and guttiest, man. While Nickluas was hitting 15 greens and missing seven birdie putts of less than 15 feet, an astronomical number of opportunities even for Nicklaus, Watson was driving the ball into the rough nine times off the tee and still managing to shoot par. Watson sank five long putts with a total length of 72 feet. Ah, the nerves of youth.
The most emotionally drained of the classy quintet at par was the streaky and temperamental Burns, who set an Open record with six consecutive birdies, from the second through seventh holes. Burns also tied the Open record with a 30 on the front nine. But, typically for him, he collapsed on the back nine, shooting a ghastly 42, including a triple-bogey 6 on the 17th.
If the Nicklaus, Watson, Kite, Burns, Clampett gang, plus David Graham (72) at 145, look like panthers waiting for the pretenders to start to bleed, then romantics are entitled to another view of the matter. After all, if Orville Moody can win the U.S. Open, why can't Devlin? Once every couple of decades, a completely magical and wonderful fluke wins the premier championship in golf: Sam Parks in 1935, Jack Fleck in 1955, Moody in 1969. Now, Devlin, the Australian who spends more time with a microphone in his hand working for NBC than a driver, is trying to join this bizarre and fantastic fraternity.
On Wednesday evening, as the sun was going down, Devlin stood on the practice tee here, the portrait of a man in complete golfing despair.
Perhaps, Devlin admits he thought, he would just embarrass himself. After all, he hadn't finished in the top 50 money winners, or won a tournament, since he stopped playing the tour full-time in 1972.
As Devlin got to the bottom of his last bucket of balls, he noticed a fellow behind him, a humble creature called a manufacturer's rep, who was trying to peddle one of golf's newfangled inventions: something called "a metal wood."
"I'd always been too much of a traditionalist to try one of those. Always thought it a bit gimmicky," said Devlin. "But, in desperation, I grabbed one and hit the last few balls with it. I figured I couldn't do worse."
And Devlin hit them all dead straight.
"I got another bucket of balls," Devlin continued, grinning, "and when I left the range, I had that metal driver in my bag."
On a links that may put more of a premium on accurate driving than on any other skill, Devlin birdied the second, third, fourth and seventh holes to reach six under par this morning. Then, he began what looked like a collapse, bogeying four of five holes from the ninth through the 13th.
But salvage himself he did with as brave a closing streak as this tournament is likely to see; Devlin hit short irons to within 12 feet for birdies at the 15th and 16th, then made the crowd gasp at the par-5 18th when his sand wedge third shot actually went into the cup before popping out and trickling three feet away for his closing birdie.
Perhaps even more of a surprise that Devlin was Rinker, who has won only $2,113 this year.
Rinker, a graduate of the University of Florida, has a younger brother and sister who are serious amateur golfers as well as a sister-in-law, Kellii Rinker, who plays the LPGA tour. "You have to try to treat this tournament just like any other," he said, explaining his apparent calm. "The U.S. Open is an illusion."
It is an illusion that those seven unsuspecting gentlemen with red numbers beside their names may find increasingly real.