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Pebble Beach National Pro-Am : Call It What You Want, but It's Still the Crosby

January 29, 1987|RANDY HARVEY | Times Staff Writer

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — When Jack Nicklaus reached Cypress Point's 13th tee during a practice round Monday for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the fog was just beginning to roll in from the Pacific Ocean.

By the time he reached the 14th, he couldn't see the flag. At the 15th, he could barely see the green.

Approaching the tee at the 231-yard, par-3 16th, he had to tell his playing partner, Englishman Howard Clark, who hadn't played Cypress Point before, where to hit the ball. The green was totally lost in the fog.

So was Clark moments later, when he reached the green and found his ball in the hole.

"He never even saw the hole and hit a hole in one," Nicklaus said. "He was on cloud nine."

That made his fall a long one. They learned when they finished the round that the twosome playing in front of them, Canadian pros Jim Nelford and Richard Zokol, had picked up Clark's ball and, using the fog as cover, sneaked onto the green and dropped the ball into the hole.

Everyone at this tournament talks about the weather, but nobody wants to do anything about it because there wouldn't be as many stories to tell.

There was the time in 1962 when a round was snowed out, the time Jack Lemmon lost his shoe in the mud, the time Cary Middlecoff couldn't tee off because the wind kept blowing his ball off the tee.

When the frustrated Middlecoff surrendered and began walking toward the clubhouse, the Pebble Beach pro, Peter Hay, in his thick Scottish brogue, told him: "Cary, show me in the rules where it says ya must tee it up. Now get back there and play."

It's called Crosby weather.

No one yet has begun calling it AT&T weather.

In fact, no one who's not paid to do so calls the tournament the AT&T, even though that's the official name as of last year.

This year's tournament will begin today and end Sunday--weather permitting.

When the second round was rained out last year, the final round was postponed until Monday. But that round also was rained out, causing officials to end the tournament after 54 holes.

"I don't care what you call it, if it's got rain and sea gulls, it's the Crosby," said Art Spander, San Francisco Examiner columnist and veteran golf writer.

After referring to the tournament as the Crosby at a dinner here Tuesday night, toastmaster Bob Murphy said: "I guess some of us slip now and then.

"The Crosby name may not be there, but the spirit is still there. I think Bing would be proud of what's going on."

As an opportunity for his show business friends and a few pros to get together, Crosby started the tournament in 1937 at Rancho Santa Fe, near Del Mar, then moved it to Pebble Beach in 1947.

Even after Crosby's death following a heart attack on a Madrid golf course in 1977, the tournament was known as the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am. But in 1986, his widow, Kathryn, withdrew the Crosby name.

For the record, she said she was upset because the Monterey Peninsula Golf Foundation, which operates the tournament, accepted AT&T as a sponsor. She said she feared the tournament would become a "corporate side show."

The only side show, however, was the one created by Kathryn when she hastily made her decision without the support of her sons by Bing--Harry, 28, and Nathaniel, 25.

She moved the Bing Crosby Pro-Am to Bermuda Run in Winston-Salem, N.C., but the Crosby brothers remained active at Pebble Beach as board members of the Monterey Peninsula Golf Foundation.

If there has been any significant change in the tournament since the corporate takeover, it's that it has become even better.

"I think AT&T's involvement has definitely improved it," said Nathaniel, who first served as host of the tournament when he was 16. The former U.S. amateur champion is now a pro who plays most of the year on the European tour.

Instead of there being 168 pros and 168 amateurs at this tournament, the field has been expanded to 180 of each.

Pros entered this year include Jack Nicklaus, making his 1987 debut; Greg Norman, Bob Tway, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino and defending champion Fuzzy Zoeller. Among the amateurs are Lemmon, James Garner, Johnny Mathis and Carmel's mayor, Clint Eastwood.

Since 1985, the purse has been increased by $120,000 to $660,000--$108,000 for the champion--and probably will be even with the $800,000 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic within the next two years.

Last year, even though the tournament lost two days of gate receipts because of the rain, $830,000 was raised for charity, almost twice as much as ever before.

Tournament chairman Lou Russo estimated that between $50,000 and $70,000 would have been raised without AT&T's sponsorship. He said the goal this year is $1.2 million.

Kathryn reported that her tournament, although relying solely on amateurs because it is not a sanctioned PGA event, contributed more than $1 million last year to charity.

So although the family is divided, at least charity has benefitted.

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