PRO GOLFER DAVE STOCKTON GAVE A LESSON OF A LIFETIME

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Here it is, August 16, 2018. On this date in 1976, another major golf championship was awarded. On Aug. 13, 1970, a previous major title had been awarded.

Pro golfer Dave Stockton taught me a lesson about sports I never forgot.

I’d never met the San Bernardino native. I’d interviewed him a couple times – years ago – by telephone. A onetime Pacific High School star, who won the 1959 CIF-Southern Section championship, had a stalwart golfing career.

Dave StocktonJACQUELIN DUVOISIN SI
Dave Stockton, a San Bernardino native now living in Redlands, holds the Wanamaker Trophy, symbolizing victory in one of professional golf’s grandest prizes — the PGA Championship (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

He’s won the PGA Championship twice, in 1970 and 1976. He’s a Senior U.S. Open champion. There have been other championships, including the Los Angeles Open and a few other prominent tournament titles. Around these parts, Stockton’s considered a General among those who’ve achieved at the highest levels in any sport.

The seeds of my life’s lesson were planted in August 1970. That’s when  Stockton, who was in contention at the 1970 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Golf Club in Tulsa, Okla. was taking on a rather large challenge.

Arnold Palmer – not to mention Arnie’s Army – was the hurdle standing in Stockton’s pathway.

(A curious note, perhaps: About 15 miles from Redlands, the city of Beaumont includes a housing complex dubbed Tournament Hills. Street names include Trevino Trail, Woods Way, Casper Cove, Hogan Drive, Nicklaus Nook, Palmer Ave.

Other streets are named Crenshaw, Bean, Miller, Mickelson, Runyan, Irwin, Bean, Venturi, Shore (as in Dinah) and Pepper (Dottie), among others, plus parks named for Trevino, Palmer and Nicklaus.

Get it?

I happen to live on the corner at Stockton Street.)

At age 15, I’d only caught a minor glimpse on how formative Arnie’s supportive fans could be. I also had no idea how rugged they could get against a player who was challenging Palmer’s run to a memorable golf championship.

The PGA Championship is the fourth major golf tournament, following the Masters, U.S. and British Opens. I believe only Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and, eventually, Tiger Woods have won the Grand Slam of Golf.

Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus, who is receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom (photo by Wikipedia Commons), was very close to Dave Stockton in both of his PGA Championship victories, which came in 1970 and 1976.

Nicklaus and Woods are multiple ’Slam winners.

My Dad, Neal Brown, and I watched Palmer go after that elusive fourth major in 1970, a title he’s never won despite an otherwise illustrious career. Dad was such a fan of Palmer’s that he actually fashioned his own golf swing after Arnie’s, whose swing was often a source of discussion among the sport’s purists during his days.

In August 1970, Dad and I sat and watched, rooting for Arnie. We were definitely part of Arnie’s Army, TV-style.

Stockton stood up under the heat and the pressure.

Pressures of a major golf championship are immense. It included the likely possibility that gallery members – Arnie’s Army supporters – were doing things to irritate him.

Like Dad, I was disappointed that Arnie didn’t win.

INSIGHT INTO THAT 1970 PGA TITLE

Fast forward a decade, or so.

I was now working for the Redlands daily sports section.

The Stockton family had moved back to Mentone, a neighboring community next to Redlands. I got the telephone number where Stockton was staying while he was playing at a tournament in Canada.

He was obliging, honest and frank in his answers. I could hardly wait to hit him up with my remembrance on how he knocked off Arnold Palmer at the 1970 PGA Championship.

I was certain he could fill in some of the gaps from that experience.

It was likely the highlight of his career. When the subject came up, the onetime Pacific High and University of Southern California golf star was ready.

Arnold Palmer? The missing link in his trophy case? The destiny with history? Golf’s Grand Slam?

Arnold_Palmer_(cropped)
Arnold Palmer’s chances of winning golf’s Grand Slam was cut off by Dave Stockton at the 1970 PGA Championship in Tulsa, Okla. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons).

“My family,” said a serious Stockton, without missing a beat, “needed it more.”

Palmer, who was a remarkable golfer for decades, had won four Masters titles, two British Opens and the 1960 U.S. Open. He tied for second at the PGA Championship on three occasions — including 1970.

For the record, veteran golfer Bob Murphy tied for second with Palmer at one-over par. Stockton was two-under.

Jack Nicklaus was four shots back.

Johnny Miller held the first-round lead.

Stockton shared the second-round lead with Larry Hinson.

After three rounds, Stockton held a three-shot lead over Raymond Floyd heading into the final 18 holes. Palmer trailed by five.

Stockton, who shot a final round 73, shared the experience of holing out a 125-yard wedge shot.

He’d also shared that the media referred to him as an “unknown.”

After he notched the victory, he was no longer that unknown.

“I hit a tee shot into the trees,” he recalled, “and I heard (an Arnie Army reserve) holler, ‘go get ’em, Arnie.’ That made me hot.”

Said Stockton: “I had some work to do. That (final round) wasn’t easy.”

That was the lesson, folks. Who cares if there was a blank spot in Palmer’s trophy case? Palmer needed that championship about as much as the Yankees needed another World Series trophy.

The esteemed Palmer seemed to do quite well, I noticed, never having won that fourth major. It might be a blank space on his trophy case in 1970, but no matter. His bank account probably didn’t suffer all that much in 1970.

Neither did his career.

ONE MORE WANAMAKER TROPHY ADDITION

Stockton, however, added a jewel to his trophy case, which also included the L.A. Open. At Riviera Golf Club, Stockton outdueled another golf legend, Sam Snead a few years earlier.

Since learning that lesson from Stockton, I don’t necessarily root against the Yankees. Or against Notre Dame’s football machine. Or against the Lakers or the Celtics pulling out another NBA title.

I love the Final Four when a mid-major like Gonzaga or Marquette or George Mason or Butler, challenges for that elusive prize ahead of North Carolina or UCLA or Duke or Kentucky.

What I do love are the good stories coming from unexpected winners.

That lesson came via Stockton.

“My family needed it more,” keeps shooting through my mind.

The Wanamaker Trophy, symbolizing the PGA Championship, found its way back into the Stockton family six years later.

On the 72nd hole in 1976 at Congressional Golf Club, Stockton connected on a 15-foot par putt to beat Floyd and Don January by a single shot.

The ever-dangerous Nicklaus, defending champion and looming closely to the top, was beaten by two strokes.

Let’s not overlook Stockton’s other top finishes at major championships.

He tied for second place at the 1974 Masters, trailing Gary Player by two shots alongside Tom Weiskopf.

In the 1978 U.S. Open, he tied for second place with J.C. Snead, one shot behind Andy North at, of all places, Cherry Hills (Colo.) Country Club – the site where Palmer notched his only U.S. Open victory.

Stockton’s best finish at the British Open, a tie for 11th place, came one year after winning the 1970 PGA Championship. Lee Trevino won at Royal Birkdale.

As for the San Bernardino native, Stockton moved to Mentone in the 1980s. A couple decades later, his family moved again — this time to Redlands, near the traditional country club.

Gerald Ford
President Gerald Ford is one of a handful of honorary members at Redlands Country Club (photo by Wikipedia Commons) that also includes golfer Dave Stockton.

Along with comedian Bob Hope, President Gerald Ford and Dodger owner Walter O’Malley, Stockton was presented as an honorary member at Redlands Country Club.

He told me, again by telephone, “I had no idea there were honorary members at Redlands.” Stockton seemed moved. This wasn’t an Arnie’s Army remembrance party.

It was part of that Redlands Connection.

 

 

 

A TIGER INVITATION I’M GLAD I DIDN’T TURN DOWN

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

There they were, lined up, one shot apart among the leader board at the 1997 “Augusta Invitational.” It’s called The Masters.

Tom Kite had Tommy Tolles beaten by a stroke after 72 holes, 282-283. At 284, there was a legend, Tom Watson, a multiple major tournament champion. He was followed by a pair of golfers at 285, Constantina Rocca and Paul Stankowski. Previous Masters champion Fred Couples, two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer, British Open champion Justin Leonard, PGA Champions Davis Love III and Jeff Sluman closed out their tournament with identical 286s.

At 270 stood Tiger Woods. A dozen shots ahead. Dominant. A record 18-under par. Augusta would never be the same.

He’d won The Masters.

0748-TigerWoods
Tiger Woods, shown here winning the 1997 Masters. Sixteen years earlier, a 6-year-old Eldrick “Tiger” Woods showed up to play a 9-hole exhibition match at Redlands Country Club. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons.)

It would be the lead story in the April 14, 1997 Redlands Daily Facts.

The local angle was simple.

Sixteen years earlier, Redlands Country Club head golf professional Norm Bernard had called me with an invitation. Maybe it was an assignment. Or a request. Maybe he was begging.

Little Eldrick Woods, already known to the world as Tiger, had been invited to Redlands for a 9-hole exhibition match. He was about to turn six.

Norm and I started a little verbal sparring. I didn’t necessarily want to be there. He very definitely wanted me to be there.

“I don’t know, Norm. A 9-hole exhibition?”

Would our readers even care?

“What else have you got going on?” Norm asked.

In truth, he was correct. Nothing, at least locally, was taking place. School was shut down for winter break. Except for the San Bernardino Kiwanis Tournament, a basketball extravaganza for Redlands High, nothing of a sporting nature was taking place.

It just seemed like I could be working on something more meaningful that day.

“Aw, Norm.”

“C’mon. I’ll buy you lunch.”

He was being as gracious as possible. While being demanding. Charming. A little pushy. Norm was always under fire at that club. Private golf members can be demanding. They want their privacy. They also wanted a little publicity when it mattered.

Redlands CC was full of private club members that were movers and shakers in our community. One of them, Bill Moore, had been my publisher. There had long been rumblings and grumblings about country club coverage in our local pages.

The women’s club had its set of demands.

Of course, there was the club tournament.

Weekly twilight play, results in the summer. Usually, it was the same names.

It was Norm’s job to process results for newspaper publication.

No resentment from me. All part of the job. Bowling had its own set of demands. So did recreation tennis. We had local motorsports. The soccer people were always on the move. The sports section is for everyone. Any achievements should be duly noted.

That was the undercurrent of the relationship between the local country club and the local newspaper.

The year was 1982, just after Christmas. Bill Moore, who’d sold the paper a year or so earlier, was gone. His country club cronies were no longer bugging him to light the fire under me. Meanwhile, they’d light the fire under Norm. No longer were there job-related demands hanging over my head. This was truly my decision. I had to admit I was a little curious.

The next day would be little Tiger’s sixth birthday. Already, the little guy had been celebrated on television, once on the Mike Douglas Show as a three-year-old that could amazingly swing a golf club. Bob Hope, an avid golfer in his own right, was also a guest that day.

Another appearance came on ABC-TV’s “That’s Incredible,” hosted by John Davidson, Fran Tarkenton and Cathy Lee Crosby.

Norm had known Tiger’s dad, Earl Woods. Because of that association, he’d invited Tiger to play golf at Redlands.

Fourteen-year-old Michele Lyford, who would one day go on to win the girls’ CIF golf championship, was selected to be Tiger’s playing opponent on that day. There was a small gallery as Tiger finished the nine-hole round by shooting 47.

Lyford was also the champion of the 1986 Junior World in the older 15-17 age category, an event held every summer in San Diego. It should also be pointed out that other yearly winners included Carolyn Hill, Kim Saiki, Brandie Burton (who was from nearby Rialto) and Christi Erb – future LPGA professionals.

Tiger, of course, was the headliner at Redlands on Dec. 27, 1981.

The highlight of the day was, perhaps, the final hole. Tiger had knocked his ball smack into the bunker, smack dab against the lip – an impossible shot for even the most experienced of golfers.

The kid was poised even then.

One day shy of his sixth birthday, Tiger took out his club and hit his shot backward, into the chipping area in front of the green.

Then he knocked the ball in position for a double bogey. Even then, he was trained to minimize trouble. Of the 30, or so, people in attendance for this little showcase match, they had to be awestruck at his club selection.

No one discussed the shot. No one told him what to do. The kid was left alone.

His father, Earl, wasn’t present. His mother, Kultilda, was watching quietly nearby.

This little golf prodigy had played bogey golf throughout the match. That in itself was incredible, John, Fran and Cathy Lee!

Afterward, the club gave him a birthday party.

Afterward, I’m embarrassed to say, I handed this little guy a piece of paper – and a pen. Yes, I asked him for his autograph. He made his letters carefully, his little tongue sticking out the corner of his mouth while he wrote, “Eldrick Woods.”

Wish I still had that little slip of paper.

Sixteen years later, he won the Masters. That was just the beginning.

I forgot what Michele shot that day.

My column on April 14, 1997 was all about Tiger. Redlands. Winning the Masters. My reluctance to cover it. I’d written, “I’m glad Norm convinced me to come.”

Norm called later to recall the memories.

Any more birthday parties you want me to cover, Norm?