A former driving range assistant, a winless veteran into psycho-cybernetics, an ex-hockey player with a bad grip and a guy enduring effects of a broken hand were some of those who vied for attention at the Kemper Open yesterday. The undistinguished Ted Schulz and Pat McGowan shared a two-stroke lead after the opening round with their six-under-par 65s at the TPC at Avenel.
Schulz, a 29-year-old who for a while ran a practice range in Florida, reduced par-71 Avenel to a dart board with five birdies on the back nine as his piercing iron shots left him putts of no longer than 10 feet. McGowan, in his 13th season without a victory, saved his six-birdie, bogeyless round with a blast from a bunker and a 15-foot putt for par on the 18th hole.
McGowan best expressed how these amiable but seldom-heard-froms with blond hair creased by visors accomplished such low scores: "The ball kept going in the hole," he said.
Warm sunlight and a light breeze made 6,917-yard Avenel no more than a pleasantly wooded dell, and it had the rejuvenating effect of a spa on some players. Three trailed with 67s: Jim Hallet, who took up golf when his college dropped hockey and last week altered his ill-formed grip from interlocking to overlapping; an injury-plagued Denis Watson still suffering complications from a broken hand in 1985; and Australia's Ian Baker-Finch.
But Seve Ballesteros, winner of five major championships, was not among the many who took advantage of the inviting weather. His 73 came with a double bogey on the par-5 sixth hole, where he drowned his approach shot in a creek. Defending champion Tom Byrum with a 74 and Craig Stadler with a 73 also failed to seize on generous conditions.
"It was the perfect day to shoot a low score," Ballesteros said regretfully.
Schulz, of Louisville, has wandered on and off the PGA Tour for a number of years, passing through qualifying school twice. He made $17,838 in 1987, spent '88 in Asia, but finally had a breakthrough last year when he won the Southern Open. His season had been only middling prior to yesterday.
"I was hitting it right where I was aiming it, and aiming it right," Schulz said. "Pretty boring, huh?"
None of his seven birdies may have been as important as his lone bogey. It came on the 467-yard, par-4 15th, where he prevented a potential disaster. He drove into the woods, punched his second shot into the fairway, and then stuck an approach wedge 30 feet past the flag on a ledge. The putt broke severely and stopped five feet short. But he stroked the next one in.
"That was the putt that kept me going," he said. "If I had made a double bogey it could've really killed my momentum. It's not often a bogey putt keeps you going."
With that escape behind him he birdied his last two holes. At the 195-yard, par-3 17th he staked a 6-iron to 10 feet, and duplicated the shot on the 444-yard, par-4 18th, another 6-iron to within 10 feet. To see his ball so consistently fall in the cup was a welcome sight for Schulz after strugglng to find the right putting stroke. He had missed a three-footer on the 17th hole at the Bob Hope in January that dropped him from contention, tying for fourth.
McGowan and a handful of others share the honor of trailing only Bobby Wadkins (winless in 16 years) as most veteran player without a victory. McGowan has surpassed the $100,000 mark in earnings just twice, and his most notable accomplishments are three second places, at the 1978 Canadian Open, the 1982 Quad Cities and the 1986 USF&G Classic. His best finish this season is a tie for 23rd at the Phoenix Open.
For a journeyman, McGowan has a remarkably cheerful outlook, maybe a result of his psycho-cybernetics, which are not nearly as horrible as they sound. All it amounts to is an exaggerated term for sports psychology.
"I look at each week as, this might the one," he said. "Maybe this will be my lucky 13th year."
His 65 had that element of the freakish that comes with long putts. He made two winding birdies in a row at the fifth and sixth holes, of 20 and 15 feet. On Avenel's signature ninth hole, the island par-3 of 166 yards, he sank another 15-footer to close the front in four-under 32. At the par-5 13th he ran in a 35- to 40-footer that traversed the green. His last birdie was a 10-footer at the par-4 16th.
Then he preserved his share of the lead with the save at the 18th. Buried in the lip of a greenside bunker, he blasted 15 feet past the hole, but his putt curled in at the last second.
As Schulz pointed out, an opening-round lead rarely is significant, and there are some intriguing lurkers who could surge. Doug Tewell's hole-in-one with a 7-iron on the par-3 11th gave him a 68, tied in group of eight who include Scott Hoch, Corey Pavin and Gil Morgan. Two-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin and 1988 Kemper winner Morris Hatalsky had quietly menacing 69s, and 1987 Kemper titlist Tom Kite a 70.
"You've got to play all four rounds," Schulz said. "You can't win it in one day. But you can sure shoot yourself out of it."
Ballesteros hasn't yet shot himself out of it, but he will have difficulty making up ground if the perfect conditions hold. Teeing off on the 10th, he was one-under through 14 holes, but two unfortunate swings of a sand wedge cost him a better round.
Under normal circumstances Ballesteros is the finest player in the world with a wedge. But Avenel is thin and ragged in parts because of the recent heavy rain, and poor lies undid him. The sixth should have been a birdie opportunity, as he was within 80 yards of the green standing over his third shot. But his ball was buried in one of the muddy sinkholes in the fairway, and his wedge shot came out low and soft, bouncing off the lip of the opposite embankment and dribbling backward into the creek.
Ballesteros savagely kicked at the ground. He put his second attempt safely on, but it checked up a good 15 feet short of the hole. He ran the putt three feet by and walked off with a 7. He had also bogeyed the par-4 14th with a sand wedge in his hand. And he bogeyed his final hole of the day, the par-3 ninth, when he three-putted from 20 feet. Those undid an otherwise consistent morning's play that included two birdies.
"I played steady, but I didn't hit the ball close enough to make birdies," he said. "I hit two bad shots with a sand wedge, and that's it. Usually with those holes, you should pick up one or two shots, and instead I lose three. It makes a whole different round."
Ballesteros is playing the Kemper for the first time in eight years in an effort raise his game for the U.S. Open, two weeks from now at Medinah, near Chicago. These were his first 18 holes on the 3-year-old course other players have so harshly criticized, and he labeled Avenel fair.
"I don't think the course had anything to do with my two-over," he said. "It's not the best I've seen, but it's fair. It's not as bad as some people say."