Usually, the Kemper Open at Congressional Country Club is the PGA Tour's annual Gorilla Invitational. This time, the great apes may be out of luck.
Already it's been a bad week for the big belters who usually make this long layout their private and profitable preserve.
"The course is playing very short right now," said Greg Norman, the No. 2 money-winner this season on the tour and the 1984 Kemper champion. "The fairways are hard and running extremely fast. I hoped it would rain all last night and all day today. But we've had nothing.
"This is a course that really only suits a certain small percentage of the field. A lot of the fellows can't carry the hills with their tee shots and get the roll down into the hollows. Now, most of the field is back in the hunt.
"There'll be some guys who tune in on Sunday on TV and get a shock from the leader board."
The only famous short-knocker who was a late entry was No. 4 money-winner Calvin Peete and he could end up a most happy fellow. "I was surprised when I saw that Calvin was here," said Norman, laughing. "He must have known something."
The musclemen who are here -- and 26 of the tour's top 40 long drivers will unlimber their lumber in today's first round -- haven't been very lucky.
Pretournament favorite Andy Bean, the leading money winner on the tour this season, withdrew from the $500,000 tournament yesterday because of a strained back muscle. It had him limping around all day in a bent-over, simian posture. Clarence Rose also withdrew, leaving a field of 144.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Bean, who used to wrestle alligators for fun, made a big mistake Monday. When a hotel bellhop in Columbus, Ohio, didn't show up fast enough to please him, Bean decided his airplane to Boston to see the Celtics' playoff game that night wasn't going to wait for him. So, he carried his own suitcases. Two of them. Both overloaded. By himself. A typical gorilla move.
"I should have known better," Bean said yesterday.
"Golfers never carry their own bags. Not because we're lazy but because, sooner or later, this can happen . . .
"I love this course. It suits me perfectly," said Bean, "and now I won't get to play it anymore. Two years ago I had to withdraw when my wife had a baby."
Kemper chairman Ben Brundred offered to have a doctor "throw Andy up against the wall and see if anything falls back into place," but Bean graciously declined. Chairmen are loath to lose such drawing cards.
The longest of all tour hitters -- 20-year-old Davis Love III -- also was bitten by misfortune. Love's custom-ground Ping irons were stolen from the Congressional locker room Tuesday night and he missed yesterday's pro-am while he searched for new clubs. At least the thief left Love his driver.
"I'd like to see that guy try to use those shafts," said Norman, laughing as he imagined a puny thief trying to use Love's super-stiff XXXs.
Defending Kemper winner Bill Glasson (who was the tour's long-driving champion in 1984) wasn't smiling too much either. Currently 60th on the money list, Glasson has been struggling lately and was so absorbed in a prolonged lesson from Congressional pro Kent Cayce that he almost missed his pro-am time.
"Bill Glasson to the first tee, please," boomed the PA system three times. But Glasson, trying to figure out how to keep his golf ball on the earth, didn't hear. Finally, he arrived at the tee on the jog.
"Hopefully, I'll be up there, but obviously there are some guys playing better than I am right now," said Glasson, who amazed even himself when he sank a 50-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole last year. That won Glasson the $90,000 first prize when Larry Mize (who had held a five-shot lead) bogeyed his way out of the lead.
Of course, the worst news of all for the host of hairy fellows who love Congressional's 7,173 brutal yards is that the Kemper Open will move to the new Avenel stadium golf course next year. It's only a mile away as the crow flies, but it's a different world.
"I'll be sorry to see the change," said Norman. "I think there are too many of these TPC-type courses being built."
By next season, seven tour stops will be played on TPC layouts, with three or four more possible in a few years.
"I've always preferred the old classic natural golf courses, like this one and Winged Foot, that were cut right out of the trees and blend with the natural terrain. . . . The new artificial courses, which look man-made with all the mounds and banks behind the greens, don't appeal to me as much. . . . I prefer Mother Nature. It just looks a lot prettier."
In theory, a stadium course such as Avenel, with huge mounds to improve spectator viewing, can be any type of golf layout -- long, short, tight, watery, wooded or what have you. But, in practice, as Norman says, "they seem to be from the same mold." That is, fairly tight, watery, small greens, lots of pot bunkers and rough surrounding every green.
"I think we need to keep variety in the game," said Norman. "You always hear that the U.S. tour is stereotyped -- the same thing every week. We keep heading in that direction. A lot of 'feel' is going out of the game. We're taking away from the art of chipping.
"Except for Augusta, there's hardly a course we play where, when you miss a green, the ball rolls dramatically away from the hole and you have to invent a touch shot coming back."
"Now, there's too much water and rough involved. If you miss the target, you take a drop [if it's water] or play a fairly standard shot from rough. . . . The 40-yard chip-and-run has disappeared. Then, you go to the British Open and it's all chip-and-run.
"Not many players know how to manipulate the ball, visualize [new] shots. They all get a set of clubs when they're 6 years old. When players like Trevino and Player grew up, they might have had only one club and had to learn how to hit every kind of shot with it."
For the counterbalancing view, just find a short, accurate hitter such as Peete who doesn't mind pot bunkers and rough because he's seldom in them.
"The TPC concept is going to take a while to get used to," said Peete, "but it's not only going to be better for players, but the crowd, too. I feel they are falling into a pattern, but they're good for the game. Most players like it."
Of course, most players can't carry their drives 250 yards on the fly or smoke a 3-iron uphill to a plateau green -- which is the sort of nasty task Congressional rewards.
No one knows when another pro tournament will be played at Congressional. A U.S. Open or PGA in about 10 years would be a good educated guess. For the gorillas of golf, it could seem like a long wait for a return engagement.