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Putts That Got Away Make Case History

February 22, 1986|RICH TOSCHES | Times Staff Writer

The gold head of the putter rested quietly on the stone steps of the clubhouse at the Riviera Country Club. Wayne Case stared at it with a betrayed look you normally reserve for your 10-year-old pet beagle after he just tried to kill you in your sleep.

It looked harmless enough, with its slender steel shaft and beautiful leather grip. But the horror that putter had just brought upon Case in the opening round of the Los Angeles Open was an ugly thing to see. The "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" was Walt Disney material compared to this.

Case, a 23-year-old from Thousand Oaks who turned pro just four months ago, couldn't explain it.

"It was awful," he said. "Just awful. I can't remember ever putting so poorly. I can't believe it."

Seven times in Thursday's opening round, Case had drilled his ball within seven feet of the pin. Professional golfers think of seven-foot putts along the same lines that Third World dictators think of elections--they're pretty much a sure bet. But six times the ball missed the cup. Some went left, some went right. Some rolled past the cup and some stopped short.

And when the round came to a merciful end, Case had posted a whopping 8-over-par 79. He was 13 strokes behind the leader after one round, which is very similar to being 90 yards behind Carl Lewis in a 100-yard dash.

"I've played here a lot and usually the greens are real fast," said Case, who helped lead Thousand Oaks High to the state golf championship in 1978 and later played the sport at Westlake High, USC and Moorpark Junior College.

"But the rain made them slow and I never could figure them out. When I hit the ball easy, it would fade way off line. When I hit it harder, it would run by the hole. After a while I was just guessing at the putts, and when you start doing that, you're finished. It was just so frustrating."

Despite the dismal round, Case, who has a unique crouching stance and a backswing so slow you could time it with a sundial, is an accomplished golfer. He shot a 67 in the qualifying round for the tournament on Monday to become the first alternate, getting his berth when Mike Gove entered on a sponsor's exemption.

He has played well in other pro tournaments, including the Crosby Southern and the Newport Beach Open earlier this year, and has played in three U.S. Amateur Championships and two British Amateur Championships, going to the quarterfinals in the 1985 British tournament.

But when Case left the Pacific Palisades course Thursday night, he knew that his chance of making the 36-hole cut was perhaps only slightly greater than the chance of landing a blue marlin in the Los Angeles River. He was determined, however, to erase the memory of that round.

"I need a 65 Friday, so I have to let it all out," he said. "It's do or die. I'll either shoot a 65 or an 85."

His putter, which by now had convinced Case it was possessed, decided to split the difference. Case's second-round 75 gave him a 154 total, eight strokes off the cut. If he wants to return to the course today or Sunday, it'll cost him $8 each day for admission, excluding parking.

After 36 holes of putting woes, Wayne had become a basket Case.

"I didn't believe it could get any worse, but it did," he said. "I couldn't make anything. I had nine or ten putts within eight feet and I made three of them. And there were some real short ones, two or three feet, that I missed."

Case said he'll return to Wood Ranch Country Club in Simi Valley, where he is one of four resident pros who played in the Los Angeles Open, and work on his putting. He will work, however, without the gold-headed putter that made his two days at the Riviera Country Club about as pleasant as slamming the hood of a car on your lips.

"That's it for this club," Case said. "It's history. After the first round, I told myself I'd give it one more try on Friday, and I did. What a mistake. This putter is going into a barrel."

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