The loons in the live oaks and the buzzards in the palms, the blue herons and snowy egrets on the lakes, the alligators in the swamp and the rattlers in the rough, the love grass and the sawgrass, the waste bunkers and the pot bunkers, the undulating greens and the shifting winds, all welcomed the greats of golf to the Tournament Players Championship today.
For some pros, this day at the Players was a sensory overload, a golfing ordeal like nothing they had experienced before.
"I saw things I've never seen happen anywhere else. Just bizarre. It's the twilight zone out there," said Tom Weiskopf, miffed despite a two-under-par 70 that left him just two strokes behind first-round leader Bruce Lietzke.
"There's a lotta luck out there. If you call that golf, gentlemen, well, I don't know . . . It's like my kid's video games--Frogger or Donkey Kong. Watch the alligators come out to get the golfers. Yeah, I think we missed a great 'marketing opportunity' there," continued traditionalist Weiskopf, sniping at Commissioner Deane Beman's desire to jazz up and "market" the ancient game.
For others, this was an invigorating, creative experience, a chance to play a revolutionary form of golf that almost constitutes a different sport. For them, it's a chance to show what wonderful, crazy things they can do with a staid old golf club and a little dimpled ball.
"This course calls on all your imagination," said Bobby Clampett, the 22-year-old trick-shot wizard whose 69 put him in a second-place tie with John Cook, Leonard Thompson, Bob Eastwood and Mark McCumber. "(Besides) I like Donkey Kong. It's my favorite video game."
"I've seen some things on that Donkey Kong screen that reminded me of this course," said Lietzke, who also found the video analogy pleasing. "(In the game) you have to swing . . . so you can save the beautiful girl from the ape. Here, you're just trying to save your sanity."
In a sense, the 2-year-old Players Club here is a battleground between generations, and between conflicting theories of the nature and future of golf.
The purists--like Weiskopf, Jack Nicklaus (73), Tom Watson (75) and Lee Trevino (77)--are offended by the level of luck built into almost every shot; to them, golf should be tactically akin to chess and emotionally similar to Zen.
For them, golf is about restraint and patience and sensible "management" of the ball.
The awful truth about this course, as Weiskopf puts it, is that "two shots can land two inches apart and one will end up a foot from the hole while the other will be 50 feet away . . . In a practice round, we had four balls land within seven feet of each other--we measured from the ball marks--and all of them did something different. One stopped dead, one bounced over the back of the green, one kicked 30 feet left and the other kicked 50 feet right . . .
"I saw Johnny Miller hit the middle of the eighth green and end up in an unplayable lie," continued the steamed Weiskopf, whose 70 tied him for seventh place with Peter Oosterhuis, Ben Crenshaw, Ray Floyd and Danny Edwards. "At the 11th, I was six feet off the green and 20 feet from the hole and I didn't have a shot. I ended up aiming 50 feet to the right just to get on the green."
Weiskopf even loathed his good luck. "At the second hole, I hit a terrible shot dead left. It ricocheted off the bank of a bunker, ran around it and spun onto the middle of the green. Instead of being off the course, I'm putting for an eagle. I tipped my hat. Everybody clapped," said Weiskopf sarcastically. "Guess they thought I'd been practicing one-irons all my life so I could hit shots that looked like that."
"On this course, a good bounce is when the ball doesn't quite make it into the jungle or the pit," said the British Oosterhuis with asperity.
On the other hand, for the sport's radicals--a group which includes Beman and rumpled eccentric course architect Pete Dye--golf is a game that desperately needs some of the elements of a nerve-jangling video game. The Donkey Kong comparison would delight them, as would Lietzke's description of his spectacularly adventurous morning round.
"I was in jail a few times. I ricocheted the ball off some mounds and I was locked up against a couple of trees," said Leitzke, who, like Clampett, had a bogeyless round. "But the putter was the saving tool today. I made the 8- 10-footers for pars when I had to, and I made three long birdie putts. I've never known a nice quiet day at the TPC. It requires all your concentration. There's not one tee where you can collect yourself and say, 'Now for a routine par.'
"It's a gorgeous-looking golf course, one of the most scenic anywhere. It's got few peers, once you get past Cypress Point and Augusta National. In its own way, it's already approaching them . . . The way it's cut right out of nature in the middle of a swamp with all the palm trees and huge mounds and those buzzards on the 17th tee," said Lietzke. "It'll knock your eyes out early in the morning or in the evening with the long shadows."
Clampett loves this layout so much that he lives on the property. "All the game of golf is is attitude," he says, scoffing at his fellow pros' terrors. "The first time I played (the legendary) eighth-ninth-10th at Pebble Beach, I was petrified. Now, I've played it 150 times and when I get there, I just say, 'Another beautiful day.' There's no trouble anymore." If familiarity breeds contempt for danger, too, then the pros here haven't learned the trick yet.