Strange Open In Beantown©

Below is an entertaining excerpt from an upcoming, not yet published memoir from Ron Read about his life in golf. Ron is a long-standing Director of the USGA and Carmel Valley, CA resident. He may be best known as the owner of Katrina, his wise and beautiful Alaskan Malamute. They frequently can be seen walking early mornings on Pebble Beach Golf Links."

 

STRANGE OPEN IN BEANTOWN

 

One thing became clear upon arriving at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., in 1988. This U.S. Open would be exciting, and it would not only be for the week of great golf.

As I walked into the landmark clubhouse, the boss — P.J. Boatwright Jr. — spotted me, appearing lost. He suggested we have lunch. It was Friday and a menu was not necessary. Boston clam chowder was required, but before its delivery, we were rousted from the genteel surroundings.

A voice from somewhere ordered us to evacuate the old, wooden clubhouse immediately! We were told a bomb could blow up any minute. It was not the quiet luncheon we expected. We ran, quite possibly for our lives.

Run, but where? I had no idea where the nearest point of safety might be. Once outside, everybody scattered. I spotted a deep bunker near the clubhouse and dove into it. It was truly surreal. I hunkered, head down, covered only by my arm.

For me, it was a déja vu moment. My mind flashed back two decades.

I was a private in the U.S. Army and was in Basic Training. An angry drill sergeant was teaching us to pull the pin on a grenade — a real grenade, then to throw it as fast and as far as we could. Then, he screamed, “Hit the ground!”

I took the threat at TCC as seriously as the grenade lesson at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., in 1967.

It seemed an eternity in that sand bunker at the 18th green, but it was probably only 10 or 15 minutes. Eventually, we received an “all clear.” Now gritty and sweaty, we returned to lunch. The clam chowder was cold, but it mattered not. It was quite a welcome to the U.S. Open.

This was my first visit to this historic club, founded in 1882. TCC was one of five clubs that formed the USGA in 1894. This would be its third Open. The previous two ended in epic playoffs. 

In 1913, amateur Francis Ouimet, 20, defeated veteran British professionals Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. Ouimet, who lived across the street from TCC, was accompanied by a 10-year-old caddie, Eddie Lowery. Ouimet’s playoff victory was the impetus for the sports film, “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” and his victory is arguably the biggest upset in golf history.

In 1963, Julius Boris defeated Arnold Palmer and Jacky Cupit in another 18-hole playoff at TCC.

Would ’88 be the club’s third playoff? For 15 minutes, I wasn’t sure it would even start.

No, this was not to be a quiet week, one focused only on the golf. After the bomb episode, I tiptoed around the clubhouse, fearing I might set off another alert — or worse. 

Friday’s ruckus was caused by a golf journalist, who had offended a political group in Northern Ireland. He commented on Irish drinking habits, saying they all acted like “drunken sailors.”

My assignments that week were multiple. I oversaw Player Registration, then acted as liaison to the players, dealing with their needs. First, I greeted all 156 contestants and their families. That duty went quietly. Later, we took many players to Fenway Park to see Boston’s beloved Red Sox play the New York Yankees. The only thing Boston hated more than the Yanks was its manager, Billy Martin. We saw proof of that one evening at dinner. Billy and his entourage arrived at our restaurant heavily guarded. 

As evidenced by the excitement at the U.S. Open, Billy and the Yankees weren’t the only one’s needing security.

On Wednesday morning, the USGA’s Tony Zirpoli and Michael Butz toured the golf course — troubleshooting, the day before round one. It was also their last chance to see a bit of golf before assignments that kept them largely behind the scenes. While watching Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman putt, another unusual thing happened. 

Seve and Greg were joined on the green by a spectator who slipped under the gallery ropes. The guy wasn’t seeking autographs or a photo. Instead, he began shouting, “Repent! Repent!” 

It didn’t bother the players or caddies. They kept putting. Talk about concentration!

The occurrence got the attention of Zirpoli and Butz. The staffers jumped from their golf car and began running toward the intruder. Zirpoli had a radio. Breathing heavily as he raced to the green, Tony yelled into the radio, “Help! Help!” The alarm left everyone on the radio frequency wondering what was happening. 

As Tony described it later, “The closer we got to the green, the bigger this guy got!”

None of this affected Ballesteros or Norman. They and their caddies watched as the USGA tag-team attempted to tackle the large man. Zirpoli and Butz each one of his legs, but they couldn’t bring him down. The duo was losing badly.

Then, as quickly at the man appeared, so did a diminutive Boston policeman. The officer handcuffed the guy, using only one hand to do it. Seve and Greg putted through the entire melee.

Later, we learned the man had a history. He went by the name of John Charles Nicklaus III, claiming a relationship to Jack. His pseudo-name was Kodiac Charlie.

After the incident, we learned he had mental issues and that the Nicklaus family, Ben Crenshaw and Curtis Strange had restraining orders against him. If Kodiac ever got near them, he would be jailed. After this episode, he was locked up at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital. This was the end of the Kodiac story.

Or so we thought.

With the Open running more peacefully, Tony and I were backstage early Sunday afternoon. We were sitting near Frank Hannigan, who had moved on from the USGA to help explain the rules on ABC broadcasts of USGA championships. As Frank sat by patiently, Tony and I watched the broadcast on TV, nearby, quietly, so as not to bother Frank, who intently watched, too.

Suddenly, Zirpoli leaped to his feet.

“There he is!”

The “Kodiac” was in the gallery of Curtis Strange.

At the same time, Curtis spotted him in the gallery, too. This time, there was a group fracas and the gallery did what Zirpoli and Butz could not. Security appeared quickly, and large Kodiac was hauled back to his hospital bed.

A short time after that episode, I got a radio call, asking me to assist ABC cameraman Don Langford, known better as Peaches.

The crowds that week were enormous.  Not everybody in Boston was watching the Boston-Yankee series. Peaches needed my help driving him and his heavy camera equipment through the crowds to vantage points. It was hot and steamy. We zigzagged through the throngs following the leaders. Late Sunday, I left the cart and bent over to lift a gallery rope in order to make way for our golf cart. To my surprise and embarrassment, there was a loud rrrriiiippppp.

It was my trousers! They were suddenly quite airy. Peaches thought this was funny. I didn’t.

While considering my plight, the bleacher crowds at the 18th were becoming unruly. It was quite hot and they were quite thirsty. They were also restless, waiting for slow golfers. One bleacher started chanting as though they were at Fenway Park. "Less filling!" they roared, and another grandstand responded in kind, 

"Tastes great!”

Back and forth they went, stereophonically. It was a verbal “wave.”

The Country Club at Brookline was again making golf history. The National Open had never seen anything so raucous.

Peaches and I enjoyed the banter from 200 yards away. Suddenly, he decided to capture this impromptu, historic moment. 

“Let’s go!” Peaches wanted me to escort him to the 18th green, where Miller Brewing was about to get free advertising courtesy of our cameraman.

Given my embarrassing situation, I decided to disobey his order.

“You’re on your own, pal.” Carefully, this time, I lifted the gallery rope, allowing him to race under.

While Peaches sped to the action, I slinked my way back to behind the 18th green, hoping to be unnoticed. Zirpoli joined me in the back row, where nobody could see my backside. Together, we guarded the Open trophy, secretly praying it would soon be presented. We watched in horror when Strange hit 3-wood and a 7-iron into the front bunker, the sameone in which I hunkered during the bomb scare. If Curtis was unnerved by his encounter with Kodiac, he did not show it.

Only then did it dawn on Zirpoli and me. We could have a tie!

If Strange got the bunker shot up and down for par, we could put the trophy back in its case. Curtis blasted to 3 feet, then holed the putt to tie Nick Faldo at 6 under par. The Country Club would have its third 18-hole Open playoff.

With trousers mended by hand, I drove Peaches through the huge crowds on Monday.

Strange scored 71 to Faldo’s 75. At the ceremony, I handed the Open trophy to USGA President William C. Battle for its presentation, one Virginian to another Commonwealth resident. Little did we know that the two Virginians would team again in ’89, when Strange became the first back-to-back champion since Ben Hogan in 1950 and ’51.

The U.S. Open is scheduled to return to The Country Club in 2022. Like previous Opens, it promises to be uniquely memorable. However, it can’t be as strange as ‘88. No way.