It was Veterans Day at the PGA Championship.
Hubert Green's victory Sunday at Cherry Hills Country Club and Lee Trevino's unsuccessful but thrilling run at a second consecutive PGA title returned the golf season to a group of veterans who seldom had been heard from this year.
The PGA, the final of the four majors, is the emotional conclusion of the season, and Green's victory was an interesting end to one of the strangest of years on the PGA Tour. There have been eight first-time winners and 12 playoffs this season and the nonwinners have been even more intriguing. Among them are Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Trevino, although Sunday's runner-up did win the British Masters.
It also was a year of the foreign invasion: West German Bernhard Langer winning the Masters, Scotland's Sandy Lyle appropriately winning the British Open and T.C. Chen of Taiwan finishing second in the U.S. Open.
Although the last four Tour events before this one had been won by first-timers, there were few unrecognizable names in contention here. The only real surprise was T.M. Chen of Taiwan, brother of T.C., whose final-round 65 tied him for third.
Part of the explanation is the PGA field, which is the toughest among the majors. It includes the top 70 from the money list, past winners from the major championships and the top 40 club pros around the country.
"Sometimes when it's time to stand up, a lot of players sit down," Green said. "Everybody chokes when you're playing a hard course. It's easier for a player who has a better record to win. The veterans have played a lot of tough holes. We scramble better than others because we've had more practice."
Cherry Hills, a par-71, 7,093-yard layout, was more than partly responsible. The course is a short, deceptive affair that requires more thought and iron play than length off the tee. Trevino and Green count superb wedge and scrambling ability among their strengths; that and their putting kept them among the leaders.
Cherry Hills was a change of pace from most courses on the tour, which Green characterized as "dartboards" that don't require much finesse.
Cherry Hills seemed like another of those at first. It came in for some criticism from players and observers when it played easy the first day, giving up Arnold Palmer's course record of 65 set in 1960 to Doug Tewell. It was slightly harder the second day, then turned vicious for the final two rounds.
After some work to dry out the greens, only five subpar rounds were turned in Saturday on the hard putting surfaces and rock fairways. Green's total of six-under 278 was the lowest recorded in the five majors held here, but his final round was a one-over-par 72.
"A lot of American courses these days all have the same stamp," Green said. "You see a lot of rough, narrow but soft fairways, soft greens that hold. You just have to hit it straight and aim for the flag, like throwing darts. A lot of players now get on a course where you have to think a little on the tee and they don't know what to do. They don't know how to hit the hooks and the fades anymore."
If that is the case among U.S. players, then the Ryder Cup figures to be more competitive than usual. The match-play event against the best of Britain and the European continent is scheduled for Sept. 13-15 outside of London.
The Europeans have one of their strongest teams ever in Langer, Lyle and Spain's Severiano Ballesteros.
The 12 players selected for the United States on the basis of points acquired, ending with the PGA, are: Green and U.S. Open champion Andy North (who earned berths with their victories), leading money winner Curtis Strange, Lanny Wadkins, Ray Floyd, Craig Stadler, Calvin Peete, Tom Kite, Hal Sutton, Mark O'Meara, Peter Jacobsen and Fuzzy Zoeller.
But there is no Trevino, who is a nonplaying captain, and no Watson, who did not make the team when he bogeyed the 18th hole Sunday. It was a severe blow to the team, and Trevino was visibly disappointed.
Trevino said he had dined with Watson after the British Open and tried to persuade him to play Hartford to gain some points. But Watson declined. As it happened, it came down to the final hole Sunday. Last year's player of the year bogeyed the final hole and finished sixth; he needed to finish fifth or better to be named to the team, and his poor finish was in part due to an unruly crowd at the green.
Watson drove into the rough on the 491-yard, par-4 18th. He hit his iron shot just over the green. On his wedge shot, someone in the crowd yelled, "Shut up," just as he brought back the club. He mis-hit the shot and the ball landed on the edge of the green, 20 feet from the hole. Watson turned to the crowd. "Thanks," he said. "I appreciate it."
"I knew what I had to do on 18," Watson said later. "I just couldn't do it."