When the Kemper Open came to Congressional Country Club five years ago, debate began on what sort of golf event it would become.
Now, as the Kemper is scheduled to begin here again on Thursday, the answer appears to be in.
The Kemper is the PGA Tour's Coming Out Classic and its Goliath Open.
In the 1980s, the Kemper has been the tournament in which emerging stars announced themselves and in which long-ball hitters have had as big a natural advantage as anywhere on tour.
It also has been the No Show Invitational, with famous names scarce, and the No Drama Scramble, with three of the final rounds degenerating into sleepwalk routes.
The first Kemper at Congressional, in 1980, was a red herring. That victory by John Mahaffey, who is a straight-hitting middleweight master of the irons and short game -- was the exception, not the rule.
Mahaffey reestablished that a finesse player, like Dave Stockton, who won the PGA at Congressional in 1976, could win on the muscleman track. But it may be a while before another of that mold gets the cash and crystal here.
Since then, a clear pattern has developed.
Craig Stadler won by six and seven shots in 1981 and 1982. After that first Kemper win, the Walrus went on to capture the Masters and the money crown in 1982. The hot-tempered but good-humored Stadler has been a top-10 fixture ever since. This year, minus about half of his old paunch, he's been the tour's bridesmaid, finishing second four times.
Next, in 1983, a little known player named Fred Couples won a five-way playoff on one of the goofier giveaway days in recent golf history. Some assumed that might be the long-hitting Couples' only career victory. But Couples captured the flashy TPC in Florida last year, cashed a third-of-a-million dollars in checks and is 15th on the money list again this year.
The same sort of scenario played itself out again last year as Greg Norman -- the Great White Shark -- gained his first PGA Tour win by five easy shots. That ignited a summer Norman Conquest by the Australian who had been an international star for years, but needed the confidence of a stateside success to reach full maturity.
Before he cooled off, Norman had won the Canadian Open and taken the U.S. Open and Western Open to playoffs before finishing second. He arrived at the Kemper barely known to American fans. A month later, after his 40-foot, 72nd-hole putt at Winged Foot had made Fuzzy Zoeller wave his towel of surrender, Norman was a golf household word.
So, we've got the M.O. down pretty clear, do we, sheriff?
We're lookin' for a fella who hits the ball over the horizon but who's probably never won a real big tournament on a famous quality course. He should be colorful and unusual, too. A walrus mustache and pot belly, or white hair and tales of shark hunting Down Under or a wife (Mrs. Couples) who gives seismic hugs.
The man we're looking for is probably glad that Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, Calvin Peete, Ray Floyd, Zoeller, Lee Trevino and other such millionaires don't like to play here because Congressional is too long, too tough and its greens are too bumpy.
He's probably someone whose name we've just begun to learn, whose identity has nudged our curiosity.
Could such a gentleman emerge again this year?
There are certainly good candidates.
Once again, many of the famous folks aren't here. Of the top 10 money winners of 1985, only four are entered in the Kemper: No. 1 Curtis Strange, No. 5 Stadler, two-time '85 winner Lanny Wadkins (No. 6) and Corey Pavin (No. 8), a record-breaker in winning the Colonial Invitation last week.
The field is deep, with 15 of the year's top 30 money winners, and 30 of the top 60, but those numbers are heavily weighted toward long drivers. Of the top 10 men in the tour's driving distance statistics, nine are here.
At least four players roughly fit our Kemper composite: Joey Sindelar, Mac O'Grady, perhaps Peter Jacobsen and certainly Payne Stewart.
Sindelar, who won $116,528 as a PGA Tour rookie last year, is one of the longest hitters anywhere, has the Ohio State pedigree of Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf and won the Greater Greensboro Open this spring.
O'Grady would be perfect. Just a typical dull clone pro. He went through the tour qualifying school 17 times between 1971 and 1983, when he finally got his card. In 1978, he changed his name from Phil McGleno to Philip McClelland O'Grady. He enjoys marathons, yoga, bike racing, and he putts left-handed. He's fourth on tour in driving distance and blew a third-round lead at the Byron Nelson Classic two weeks ago after boycotting the press all week.
Psssst, Mac, if you talk to us, we'll let you win.
Jacobsen would also fit the Kemper pattern. At 30, he hasn't yet turned the corner from good to great. He's been second twice this year and his skills as a mimic and comic are fresh and polished.
Finally, it is Stewart who may fit the mold best. He hits long and he's colorful with his knickers and his acupuncture needles in his ears. The $90,000 purse here would kick him close to the top of the money list. He was second at the Byron Nelson and mounted a challenge at the Masters. He's got wire-to-wire and win-by-a-rout capability.
Just as we start to get a "book" on the Kemper at Congressional, what happens? It's scheduled to become the Kemper Open at Avenel Farm in 1987.
The move will only be a mile across the road but it will be to a stadium course with a shorter length, a new grass (zoysia) and a new field with, presumably, more big names.
That means a totally new book.
All you Walruses and Sharks, you Goliaths and New Stars, have fun this week at Congressional -- while it lasts.