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Long Shot Buddy Gardner Has Come a Long Way on PGA Tour

February 15, 1987|STEVE DOLAN | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — For every Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, there are numerous Buddy Gardners on the PGA Tour.

Gardner, 31, has yet to win a tournament in nine years on the tour. He's a long shot to win the Shearson Lehman Brothers Andy Williams Open because he is three strokes off the lead, trails eight players and is tied with three others.

Gardner, who recently became a father, shot a seven-under-par 65 Saturday to pull from the middle of the pack into contention.

During Gardner's career, there have been times when it seemed he would never make it this far.

- He twice lost his tour card and had to return to qualifying school.

- He suffered a career-threatening wrist ligament injury in 1982.

- He often spent too much time partying, which hurt his game.

Gardner won $5,637 his first year on the tour in 1978 and had to requalify for 1979. After winning $71,468 in 1979, he thought he was a cinch to earn a lot of money every year.

"I sort of got lazy," he said. "I was 23 and I thought I'd do it every year. I stayed home six weeks and played golf three times. I came back the next year, swung at my first ball and thought, 'Oh my God, what have I done?' "

His earnings slipped to $30,907 in 1980 and $14,635 in 1981.

In 1982, misfortune struck at the Walt Disney World Team Championship at Orlando. In a pickup football game, the left-handed Gardner tripped over a lawn chair and tore ligaments in his left wrist.

"I was playing in that tournament with Roger Maltbie," Gardner said. "We went to the tee the first day and I said I couldn't play. Roger said, 'Yes you can. I flew in from San Francisco.' We finished fifth in the tournament. I went to Puerto Rico the next week and couldn't play the last day.

"I learned to cook and watch soap operas in the next six weeks. Then I started back too soon and it almost finished me. I shouldn't have been playing football in the first place. When I came back, it was just pain, pain, pain."

It hurt even worse when Gardner again had to requalify for the tour after earning $6,214 in 1982.

"That's hell," he said. "I wouldn't wish it on anybody. I hope and pray I never have to do that again."

Gardner has not had to requalify since 1982. His subsequent earnings have ranged from $56,529 in 1983 to $121,809 in 1985.

Gardner attributed his ascent to a different life style and his wife, Susan, whom he married in 1983.

"My life has changed a bit the last four or five years," Gardner said. "I used to stay up all night and raise Cain. Now, I can't stay up past eight o'clock. I decided I want to play golf.

"I did it all when I was first coming up. Since I've started, guys have gotten so much better that I better not stay up all night. I don't want to have a half hangover trying to beat Tom Watson or anybody else. They feel good when they play. By God, I want to feel good too."

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