The new Bear, the old Bear and Gentle Ben were on the tongues of the glitterati at Riviera Country Club today in the second round of the 65th PGA Championship.
That new Bear was Hal Sutton, 24, the rapidly blossoming superstar who has Nicklausian designs on the little world of golf. This afternoon, he broad-shouldered his way around Hogan's Alley in 66 supremely confident strokes to take a three-stroke lead over Ben Crenshaw at 11-under-par 131.
Sutton's stunning rounds of 65 and 66, built on 15 birdies and only four bogeys, broke the PGA's 36-hole record of 132 set by last year's winner, Ray Floyd, at Southern Hills in Tulsa.
"I really feel like I'm hittin' it about as pure as I can . . . and I'm putting as good as I ever have in my life," said the down-home Sutton, who said of his recovery from two mid-round bogeys, "Took my lickin' and kept on kickin'."
The old Bear was, of course, five-time PGA champion Jack Nicklaus, who shot the day's best round, 65, for a 138 total and moved into contention in seventh place. Aside from Sutton and Crenshaw, the only players ahead of him are Pat McGowan (who said, "What dream greens" after shooting 67) at 135 and a trio at 136: club pro Buddy Whitten (70), John Fought (69) and Gibby Gilbert (66), who started eagle, birdie, birdie, birdie and shot 29 on the front nine. Lee Trevino (68), talking constantly into the ear of an oblivious Sutton, is also at 138.
After a night of fury and imprecations directed at himself following his opening round of 73, Nicklaus awoke this morning with a single thought on his mind.
"I don't know why, but I woke up with the number 65 in my head," he said. "That's what I was shootin' at and darned if that isn't what I shot."
Gentle Ben is Crenshaw, the 11-season veteran who is perhaps the most popular and the most frustrated player on the Tour. Crenshaw has won more than $1.6 million on the Tour, including $242,219 this season (fourth on the money list), yet has never won a major title. A student of golf history as well as a disarmingly sweet-tempered man, Crenshaw has finished second in the majors five times--twice in the Masters and British Open, once in the PGA.
Among Tour pros, only a victory by Arnold Palmer would draw more sentimental cheers--and even a few tears--than a win in a major for the generous Crenshaw. He has given a thousand tips, done a million favors and never said a cross word to anyone or cursed his star-crossed luck in the events he wanted to win so badly.
"Winning money is nice," said Crenshaw, whose 68-66 work here at a Riviera layout that he adores has erased memories of missing his last four cuts. "But any golfer worthy of his salt wants to win the majors. That's what you're measured by. I've just got to play better to do it . . . I'm gonna give it all I've got."
Other newsworthy folk today included Tom Watson and Seve Ballesteros. Watson made six consecutive birdies (8th through 13th holes) to go from six over par to even, but ended the day at 75-67--142 and was one shot further off Sutton's lead than when he started the day.
"My neck is perfect," said Watson. Sore, but perfect.
Ballesteros put his first two tee shots of the day out of bounds, took 8, shot 76 and was in an illustrious group at the cutoff of 147 with Palmer, Lee Elder, Tom Kite and Johnny Miller.
They were among 18 who made the cutoff only because Gene Borek made a triple bogey instead of par on No. 18 and finished at 78--149. Said Kite, "Eighteen of us should send Borek a check."
First-round hero Whitten, the club pro with the bad back and the needle imbedded an inch into the bone in his heel, had another fantasy day "hitting the ball absolutely solid" in his 70 and standing in fourth place.
"They tell me the top eight finishers here go to the Masters," he said. "I'm a Southerner (a Florida native) and it's been my lifelong dream to play Augusta. I'm going to play my heart out. That (top eight) is what I'm after. It's the only way I'm ever going to get there. But if I stay in the top eight, who knows what might happen?"
Whitten was deluged with nearly eight hours of media requests after his opening 66, including every radio and TV station near his Grand Rapids, Mich., home course. He obliged them all and said, "It was fun, but I learned to respect the superstars even more. It must be like that for Nicklaus, Watson and Palmer in his prime almost every day. I'm a little beat, but I'll be all right."
If any man ever had the look of a winner, it's Sutton, the Tour's leading money winner. Last year, he broke the PGA's money-winning record for rookies; already this season, he has set a mark for sophomores.
Sutton has four of the things a player needs most: a goal, a specific incentive, a new swing concept and that hot putter.
His goal is to win a major this year. His incentive is to erase the memory of the final-round 77 he shot while losing the Anheuser-Busch Classic in Williamsburg two weeks ago. "My lead's certainly not safe. Nothing's ever secure in this game. Believe me, I'm speakin' from experience."
His new swing thought comes from a series of lessons from teaching pro Jimmy Ballard who has, temporarily, cured his habit of blocking every shot to the right, especially under pressure. As for the putter, who ever knows?
At Williamsburg, with his deteriorating blockout swing, "I was hangin' on for dear life."
This week, Sutton may put everyone else in that predicament.