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Jim Murray

Where Does Lanny Wadkins Come Off Shooting a 20-Under Par at Riviera?

January 28, 1985|Jim Murray

Say you're sorry, Lanny Wadkins.

Go immediately to Ben Hogan and apologize. Promise you'll never do anything like this again.

Write on a blackboard 200 times: "It was an accident. Riviera is not an easy course. Holes 9, 10, 11, 12 and 17 are not birdie holes. Those are difficult par-4's and 5's. Bogey holes. I lost my head. I forgot myself. I forgot where I was."

God may punish you for your transgressions. For your penance, say four novenas and swear you didn't mean it, that you have great respect for the game of golf and its traditions and are truly sorry and ready to make amends.

Listen, if you were too young to see the Chicago Bears beat the Washington Redskins, 73-0, don't despair. Get a film of Lanny Wadkins beating Riviera Sunday and the rest of the week.

If you had to miss Dempsey knocking out Fred Fulton in 14 seconds, this will re-create that mood.

If you didn't turn on Secretariat's Belmont where he won by 31 lengths, get a cassette of Wadkins' 1985 L.A. Open. If you blew the Army-Notre Dame game that Army won, 59-0, this is the next-best thing. If you forget the 1932 World Series the Yankees won in four straight by scores 13-6 and 12-6, this is the same reel. If you didn't sit in on any of Nolan Ryan's five no-hitters, this was the same thing.

It wasn't a match, it was a recital. It was more like watching Paderewski on the piano. Lanny Wadkins played a concerto for woods and 2-irons. The artist at work. Riviera was just an instrument, a canvas.

It was as one-sided as a lynching. A ritual, not a sports event. Just a stylized gambit, like a corrida. The course was about as important as the bull. Lanny got the ears, tail, horns and whatever else they could cut.

Lanny has a lot to answer for. He should be made to say he's ashamed of himself in writing, he should apologize immediately not only to Hogan but Snead, Sarazen, Nelson, Armour, Bobby Locke and anyone else who found Riviera Country Club anything but a walk in the park, a duet for 14 clubs and a ball-washer.

Guys who fought and bled over this golf course should be asked for forgiveness. He should have to explain himself to anyone who could never break a hundred at Riviera--and that includes about 80% of the people who ever played it.

Imagine--20-under par at Riviera. I mean, this is not some rubber-mat course in Texas. This is not Dyker Beach on Long Island. This is not some municipal pitch-and-putt in Peoria. This has always been among the Buckingham Palaces of golf courses. This is not an old bag in a dime-a-dance dance hall, this is a lady, a great lady.

A guy who would do what he did to Riviera would do God-knows-what to the Mona Lisa. Paint graffiti in the Louvre. Put gloves on the Venus de Milo.

This is not some desert course or sand pit in Florida. Riviera has trees on it. Trouble. Trickery. Banana peel greens.

It's not some round-heel preliminary fighter, some palooka making character for everybody who beats on it. Riviera considers itself ultra-respectable. A contender, not an opponent.

Lanny Wadkins should be made to stand in a corner with a sign saying, "The Devil made me do it" or something similar. He should be barred from polite company till he makes amends.

No one should speak to him in the clubhouse. They should consider whether he can even keep his card. His clubs should be confiscated, impounded like the car in a hit-and-run accident.

He should be treated like a public enemy such as Al Capone or Lucky Luciano. Decent, law-abiding citizens don't go around shooting 63-70-67-64 at Riviera. They have more pride. They care more what people think of them.

There is one way J. Lanston Wadkins can atone for his sins. He can now do this to Pebble Beach, Augusta, the British Open. He can be forgiven if he now never misses another cut, if he wins two or more U.S. Opens, a Masters or three, another PGA or two and at least 25 more tournaments to go with the 14 he now has.

He already seems to have some feel for the enormous crime he's had a hand in. "Whew, 20-under par. Normally, it takes me two or three years around this golf course to do that," he exclaimed in the press tent afterward.

Exactly. He can make amends now if he becomes a legend. We will take up his case if he does proceed to dismantle the rest of golf. You see, when Ben Hogan broke the record around Riviera shooting a 275, or nine-under-par, in 1948, he was just "Bantam Ben" at that time, not a statue in the Hall of Fame yet. People were resentful even then.

When he went on to win his four Opens, a British Open and two Masters, people not only forgave him his nine-under, they bragged about it.

It's up to Lanny. He can do the same thing. It's all right to do what Hogan did if you do it everywhere.

Riviera is waiting for him to make an honest woman of her again. If he doesn't, that 20-under par will be something that just never happened. If he goes on to the stars, all will be forgiven. And "Hogan's Alley" will finally become "Wadkins' Alley."

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