Sunday, June 13, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

E-mail article     Print

For Pga Tourists, The Party's Over

Dallas Morning News

WITH MILLIONS of dollars at stake, today's pro golfers are working out more, partying less.

Roger Maltbie walked into the locker room the other day with a bottle of beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The graying, plump veteran was the picture of a throwback, a symbol of a bygone era on the professional golf tour when lifestyles were fast and loose and fitness was an afterthought.

Contemporary players are more prone now to enter the tour's mobile fitness trailer after a round rather than a tavern. They run on a treadmill, not the streets at night. Orange juice is favored over Scotch on the rocks.

"You used to buy drinks after shooting 65," said Bruce Lietzke, a PGA Tour member since 1975. "Now you go ride a stationary bicycle to celebrate a 64."

The all-night, wine-women-and-song days of Walter Hagen, Jimmy Demaret, Walter Burkemo, Doug Sanders, John Jacobs, "Fast" Eddie Pearce and others are just a 19th-hole memory now. Hangovers and parties to dawn no longer mix with morning tee times and winning.

"Guys used to play with hangovers and finish in the top 25," Lietzke said. "You can't do that anymore."

Winning the Open with no sleep

Hagen used to entertain kings, queens, fancy women and anyone who happened to be on the next bar stool. Legend says he partied all night with singer Al Jolson, showed up on the first tee in a tuxedo and without sleep and won the U.S. Open on a 36-hole Saturday in the 1920s. Then he cracked open more champagne.

Sanders, now 59, a Hagen disciple who for years was the flashy, clothes-horse king of swing, recalls calling a hotel operator for a 6 a.m. wake-up call and hearing this response: "Mr. Sanders, you'd better hurry. It's 6:05."

Pearce remembers those days. He ran with Sanders - or ahead of him. "We spent three weeks in Europe together, and it was a lifetime. He chased me around like I was the Pony Express," Pearce said, smiling. "I'm surprised Doug Sanders can still walk."

Many are surprised that Pearce is back on tour. He joined in 1973 with "Next Nicklaus" promise but left winless in 1980, partied and burned out. He's back this year, as a born-again rookie, at 41, looking to prove himself and glancing ahead to the senior tour. He has a unique perspective after 13 years away, and he's surprised at how tour habits have changed so much.

"We didn't have a fitness trailer; we had the Holiday Inn bar," Pearce said. "We kept doing 12-ounce curls. That's all we did."

You knew where to find them at 2 a.m. It was last call.

"We had about 15 strong closers back then," Pearce said. "I don't know of anybody strong enough to close now. It takes a lot of strength to close a bar and then perform."

Pro golf is significantly more corporate than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Tournaments are named after corporations instead of entertainers such as Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Glen Campbell and others. Those events created a party atmosphere, a fact not lost on Pearce. "We used to start partying at the (Bob) Hope and go hard the whole West Coast," he said.

Instead of hanging around with Hollywood types, the current tour player is likely to spend road time with his wife and children. You can also see him with an instructor, a sports psychologist, a physical therapist, a nutritionist, an equipment representative and a financial adviser.

Drastic changes in lifestyles

As a result in these fast-paced times, the consensus is that there's less camaraderie and bonding among players than in years past.

"I remember seeing a playoff recently when the two guys had to introduce themselves to each other," said Sanders, a senior tour player. "They had never met."

There are, of course, many reasons for the drastic changes in lifestyles.

Pro golfers' improvement in health and fitness reflects that of society and other athletes. (Who went to a health club or read a cereal box label in the '60s?) So much prize money is at stake now - about $60 million on the '93 PGA Tour, compared with $2.44 million in '63, and the senior tour has grown from nothing to more than $20 million in 13 years. The competition is so much keener, the list of potential winners so much deeper. (To wit: It's rare for a player to win more than once a year now, whereas four players combined to win 17 tournaments in 1962.)

Not only is today lucrative, but the senior tour ahead is also a motivational carrot. Players, too, are under more image-conscious scrutiny from public, media and tour officials. Years ago, many pros came out of the caddie ranks instead out of college - i.e., Lee Trevino and Chi Chi Rodriguez - and Sanders claims that's a factor. "We all learned our own styles as caddies," said Sanders, who won 20 regular tour events. "When we lost the caddies, we lost the characters."

Some unhealthy habits have been lost, too. According to the PGA Tour, 80 percent of its players use the 10-year-old fitness trailer regularly. The five-year-old fitness center for the 50-and-over senior tour is well attended, too, more for treatment than exercise. If not for the trailer, some ailing seniors, such as Mike Hill, probably would have withdrawn from tournaments they went on to win.

Perceptions have changed

How times are different. Lifting weights no longer is considered bad for a golfer. Locker rooms still stock free beer for players, but the cooler's never empty.

"These guys know the fat and calorie count on things they eat," said Maltbie, a noted good-timer during his nearly two decades on tour. "These guys are more concerned with being 100 percent ready to play than having fun."

Fun used to be sitting around and drinking with the fellas. Larry Mowry, a senior tour regular who went through alcohol rehabilitation years ago, is well aware of how perceptions have changed. Whereas John Daly was applauded for seeking help for his alcohol problem, Mowry felt like a "social leper."

"If you didn't drink back in my day, you'd be criticized by everybody at the table," Mowry said. "Now there's something wrong with you if you do sit down. We used to make jokes about drunks years ago. Now a drunk is a pain in the fanny. That reflects society."

Peer pressure is one thing. Competition is another.

And it's easier to get focused when a regular tour victory is worth $200,000 and up, compared with about $4,000 in 1963. First place back then wouldn't cover expenses for a year; first prize now can cover bills for about three years.

"It's a serious business," said Ben Crenshaw, whose tour career spans two decades. "There's a lot more at stake now."

Living better, cleaner lives

Pearce clearly remembers his initiation as a rookie, when Lanny Wadkins and Bob Murphy asked him to join about 30 players at 4 p.m. at the Banyon Tree lounge in Hawaii. Pearce had to buy the first round, and the bill was $130. "I had to stay seven hours just to catch up and get my money's worth," he said.

Sanders and Trevino both emphasize that young players live better, cleaner lives now. That just wasn't their style.

"We were kind of rebels," Trevino said. "We stayed out late looking for parties. These guys do it a lot better."

Still, Trevino says he realized he was out of place when he walked into the 1987 U.S. Open locker room at San Francisco's Olympic Club and asked for a cigarette.

"Twenty-five young guys looked at me like I was crazy," he said. "When I finally found one in Nick Price's locker and lit up, they all left the room. I knew I was on the wrong tour then."

Sanders has taken frolic to whatever tour he has played. He adopted Hagen's "smell the flowers" and flamboyant approach decades ago.

"I won 20 tournaments, and I did it my way," he said, proudly. "I enjoyed having a pop of grape, a pretty lady, wearing fancy clothes. I tried to be Hagen. But I always put Hagen away until after I won a tournament in a year. Then I'd bring him out. I'd like to do it quick, because it was dark and lonely in there."

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


Get home delivery today!