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Jim Murray

LOS ANGELES OPEN : Other Golfing Wadkins Is Narrowing the Gap

February 25, 1988|Jim Murray

Then, there is the trivia question: Which brother act hit the most home runs in major league history? Answer: The Aaron brothers, 768. Henry hit 755, Tommie hit 13.

Now, the trick question goes to golf. Which brother act has the most tour victories? Answer: the Wadkins brothers, 17. Lanny has all of them, Bobby, none.

But, life isn't fair. Especially, golf.

A case could be made that Bobby Wadkins is the best golfer never to win a tournament. In fact, an informal poll, with no prompting, in the press room at the 62nd Los Angeles Open this week, elicited exactly that response.

And there is no question the gap between the Wadkins brothers is narrowing by the tournament. It used to be said around the locker rooms, "Lanny is 20 months older and 2 shots better than Bobby." That's no longer so true. Lanny finished 13th on the money list last year with $501,727 and one tournament won. Bobby finished 25th with $342,173, one second- and three fourth-place finishes. He had 7 top-10 finishes (Lanny had 6) and 22 in-the-money (Lanny had 19). Bobby had a 70.60 stroke average. Lanny had 70.73.

Sibling rivalry is a fact of life for any family. Prowess seems to be spread in unequal proportion. Jackie Robinson's brother, Mack, for example, might have been the historic legend his brother was to become--except Mack came along in the era of Jesse Owens. He finished second to Jesse in the Berlin Olympics in 1936--or he might have been the one the Fuehrer walked out on and made a media hero of. Joe DiMaggio's brother, Dom, was as good a center fielder as the game has seen. If he'd been anybody else's brother, he'd have been a star in his own right.

Bobby Wadkins knows the syndrome well. When he goes anywhere to play golf and he arrives on a green, he can all but overhear the crowd whispering "Lanny Wadkins' brother." When he goes to a dinner party and is introduced to a fan, the general questioning always starts with "And how is Lanny?" Bobby has one stock answer: "I had him here a minute ago--oh-oh, someone's cut the string."

Neither is Lanny his brother's keeper. No one asks Lanny, "How (or where) is Bobby?" Bobby is his brother, Lanny is not Bobby's brother. The distinction is subtle but evident.

The Wadkins brothers of Richmond, Va., are a fascinating contrast. Bobby is younger, bigger, tougher. At least, he looks that way. Lanny has this deceptive baby-faced look that a lot of assassins prove to have. Bobby looks like the linebacker he once was. Lanny couldn't be anything else but a golfer. Lanny has a teddy bear appearance to him. Bobby runs more to a Kodiak. Yet, Lanny on a golf course is as aggressive as Mike Tyson. He slugs it out with a course. He has a killer instinct. Lanny not only wants to win, he wants to win by KO.

Not that Bobby doesn't. Probably the basic difference between the Wadkins boys is not talent, it's experience. Bobby gave Lanny more than the two-year head start in their ages. Bobby gave him more like seven years in golf.

"Lanny always knew he was going to be a golfer," Bobby explains. "Lanny knew by the age of 10 that he wanted to become the No. 1 golfer in the world some day, and he never took his eyes off that goal. I played football and basketball. I thought I might be a coach some day. I spent my time trying to get teaching credentials, Lanny spent his trying to get 65s. Lanny was out on the golf course while I was underneath my car, working on my '64 GTO any spare time I had. I worked loading trucks from 1 to 10 p.m. every day."

Meanwhile, out on the fairway, Lanny was getting rich and famous not lifting anything heavier than a 1-iron. He won the U.S. Amateur in 1970, and hardly anybody since Nicklaus and Palmer came into golf as universally heralded. Lanny won his first tournament, the Sahara, and $116,000 in 1972 and $200,000 in 1973. Bobby just stood there loading sacks.

Bobby got the message. But he didn't step on the Tour until 1975. "I was a junior in college before I even decided on golf," the "other" Wadkins ruefully admits. "I was 20, 21 years old."

Adds Bobby: "By that time, our pro had died, and I went into the game on a learning-on-the-job basis. It's no way to learn golf. I had some terrible practice habits. It was not that I didn't practice, it's that I was practicing the wrong things. I was building bad habits into my swing."

Lanny's game was built on enormous confidence and a zest for the victory. Bobby's game was based on defending himself and a quest for money. "Winning is everything to Lanny," his brother explains. "Lanny cost himself a lot of money over the years trying to win. He never cost himself victories, just money." Lanny's game was predicated on the belief the next card was always going to be an ace. Bobby's was more commercial.

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