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Move Over, Arnie, for Walter Mitty : Amateur From Phoenix Is King for a Day as Palmer Fades

June 30, 1989|DAN HAFNER | Times Staff Writer

LIGONIER, Pa. — The rain stopped, the weather cooled off and so did Arnold Palmer.

After shooting a 66, six under par, in his final tuneup late Wednesday in the heat, rain and high humidity, Palmer fell apart when the U.S. Senior Open began Thursday at his home club, Laurel Valley Golf Course.

Palmer, one of the early starters on the 6,691-yard layout he remodeled into a splendid open challenge, soared to a four-over-par 76.

The mob that came to cheer the hometown hero left with heads down and Palmer, blaming poor timing on his swing, said he had lost all chance of finally winning a tournament on his home course.

But there was still a bright aspect to the day. It concerned an amateur who is hardly a shade better than a duffer. He led the tournament for three hours.

Frank Boydston, a restaurateur in Phoenix, lived the dream of all weekend players. A three-handicap, twice-a-week player, Boydston had seven birdies, shot a three-under 69 and left most of the hotshot professionals in his wake.

Al Geiberger, one of the late starters, birdied the last two holes for a 68 and took the lead away from Boydston.

And another late starter in the field of 150, Harold Henning, had five birdies on the back nine to tie Boydston for second at 69.

Although Boydston was the only one of 42 amateurs who broke par, nine pros did it. There were four at 70, Terry Dill, Frank Beard, Bobby Nichols and Dave Hill. And at 71 were Larry Mowry, Jim Dent and Dale Douglass.

If Boydston had parred the 18th hole, he would have been the leader alone. Instead, he took a double bogey. But it was fun while it lasted. Until his magnificent round, Boydston's claim to fame as a golfer was a second-place finish in the Arizona state match play tournament in 1983.

So it was all new to Boydston, who owns a two-restaurant chain, called the Chuckbox, in the Phoenix area. He was completely unprepared for the experience of facing reporters in the interview room, but he was as impressive there as he had been on the course.

"I can't believe I'm here," he said. "I'm in so far over my head. It's a dream come true and I love it. It can't get any better than this.

"I have no illusions. By this time tomorrow, you can stick a fork in me, I'll be done. I can just see the guys I play with saying, 'He'll choke tomorrow.' They'll be right, too, but this is my moment."

Boydston, asked to describe his round, couldn't.

"Give me two hours and I'll be able to remember," he said. "All I remember is that most of my birdies came on 15- to 17-foot putts, except for one 40-footer and a 70-foot chip that went in."

Boydston said he was 53, a graduate of Florida State and had been in Phoenix for the last 20 years.

"I own probably the smallest restaurant chain," he said. "We specialize in hamburgers in a rustic setting. We use Mason jars as drink containers and tuna cans for ashtrays. We do serve good hamburgers, too."

He acknowledged that his double bogey on the last hole had been a big disappointment. And he could recall that hole, too.

The 18th is a 471-yard, par-5 dogleg right that can be reached in two with a long second shot over water. It used to be a par-4, but Palmer made some changes.

"I didn't hit my drive far enough to reach in two, so I tried to lay up," Boydston said. "Instead, I pulled my second shot from a sidehill lie into somebody's Christmas tree--I guess it was a fir. All I could do was knock it a few feet, still in the rough. I hit the green with my fourth shot, but I was 45 feet away and three-putted. The bogey try was a four-footer.

"I knew I was playing pretty well, so at No. 10, I took a look at the leader board just to see what it looked like to have my name up there. It looked good. When I was ready for the bogey putt, I told my caddy it didn't really matter if I made it or not, I had had a dream come true."

Boydston, who has an unusual collection of clubs, qualified for the tournament by shooting a 70 in the regional at Phoenix, where two of 40 entries made it.

In his bag, he had a metal driver, but all the rest of the clubs were irons, including three wedges, a set of Staff irons he bought in 1969 and a Croydon putter he said he bought for $8 second-hand 12 years ago.

"I don't know how old it is, I just know the grip cost more than the putter," he said. "Actually, putting is the weakest part of my game. I just seemed to get the feel for these greens. However, I missed a two-footer and two four-footers.

"I had two practice rounds before today. I played well on the first one, but on the other I played with Gary Player. I was so nervous I played terrible."

Player, who is seeking his third consecutive victory in the senior open, shot a par 72.

Said Player: "I played with Boydston yesterday and thought, 'He's going to have an awful time.' Then I saw the leader board and couldn't believe it."

Boydston said he wasn't even sure he could make the cut. "Even if I don't, it's been fun," he said.

"It's going to cost me money when I go home, though. As an amateur I can't win money here, and those guys back in Phoenix are going to want strokes."

Most of the pros were stunned by Boydston's score on a course they said was difficult.

Henning said that when he looked up at the board and saw Boydston leading, he thought Billy Casper had come back in a new body.

"I'm sorry he got that double bogey on 18, because it would have been an incredible story," Henning said. "But he still had the day of his life."

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