Mac O'Grady wore one of those cute golf shirts with the alligator on the breast pocket until he took a knife and sliced the gator off. Look up one side and down the other, and you won't find a single logo. No phone book advertising, no golf clubs, no refrigerators, no nothing. Which reminds him of a Kirk Douglas movie.
"An agent wanted to sign me up," said O'Grady, who is (let's take a deep breath) an ambidextrous, 32-year-old Californian rookie pro with a Japanese wife who (O'Grady, not his wife) spent 13 years and $39,000 at the PGA qualifying school while playing around the world (40 countries) before finally earning the right (on his 17th try) to join the tour this year.
He is slim, handsome, articulate and puts severe pain on the cursed dimpled pellet. He has won almost $30,000 so far and is 11 shots behind the Kemper Open leaders on rounds of 76, 72, 73. So when Mac O'Grady became, ha-ha, an overnight success by leading a tournament at Hilton Head in April, a big-wheel agent said, "We can make you rich."
Here's how: wear the refrigerator visor and get $100 each time it's seen on television . . . use a certain golf ball and get a $12,000 bonus for winning and $200 for finishing 20th . . . play a great man's clubs and get a bonus of $2,000 to $60,000 . . . play one-day pro-ams for $1,000 . . . wear clothes with visible labels for $2,000 . . . paint phone-book ads on your bag (Raymond Floyd is said to get $90,000 to carry the walking fingers).
"I took this agent aside and asked him if he'd ever seen the Kirk Douglas movie where Douglas finds the yellow rock--gold--in a stream on Indian territory," O'Grady said. "Kirk Douglas leaves and comes back to see the big chief with furs stacked on his horse. Kirk says, 'If you let the white man take the yellow rock from your water, you will be very rich.'
"The Indian chief takes Kirk to the edge of a high cliff looking out over a beautiful valley that goes for miles. The chief says, 'How rich can the white man make me when I have this? What use do I have for the white man's poisons?'
"I told the agent he wanted to make me a whore to this business. I'll sign some contracts when I've earned the respect of my contemporaries by showing them I can play. I've turned down 25 exhibitions, one for $8,000. Integrity is utmost. The tour is a Pandora's box of pressure and when you start opening doors, you don't know what's coming out. I don't want an agent telling me it's worth $3 million to win the Masters.
"In Japan, they have a saying. 'The reason you play bad is you won't let yourself play bad.' What do I care now, with no pressure, if I miss a cut? I'm keeping Pandora's doors shut right now.
"The agent thought I was crazy. I asked him how rich he can make me when the greatest joy in life is to be with my wife, to sleep with her, to talk to her. I'm already the richest guy in the world."
This is not your basic golf pro's outlook on life, or a newspaperman's, for that matter, but it seems a nice antidote to the mutinous, mercenary mutterings made this week in a letter signed by Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Tom Kite and 10 more of what Jack so modestly calls "the main players in the game."
In their letter to the commissioner of pro golf, Deane Beman, these fellows want to know what Beman is doing. How, they ask, is he marketing the game? Will the man who invented golf bubble gum cards now sell shirts with the PGA logo on the chest? Will he use the tour's money on real estate/golf course developments?
Is he, to put it another way, taking money from guys who wear bears or umbrellas on their shirt pockets? Is Beman taking money away from fellows such as J. Nicklaus and A. Palmer who build their own real estate/golf course developments?
As it happens, a players meeting was scheduled for next week even before The Gang of 14 organized. Beman will answer those questions. The commissioner will point out that now, in his 10th year on the job, the tour pays over $22 million in purses--up from $8 million his first year.
Should Beman wish to match Nicklaus in modesty, the commissioner might point out that his "stadium" concept of courses is the bright future of spectator golf. The world stands astonished that anyone pays $22 a head to slog around 200 acres of pasture hoping to see a Scott Simpson or a Fred Couples whack a silly white pill. A "stadium" with spectator mounds at crash-and-burn intersections gives the $22 customer a legitimate show for his money.
The tour's important bankbook figures, as revealed today by The Post, are written in black ink so bold as to suggest that someone somewhere is doing a helluva job selling a game that on its face seems the last thing anyone would buy. Don't misunderstand here. Your servant loves golf. He would pay to see Ben Crenshaw on a 30-footer downhill or Tom Kite with a cut wedge over a bunker.
But the audience for such exotica is small. The game survives on television because of its appeal to high-bucks consumers. The game survives at tour stops because a thousand folks work for free to give The Gang of 14 a place to play. If the "main players" had to pay for that work, their prize money might be measured in hundreds, not thousands.
Yes, sir. These big shots playing for $22 million ought to write Deane Beman a letter. A short letter. One word would do: "Thanks."