They played what is now the Bank of America Colonial golf tournament in Ft. Worth this past weekend. Prior to that it had been the MasterCard Colonial, but the one to remember occurred long before everything, golf events included, was for sale.
It was 1959. The final Sunday. Ben Hogan looked a sure winner approaching the 18th hole. His nearest competitor, fellow Texan Fred Hawkins, had finished five strokes over par at 285. The 18th finishes at the clubhouse but in those days there was no revetment along the bank of a small stretch of water on the fairway left and a pulled approach could put you down the bank and in deep trouble. Not Ben. He was on the green in regulation. He missed the first putt. He had a three-footer left for the win over Hawkins by one stroke. He missed the three-footer! Was this possible?
Not just possible, but profitable. No sudden-death TV in those days. This was real golf. They would play 18 holes, head-to-head on Monday. The winner, after all, would take home a $5,000 first prize. And Hogan had won but $545 thus far in 1959. Moreover, the two finalists would each get 25 percent of the playoff gate, in addition to the regular purses. The Monday playoff produced a tremendous gallery for those days. Some 5,500 paid $2,199.60 to watch it. (To watch it, remember, you had to be there, not home by some chattering box.)
By the 7th hole it was over. Hawkins had hit one ball into the Trinity River. They halved the final eleven holes and Hogan won by four strokes. He garnered (a sports term) the first prize of five grand and another $549.94 — 25 percent of the playoff gate. Hawkins also got the extra $549.94 to add to his second-place money of $3,000.
This weekend’s was the 60th Colonial. Prizes are counted in millions these days, and the money we’ve mentioned thus far wouldn’t induce a caddy to shag balls.
All right. Let’s get to it. The unmentionable. Is it possible that one of the finest players the game has known, at the ripe age of 46, took a look at the scoreboard at that final hole and somehow missed that final 3-footer safe in the knowledge that he had another incomparable round in the bag for Monday?
Would you risk a sure five grand in order to pad it by 25 percent of an unknown gate?
The very thought of it is enough to give a golfer the “yips.”