Wednesday, 30 July 2014

1986 US PGA: Bob Tway

The passing years since 1986 have probably not been too kind to Bob Tway. Think of him now and it is hard not to view him as a one-off winner of a major title, one of the merry band of brothers that includes the likes of Larry Mize, Scott Simpson, Paul Lawrie, Ian Baker-Finch, Jeff Sluman and Michael Campbell. Say the name Bob Tway, and golf fans will probably recall that bunker shot, and mention his name in the same category as Mize, a man who got lucky and eroded another piece of Greg Norman's spirit.

However, these assessments - and I admit, previously I would have been one of those people to dismiss Tway's 1986 US PGA win in this way - are grossly unfair. For one, who am I, or anyone else for that matter, to judge any of these golfers, who let's face it have more talent in their little fingers than most of us? They may have only won one major, but should that matter? For 72 holes (or more if play-offs were involved) these men were the best players on a given course at the time of their major win. In certain circumstances, the winner came from nowhere, and would never compete again. But this was definitely not the case with Tway.

Scratch beneath the surface and you discover more about Tway's PGA triumph, and identify that it was in fact the culmination of a fabulous 1986 season on the US tour. A three-time winner in the year, Tway was second in the US money list behind a certain Greg Norman, and had tied for eighth in both the US Masters and US Open. His form was so hot that he was seen as a potential winner of the 68th US PGA at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, US Open champion Ray Floyd's analysis that the winner would be "a good player who is playing well at this time" adding weight to the theory that Tway had a great chance of his first major.

Naturally Floyd's description could also apply to Greg Norman. Only the Australian was enjoying a better year than Tway in America, and the Great White Shark was brimming with confidence after his maiden major win at The Open. "This course sets up perfectly for me," proclaimed Norman, prior to the tournament, the 6,982-yard par 71 Inverness Club course notable for its small, fast and undulating greens, surrounded by thick rough throughout. Understandably Norman was a heavy favourite to win the title, his form and major breakthrough at Turnberry convincing some of the doubters that the grand slam titles would start flowing in. Golf has a habit though of biting you on the bottom at the most inopportune moment.

European golf had nine Ryder Cup representatives - Ballesteros, Faldo, Woosnam, Langer, Brown, Clark, Pinero, Canizares, and Paul Way - and hopes were high that Ballesteros could compete. The Spaniard was flying in Europe, winning five of his last six tournaments, and unsurprisingly he had the backing of Tony Jacklin to win his first major since 1984. However, the US PGA was rarely kind to Europeans even in the 1980s heydays, with only Woosnam and Brown making the weekend cut in Toledo.

The Inverness Club was expected to provide a thorough examination for the top players in the world, with the previous four US Opens played at the course failing to produce a winner under par. Yet overnight rain before play on the Thursday softened the conditions for the players and reduced the menace predicted. Norman certainly took advantage, firing a course record 65 (6 under par) to stamp his authority on proceedings immediately.

"I'm glad it rained last night. I'm having great fun out there," commented Norman. "The course was set up to play tough, but with the rain you could hit it at the flag instead of playing it short and trying to run it on the green". His round which contained no bogeys and just 27 putts spelt danger for the rest of the field. Although Norman was one of sixteen players to break 70 on the first day, he had the type of game that could easily see him leave the rest behind, just as he had done at Turnberry.

Tway was way off the pace, his one over total of 72 leaving him seven behind Norman, with the Australian's nearest challengers being Craig Stadler and Phil Blackmar, both two adrift. Norman would stretch his lead even further after the second day, his 68 meaning he would go into the weekend four shots ahead of Payne Stewart and Mike Hulbert. Norman had briefly threatened to let things slip on the back nine, finally registering a bogey at 11, and following this up with another at 14. But birdies at 16, 17 and 18 settled any nerves, and gave the chasing pack a mountain to climb.

Masters champion Jack Nicklaus was still in the hunt, five shots off Norman, along with Peter Jacobsen and Jim Thorpe, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to identify anyone capable of putting any pressure on Norman. Tway had at least managed to steady the ship, a one under par 70 taking him back to even for the tournament, yet the great American hope found himself a whopping nine shots off the lead, and desperately in need of a spectacular round or a collapse from Norman.

Tway would indeed find the round he needed on the Saturday, firing eight birdies and beating Norman's course record with a superb 64. In the process, Tway was now fully back in contention, four shots off the lead after Norman had shot a solid 69, albeit with a little luck on the way. Twice Norman would chip in during his round, each time saving himself from the very real prospect of dropped shots, and a birdie on 16 confirmed his strong position at the top of the leaderboard, four in front of Tway and six ahead of Jacobsen.

Realistically the contest was now a three-horse race, although Jacobsen stressed the job ahead: "Greg is playing so well. He's reached a level where his expectations are so high. He can be intimidating, frightening". Nicklaus, who had slipped out of contention with a 72, was another who felt that Norman had one hand on the trophy. "It will be very difficult to beat him. It's all up to Greg. If he plays well, he wins," although importantly Tway was a little bit more hopeful. "You never know. I'll just try to play good golf, give myself all the opportunities I can and hope to be in contention".

In heading the field after three days, Norman had pulled off the impressive achievement of leading every major in 1986 on the Saturday night, or the "Saturday Slam" as it became known. This alone should emphasise the excellence of the year Norman had enjoyed, how consistent he had been in the major tournaments of 1986, but of course it is the end result that matters, and come the conclusion of the final round, many journalists would again be questioning Norman's temperament. But the fact remains that Greg Norman's accomplishment should not be undermined, even if he would ultimately only win one major out of the four he led going into the final day.

Norman's day of reckoning would be pushed back to the Monday, torrential rain flooding the course, and meaning that Norman and Tway could only complete one hole, although in the short space of time both would move a shot further ahead of Jacobsen, after he bogeyed the opening hole. In truth the final round was now a shoot out between the top two money earners on the US tour, but as the holes ticked by it looked as if it might be a procession for Norman.

The four shot cushion was still intact after ten holes of the final round, both players going out in 36 as Tway tried desperately to seek an opening. The final nine holes of a major championship are rarely dull though, and within just four holes the tournament had been turned on its head. Norman double bogeyed the 11th, his drive unluckily finding a divot, and when Tway birdied the 13th the deficit was down to just one shot. Another Norman bogey on 14 drew the players level, Norman giving up the sole ownership of the lead for the first time since Thursday, and now facing a four-hole tussle for the US PGA Championship.

Just as Tway looked to have been given a lifeline, he started to make things hard for himself. At 15 and 17 Tway miraculously saved par, relying on wedge shots to get him out of the hideous rough guarding the greens, and with Norman parring the same holes - in a much more solid way - the two stood on the 72nd hole with nothing separating them. We were now effectively into sudden death.

After the tee shots it looked very much like advantage Norman, with Tway finding the rough, and Norman in position A1 down the fairway. Tway could do very little with his second, locating a bunker in front of the green, the same trap that Payne Stewart had just chipped in from, but under a lot less pressure than Tway found himself under. Norman's second looked good, before hitting the green and spinning back into the rough. With neither player on the green, it seemed a case of both trying to get up and down and hoping that the other player would make a mistake.

Tway's bunker shot was not easy, the green sloping away from him, and little grass between him and the pin on which to land his ball. "I wasn't trying to make it," admitted Tway after the sand had settled at the end of the tournament. "I was just trying to get it close to the hole. For it to go in was unbelievable". Go in it did though, as Tway's fine flick out of the sand flopped on to the green and dropped into the cup. Tway jumped up and down on the spot, "bouncing in the sand with all the enthusiasm of a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader," in the words of the Daily Express' Martin Hardy. He had just hit one of the most famous shots in US PGA Championship history.

As the crowd yelped and Tway hugged his caddie, Norman must have wondered what had hit him. He now had to chip in to force a play-off, an unthinkable situation for him as he had stood on the 11th tee. Alas Norman did not make it, charging his chip past and missing the putt coming back. Norman was magnanimous in defeat, pointing out that the better man had won, and that Tway had deserved it, yet at a testing press conference, Norman's bottle was once again discussed at great lengths.

Many had felt that Norman had answered the questions over his ability to handle the pressure of a major championship after his win at The Open. But after his closing nine hole total of 40 had seen him lose the PGA, the knives were back out. One journalist asked if "the monkey" was again sitting on Norman's back after his capitulation, a comment which Norman did not take too kindly too. "I don't understand you guys," bemoaned Norman. "Don't go saying the monkey's back on my back". He left the room in a gloomy mood, distinctly unhappy that in his eyes the press conference had been ruined.

If Norman was under a grey cloud, then Tway provided the silver lining. The 27-year-old from Oklahoma City had been accused of being expressionless - Peter Alliss told anyone willing to listen, that you shouldn't play poker with him - and slightly lacking in personality and emotion, but as he held the trophy and hugged his wife Tammie, the tears flowed. For a man who had failed three times between 1982-84 to gain his tour card, 1986 and his first major title were proving to be the reward for all the trials and tribulations that he had previously faced.

Many felt at the time that it would be the first of many majors for Tway. "Even if Tway never wins another major title, which seems highly unlikely, he will long be remembered for his electrifying finish at Inverness," indicated The Times. Lee Trevino predicted that Tway would be the next American superstar, even comparing him to Ballesteros, with Nicklaus describing Tway's win as "the best thing that could happen for our golf". For anyone in Europe who was unaware of the US tour, Tway's win may have come as a surprise, but to Americans it was thought to be the start of something big.

History tells us of course that it wasn't. Tway was crowned PGA Player of the Year in 1986, and would have made the 1987 Ryder Cup team had he been on the PGA Tour for at least three years (Tway joined in 1985), but the predicted golden future for him simply never happened. His next PGA Tour win came at the Memorial Tournament in 1989, and he would finish in the top ten of a major on just four more occasions.

At some point on that final day, Tway had a $9000 watch stolen and cash, a ring and his wallet taken from his golf bag, the PGA champion only becoming aware of this as he prepared to collect the trophy. It was almost as if from that bunker shot onwards things would inevitably go downhill for Tway, although many experts at the time did not foresee the path Tway's career would take.

So Tway would end up as a one-time winner of a major, and forever be remembered for his memorable bunker shot. But, as I hope this blog relates, Tway's win at the 1986 PGA was not a flash in the pan for a man who enjoyed a brilliant season. It's just that after his annus mirabilis he failed to reach those heights again, but as Peter Jacobsen would say in his defence of Greg Norman: "Let me just say it's a hell of a lot better to have been there and tried than to never have been there at all".

1 comment:

  1. Probably better to be a Bob Tway or Ben Curtis than a Doug Sanders or Scott Hoch or Jean Van de Velde, who are all remembered for winning zero Majors!

    I never understood why so many golf writers sneer at those players who pop up to win a Major and never get close again. Every year at The Open poor old Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton get it in the neck, as if they were the Lance Armstrong/Ben Johnson of golf or something. You'd think people would like the occasional underdog winner!