What it came down to, after a remarkable week that included numerous adventures, was this: Sam Randolph's back hurt, but he was on the 36th hole Sunday in the final round of the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship, looking at a 10-foot par putt that would give him a victory over Peter Persons.
Behind Randolph his caddie, chief cheerleader and psychologist, Peter Hoffman, kept up a running commentary. Hoffman is a financial money manager from Oklahoma City and a golf junkie who thinks Randolph, a dreamy Californian, is the greatest. Forget Scott Verplank.
The putt was a slider to the right, and in its path were some scars from an old cup and divot marks and all kinds of mental roadblocks, like Randolph's collapse in the NCAA championships this year, to say nothing of the psychic damage from being in Verplank's chorus line for most of his career. "Listen," growled Hoffman, "we're here and we're winners. Don't worry about all that other stuff. I don't want us to not hit a good putt. Now make it."
So Randolph stroked it into the heart. He and Hoffman embraced, then did a victory dance. The record book will note that Randolph beat Persons one-up in the finals. There ought to be an asterisk after that.
September 8, 1985
Twice in the last round, Randolph needed a massage from a chiropractor, Rich Gueci, in order to continue, and throughout the day, Gueci, a dapper fellow in aviator glasses and a pink shirt with turned-up collar, had Randolph rubbing "acupressure points" in his left hand and arm. "I was just grinding on those suckers," said Randolph.
With his victory ended Verplank's triumphant summer—five amateur tournament wins, the Western Open (the first Tour win by an amateur in 31 years), the Walker Cup. After a summer that was up there with Bruce Springsteen's, the 21-year-old Dallas native went out in an odd way, losing to a guy who hails from the frost belt but plays in the Sun Belt—Jack Kay Jr. of Don Mills, Canada, a senior at Furman University. It took Kay one afternoon and a bit of the next morning, but he beat Verplank one-up in the quarterfinals, ending a match that was all even when suspended after 17 holes Friday because of darkness. On Saturday Verplank hit a poor chip, bogeyed and was gone. Said Kay later, "I'm in shock."
So were many of the spectators who had come out to see Verplank. Even actor Bill Murray was there, wearing an outfit straight from his Caddyshack role: black T shirt, plaid Bermudas, black socks and tennis shoes.
"Hey, Bill," USGA official John Morris said to Murray. "There's a report of gophers down on the 6th hole."
Murray didn't miss a beat. "Don't worry," he said. "I checked 'em out. They're members."
Meanwhile, Randolph's principal problem was showing up at the Montclair Golf Club in West Orange, N.J. A big guy from Santa Barbara and the son of a golf pro, Randolph is a likable fellow who seems oddly distracted—his Walker Cup teammates affectionately nicknamed him Space. On Tuesday, Randolph had to break into the house in which he was staying because his clubs were locked inside. The next day he almost missed his tee time, arriving with three minutes to spare, after a propane truck overturned, tying up traffic and forcing the anxious Californian to steer a route through shopping centers and gas stations. On the course, however, Randolph was in complete control, shooting 65-69-134, a record, to win the medal in the qualifying competition.
Randolph is a senior at USC who sometimes fogs out at critical times. He lost the '84 Amateur to Verplank in the final when his putter got the chills, and he blew a six-shot lead over the last nine holes of the '85 NCAA, then dropped a sudden-death playoff to Ohio State's Clark Burroughs. After explaining that he needs regular treatment in California for his aching back, Randolph was asked if his doctor was an orthopedist. "What's an orthopedist?" he said.
"Sam isn't dumb," protested Hoffman. "He's mellow. He knows you have to have that attitude in golf. He doesn't like to dwell on things."
Randolph ousted Kay 4 and 3 in the semis on Saturday, and Persons, a resident of Macon who will be a senior at the University of Georgia, beat former teammate Chip Drury 3 and 1. Persons was miffed at the USGA for not naming him to the Walker Cup team, and was out to show what a mistake had been made.
In the final, the morning 18 was erratic. Persons led 2-up after nine holes, but lost five straight holes before winning the 17th and 18th to reach the lunch break one down.
During the concluding 18, neither golfer ever led by more than a hole. Said Randolph, "Every time I complained my back hurt, my caddie went wild." Hoffman agreed, "It was push, pull, putt, bite—total psychology. It was golf in the trenches, mind over matter. We willed ourselves through it."
Randolph birdied twice down the stretch, hitting a four-iron to six feet at the 14th and a wedge to three feet on the 17th. That left the final hole. "It wasn't easy, but I did it," said Randolph.
Considering the travails of the week, that understatement was apt indeed.