Christine Peete slogged through the gooky mud today, watching her husband shoot an everyman's 87 in the Masters, and at the 18th and mercifully last green she laughed out loud. "No green jacket this year," she said. Her smile was incandescent, her tone exactly right, for her man won more here today than he lost.
Golfers in distress are among God's miserable creatures. Nobody loves them (they are convinced), everybody hates them, and with their luck they'll get to heaven but the airline will lose their clubs. After his hacker's adventures today (two balls in the water, one left in a trap, a pair of 7's and four three-putt greens), Calvin Peete faced the music with grace.
The Augusta National Golf Club course is too long for him, he said, and he feels he has to play beyond his ability to keep up with the big hitters. He is no romantic, worshipful at this altar of the Old South's idea of what golf should be. As for hecklers, he doesn't think they're after him because he's black.
All this he said after his 87. It was an 87 well earned, he said. No physical excuses. Nothing bothering him mentally. The process server who chased him off a course last month was nowhere in sight. ("If I see him," Mrs. Peete said, "I'll beat him with my umbrella.")
Yes, Peete said, he might consider not playing again in the Masters. "I don't know if I'd turn down an invitation. But it's hard to get up for a tournament when you don't feel you can win it . . . Everybody in the field would have to break their legs for me to win. I have to play super just to be in contention."
No, the tradition of the Masters doesn't mean a lot to him. "The tradition, they can keep it. Asking a black man if he enjoys the tradition of the Masters is like asking him if he enjoyed his forefather being a slave."
The second round here, Peete was four under par once but his name did not appear on the leader boards around the course. Coldly: "No, I didn't (see it), either. That's happened other places."
Yes, a heckler shouted at him at the 16th green today, reminding Peete of his quoted comments this week that the Masters was just another tournament. "A heckler (here Peete's voice rose sharply) said, 'Now I wonder what you're going to say, what article are you going to put in the paper?' My remarks were, 'It's good to know you can read' . . . I think he was defending the Masters. I don't think it was racial. He quieted down because nobody responded."
Did Peete think anyone would derive a perverse pleasure from his travail today?
"I'm pretty sure they will. It doesn't bother me in the least."
You don't move from picking beans, as Peete did, as his father did before him, to the professional golf tour without a sense of self stronger than iron. Out of Pahokee, Fla., Peete is now 39 years old, a golfer only 16 years, a pro since 1971. He wore a diamond in his front tooth the first year on tour, a leftover from his scuffling days as a jewelry salesman clunking around migrant farm camps. A friend suggested he have the diamond removed "because people ought to know the real Cal Peete, not 'the Diamond Man.' "
The real Cal Peete shot the worst round of his life in the most visible circumstances today. Then he laughed about it. It's not going to make his career or end it, he said, so let's talk about. It was no surprise to him that maybe 20 reporters followed him into the locker room, gathering at the scene of the accident.
"The press is a freaky organization," he said. "You make news out of disasters. This (with a smile here) is another disaster."
Most 87s are built on shots that go sideways into snake holes. "I actually played pretty good," Peete said. "I hit four approach shots with woods. That's asking a lot of me." It's hard enough firing three-wood shots from sidehill lies to par-4 holes. When those approach shots must find certain destinations or produce impossible putting situations, an average putter (such as Peete) can run his score into the 80s quickly.
Did Peete, after his front nine of 43, think of getting the necessary birdies for respectability?
"I just wanted to finish without hurting myself," Peete said.
And what is he feeling right now?
"I'm feeling that I'll be glad when tomorrow gets through."
After rounds of 70 and 72 in this Masters, Peete seemed a candidate to win. He won four times in '82 and said his next goal was a major championship. This is his fourth Masters--he arrived for his first in a friend's Rolls-Royce, rolling between the magnolias up to the big white plantation house--and even as he tossed a cigarette package wrapper to the ground on the first fairway today, Peete's aura seemed to say, "Damned if this place is going to beat me."
Blacks have been waiters and caddies in this bastion of the Old South. Lee Elder played here, and Jim Thorpe, and now Calvin Peete. Only Peete was so bold as to say a discouraging word. Earlier in the tournament, he said the Masters, to him, is just another tournament, not a great field, not a great course. He'd never finished worse than 30th--or better than 19th. It was a place to work the second week of April.
By coincidence, because the pairings leave an odd man out of the 49 players, Peete will play tomorrow's final round alone. When it's all over, Cal Peete's friend with the Rolls-Royce has a plan.
"When Cal finishes tomorrow, no matter what he shoots, I'm going to pick him up in the Rolls and ride him out of here in style," the buddy said.