Editor’s note: This story, which originally published on May 17, is another installment in our annual Best Of The Year series. Throughout December, we will be bringing you the top GGP+ stories of 2022.
Travellin’ to Tulsa. Sounds like an Arlo Guthrie song, doesn’t it? Or even one by Woody Guthrie? I dare say I’ve been to Tulsa more times than most Britons and one year while there I went to a Woody Guthrie tribute concert.
Was it 1982 when Ray Floyd won the PGA by three strokes from Lanny Wadkins or 1994 when Nick Price, who made a habit of winning the PGA in alternate years in the 1990s and this time streaked home by six strokes ahead of Corey Pavin? I’m no music expert but I don’t want to, nor can I, forget the haunting words “This Land is Your Land.”
So, I’m Travellin’ to Tulsa, this time for a PGA, another PGA, perhaps my 40th in all and my third at Southern Hills (and don’t forget the 2001 U.S. Open). When I travel to Scotland to play golf, I include cold weather gear such as polo neck sweaters, mittens lined with sheepskin and possibly thermal underwear. None of those items will be near my luggage this time. Packin’ for Tulsa, I checked the temperature in that part of Oklahoma: 87F. No danger of being cold there.
At one PGA in Tulsa the temperature was well over 100F and players – actually, their caddies – carried umbrellas to shield their men from the heat. The golf writers were given semi-circular cushions like those you see passengers wearing on aeroplanes to stop their heads from lolling to one side. Filled with cold water, these halters, for want of a better word, kept us cold for three or four holes before the water started to melt and run down the back of the neck and they had to be put back into a fridge to cool down.
In those days the PGA, held almost invariably in the clammy heat of August, was very much the fourth major championship. There were no World Golf Championships. The PGA had more importance than the Players Championship but only just. It wasn’t held on the aristocratic courses favoured by the United States Golf Association for the U.S. Open, like Oakmont, Oakland Hills, Winged Foot and Merion, but at venues like Kemper Lakes outside Chicago because PGA officials were associated with such courses.
At the 1987 PGA, hosted by PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, one scoreboard was manned by bikini-clad ladies who sashayed around putting figures up on the board and taking others down. It would be fair to say that this wasn’t the PGA’s finest hour nor was its way of counting the number of spectators by assuming each car contained four passengers. A more accurate measurement would have been one or two passengers.
Still, there was plenty of excitement. Kemper Lakes was the longest sea-level course on which the PGA had ever been played, and it was there in 1989 that Arnold Palmer, age 59, was briefly tied for the lead in the first round.
Covering this event for the Sunday Times based in London, I wrote the following about that tournament: “It was uncanny to be there among the spectators who lined every hole from tee to green as the man with the tanned and weather-beaten skin passed by. Normally upright and correct bankers and brokers, who wore shirts and trousers that almost matched, shouted madly at the player with a hearing aid in his left ear and a straw hat on his head. ‘Go get ‘em, Arnie’, ‘Attaboy Arnie’, ‘It’s your distance Arnie’ were just some of their shouts.”
Payne Stewart won, overtaking a faltering Mike Reid who had led until the 69th hole but then dropped three shots in two holes as his vanquisher, with four birdies in his last five holes, swept past him. Afterwards Reid cried in the interview room. “Don’t worry,” he said, wiping away the tears. “I cry at everything – fetes, shop openings, the national anthem, the lot.”
He struggled with words like croissantwich, a teeth-grinding conjunction of croissant and sandwich but quickly realised the Dunkin’ Donuts was a quick and snappy name that was hard to forget and thus a good sales gimmick.
The PGA has always been media-friendly, stationing a physiotherapist in the media centre charging one dollar a minute to massage away our neck and shoulder pains, and rightly boasting of the way a shuttle bus from our hotel pulls up outside the media centre not at a point a hefty drive away.
It inaugurated the PGA Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Award, won by some chancer of a journalist called Hopkins in 2013, and one in Photographic Journalism, which this year goes to David Cannon, the distinguished English golf photographer. For those golf writers coming from abroad, PGA officials even helped by sending players from those countries out as early in the day as was reasonable giving journalists a story for their first editions back home.
Many years ago, on one of my first visits to a PGA, I wrote an article called Cherry Tomatoes, Fig Newtons and the King’s English, which a sub-head identified as “A Brit Covers the American Tour.” I was struck by what I felt to be the manhandling of the English by Americans. I described myself as the EV (English Visitor) and wrote this:
“The EV found his ears being bombarded with jarring phrases that mixed verbs and adverbs, present and past tenses, split infinitives, dangling participles and were just plain odd. He began to note the most extreme examples:
“A courtesy car driver taking him to a tournament said: ‘We had a fairly serious fatality on this road last night.’ A sign over a bar read: ‘We have live recorded music.’ Another sign: ‘Ears pierced while you wait.’
“He struggled with words like croissantwich, a teeth-grinding conjunction of croissant and sandwich but quickly realised the Dunkin’ Donuts was a quick and snappy name that was hard to forget and thus a good sales gimmick.”
“On one of his first visits to a PGA Tour event nearly 40 years ago he went into the locker room and was surprised by what he saw. Telephones, free for players to use. Pink notes headed ‘While you were out’ stuck on players’ lockers. Easy chairs were dotted around the room next to tables with bowls of fruit.
“He watched a man going from locker to locker peering at the names stuck on the outside of the lockers and then opening them and putting three or six boxes of balls inside. Sometimes he would put new golf gloves in the lockers as well. All the while, attendants in white jackets bustled about picking up pairs of shoes and taking them off to a distant room from which there came a continuous hum.
“The EV rounded a corner and found his eye caught by what stood on the shelf above four washbasins – as many bottles and potions, tubes and aerosols as the EV would expect to see in a chemist’s shop back home. On a similar shelf at his club back home there might be an old comb with many of its teeth missing. Here there were so many items that he jotted down the make and purpose of each:
- “A can of Pinaud shave cream.
- A can of Palm Beach skin saver lotion.
- Brut deodorant spray.
- Lime Sec Eau de Cologne.
- Vitalis V-7.
- Aqua Velva after shave.
- York mouthwash gargle.
- New Image professional ph-balance hair spray.
- Four razors.
- Two tall jugs the size of cafetieres filled with a murky green liquid in which stood six black combs, fully teethed.
Piles of fluffy white towels were placed at each side of each washbasin. There were four showers and by the entrance were paper slippers to put over your feet.
“The EV took some time to become accustomed to the format of scoreboards in the media centre. He was used to the scores of each player being posted on a huge board in the media centre within minutes, if not seconds, of that player leaving a green.
“In the U.S. he found scoreboards out on the course sometimes contained names that had no bearing to their position in the tournament. Nick Faldo might have been 4-under-par leading David Frost and Ben Crenshaw, with Dan Pohl and Paul Azinger tied in third place. But the boards would show things like Jack Nicklaus plus-two and Tom Watson plus-three.
“On the PGA Tour players were listed in alphabetical order. This might seem logical to some but struck him as odd. How could he keep track of the leaders? One minute he’d be looking at a score (Tom Watson’s say) away to the bottom right of the board; the next he had to swing his gaze 30 feet to the left to see what, say Paul Azinger, was doing. On the European Tour, after the first two rounds the players’ scores were positioned according to the player’s standing in the field, in playing order.
“The EV returned to the U.S. annually for the Masters and the Open, for Walker, Ryder and Solheim Cups. It was a life he wouldn’t exchange for the world. One March morning while covering the TPC at Jacksonville, he saw that players had not begun their rounds and so he was able to sneak away to a nearby driving range.
“In the warm Florida sun he cracked some good iron shots off lovely firm turf. When he tired of hitting long irons he took out his pitching wedge and chipped to a practice green for a half hour. A friend, meanwhile, did some repair work on his bunker play. And when they both tired of that they moved to the putting green, where they putted until their backs became sore.
“How nice it would be to have just some of these facilities back home, the EV thought to himself as he walked into the locker room to change. What would he give for a decent putting green, practice ground with good range balls provided – not to mention Peppermint Patties and Fig Newtons. He’d swap those for any number of split infinitives, ungrammatical sentences and poor scoreboards.”
I wrote that more than 30 years ago and since then my love for the U.S. has increased, not diminished. My mother once called me a Yankophile. So once again I am Travellin’ to Tulsa. I can hardly wait.
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