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IT HAPPENED IN MONTEREY
Dan Jenkins
February 12, 1979
A tragicomic last round of the Bing Crosby saw leads disappear and putts roll without end until Lon Hinkle finally won on the third extra hole
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February 12, 1979

It Happened In Monterey

A tragicomic last round of the Bing Crosby saw leads disappear and putts roll without end until Lon Hinkle finally won on the third extra hole

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What happened on the Monterey Peninsula in last week's Crosby, pro golf's annual encounter with picture-postcard seascapes, was that some touring professionals hit some shots and missed some putts with the style and imagination of Jack Lemmon and Clint Eastwood. The result at the end of regulation play was a tie at four-under-par 284 and a three-hole playoff that looked as if it might last forever, or until Lon Hinkle finally came back from wherever he had been for 20 holes and putted like himself instead of a movie actor.

All sorts of golfing calamities and near-miracles had to occur during Sunday's final round at Pebble Beach to send the tournament into a combination of overtime and CBS prime time, which left half the country blacked out at the climax. First, to get his 284, Hinkle had to shoot a 77 and let his five-stroke lead collapse in the manner of a subsiding souffl�. Second, Mark Hayes had to shoot a 72 that would feature a four-putt triple bogey just when he was taking a grip on the $54,000 first-prize check. And third, Andy Bean, whose heroics had hitherto been confined to the pro-am phase of the event that he and his partner were leading, had to shoot a 69 to make up eight shots.

The playoff began at the 15th hole, which was where Hayes had four-putted from eight feet about an hour earlier. With thousands of fans following them just as if they were household names, all three parred the hole with comparative ease and the gallery raced on to the 16th. Here, Bean chose to take himself out of it with a bogey, after a terrible iron shot that left him far off line. As for Hinkle, after hitting as pretty a seven-iron into the flag as anyone could diagram—a tight 30 inches from the cup—he missed the straight-in putt. Pulled it left. Hayes made a routine four, and so the two survivors moved on to the 17th, one of those scenic par-3s where, behind the green, you can admire the expensive yachts moored in Carmel Bay. And now it was time for Hinkle to win it.

Lon nailed another wonderful shot off the tee, this time a five-iron that bit into the back level of the green, about 12 feet from the flag. Hayes left himself on the lower level with a real problem of getting down in two from 45 feet. He struck an excellent putt for a change, however, and got a par. Then it was up to Hinkle to make his very first birdie in the day's 21 holes of golf. At last he did it, the ball rolling slowly and truly into the cup.

For Hayes, the outcome was naturally a bitter disappointment. He had played his way into contention with a blazing 66 on Saturday, after which he said, "Lon can be caught because anything can happen at Pebble Beach." And strange things definitely did happen on Sunday. Until he reached the 15th the first time around, Hayes was shooting three-under-par golf. And while he was doing that, Hinkle behind him was methodically making five bogeys. Through the first 11 holes, Hayes picked up an astonishing seven shots on Hinkle—and he walked onto the 15th green with a two-stroke lead.

There Hayes faced an easy, slightly uphill eight-foot putt for a par when, as the pros say, his valise flew open. He hit the putt too hard and the ball went about 18 inches too far. Now he was headed downhill, and he rapped this one a godawful eight feet past the cup. Looking at his third putt, he was as far away as he had been on his first one. So he missed it, too. He finally sank his fourth putt from about a foot and a half away for the triple-bogey 7. "I lost my composure is the only way I can explain it," Hayes said.

One immediate result of this extended farce was that Bean, who hadn't been a part of all the excitement, picked up four strokes on Hayes in about 90 seconds and became an instant contender. For at more or less the same time that Hayes was floundering on 15 and 16, where he also bogeyed to lose his share of the lead, Bean was making a birdie on 17. On the other hand, Bean sounded later as if he didn't really expect to win. Marveling at Hinkle's prodigious shot-making, he wanted to know how he could be expected to beat a guy who can hit the ball from Big Sur to Santa Cruz. "Anybody who can hit a one-iron up with my driver has to be dealt with," he said, without specifying exactly how.

But while Bean was worrying about a playoff with Hinkle, Hayes suddenly got back into it with a birdie at 18. He very nearly missed a makeable putt, but it somehow fell into the hole, enabling him to get into the playoff. From six feet away, Hayes dropped what has been called a "margarita," one of those putts that runs around the edge of the hole like salt on the rim of a glass and then falls in the front door.

Afterward, Hayes said, "I was feeling kind of sorry for Lon out there, but I guess I don't have to anymore."

Indeed not. Lon Hinkle is a fine player who has been on the tour since 1972. He started winning important money a year ago and he isn't going to stop with this Crosby. He has a solid swing besides being one of the two or three longest hitters on the tour. This big, gutty 29-year-old from San Diego also enjoys a wager in practice rounds—just to keep an edge, you understand. Before he broke through with his first tour victory in New Orleans last year, he had gained a pretty fair underground reputation as the man who owned Lee Trevino all last winter on practice Tuesdays.

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