“I guess the true story must come out sooner than later. 10 minutes of going brain dead has created a buzz for over 30 years for me now while darting down to a Port-a-John and changing into Bermuda Shorts, which by the way were Larry Bird length shorts, to play the last hole of the 1983 US Open at Oakmont. And it was not illegal. I made sure of that.”
In 1981 at Merion the USGA tried to penalize John Schroeder and me for slow play. Back then there were no warnings to pick up the pace or to put us on the clock. They just penalized you.
On the 16th hole at Merion, there was a ravine in front of the green that I hit my ball into from the right thick rough from the tee. While looking for my ball the officials were letting us know how much time we had left. John Brodie, former 49er quarterback was the third in the group. He gave up and walked towards the green with about one minute left on the clock. Well, he located my ball. I played up, made my bogie and moved on.
While walking to the 18th green John Brodie said he asked the official standing near the 16th green if he had seen my ball. He pointed to a ball which was 10 feet from him the entire time. “What is up with that?” I thought nothing of it until the same official approach the scoring tent when we finished 18 and said to John Schroeder that he was penalized two strokes for slow play and that I was penalized for taking too long on my second putt on #17. Something fishy going on here.
To make a long story short we pleaded our case to half a dozen USGA officials. Schroeder discussed why he didn’t feel like he was playing slow. Brodie said “they were looking for his ball all day, I shot in the mid-80’s. If anybody was slowing down play it was me.” Then it was my turn. I first mentioned that one of the greatest highlights of my career was almost winning the US Open at Wingfoot and couldn’t believe this was actually happening. I started off by asking the official standing next to my ball “why he didn’t say something about a ball sitting there. It might not have been mine but it was a ball and at a location where everyone had been walking to the green. So it was a good chance it was mine.” Not a word was said. “Were you just trying to prove a point to penalize someone for slow play and this was a good opportunity”? At that point the meeting was adjourned. Then the USGA officials asked us to leave the room and they would make a decision.
Schroeder at the time was in the top ten I was in the top 20 and Brodie had a rough day and shot somewhere in the mid-80’s. They made the right decision as not to penalize us. I’m sure they would not have wanted the world to know what had just happened in the meeting. I believe that was the real reason they did not penalize us. By the way, our group played in 4 hours and 12 minutes for the round. Faster than any round played today in the U.S. Open.
I was pretty upset, to say the least but did not know what I could do or say. Well, two years later in 1983 I decided it was going to be my last full year of playing the tour after battling several wrist and thumb surgeries. A time in my life where I was battling the game and did not see too much light at the end of the tunnel. As I had said earlier. I went brain dead. Wish I could have turned back the clock.
What could I do to protest what happened a couple of years earlier and not get in trouble for? I figured shorts was the answer. It was not against the USGA dress policy and it was hot so why not.
So after playing the 17th hole at Oakmont, I ran into the Porta John that to do my superman change over. Tried taking off my pants, which is almost impossible to do anyway in cramped quarters, let alone a Porta John that was about 2000 degrees. A million thoughts going through my head, with none of them good. You can see by the picture that I had the fear of death in my eyes. I ran up to the 18th tee barely able to breathe, eyes were watering, couldn’t see the ball. I was shaking and more scared than any time in my life. My heart was beating so fast. Thought I could pass out. “What is the world am I doing” it was too late to turn back now. I’m committed. In more ways than one.
Well, I barely hit my tee shot on the toe of the club. Didn’t travel 100 yards and thought it was lost. Hit a provisional about 50 yards in front of me short of the fairway in the foot long rough. Now, what am I going to do? I’m living a nightmare!! Take an unplayable and lie and go back to the tee hitting 5? Well, my first ball was found in a ditch. From there I had no play or drop so I tried to hit it from my knees where I proceeded to shank it. It hit a tree and bounced back into the middle of the fairway. I could finally breathe again.
By then thousand’s of spectator’s heard the commotion and ran towards the 18 green cheering me on, go Fuzz, love it!! I have never had such an ovation.
Today they are still talking about it on the Golf Channel, ABC, and golf magazines but the true story has not come out until now.
In fact, the PGA of America is allowing shorts to be worn in practice rounds at the PGA Championship in 2017. Well, it’s about time!!! Way to go PGA of America!
I guess it does pay off to do something crazy once in your life. At least golfers remember me for something.