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Southern Hills Flashbacks - Annie get Your Guns, Just not at the PGA Championship
What is it about major championships in Tulsa that brings out the heavy artillery?
Hubert Green was an unlikely leader at the U.S. Open in 1977 after three rounds. The journeyman pro had won several Tour events, but had yet to clinch his first major. No one knows for sure whether it was disgruntled gamblers or lawless rakehells, but shortly after he and Andy Bean teed off to start the final round, the clubhouse at Southern Hills became the site of a grave meeting - almost.
Harry Easterly, the tournament director, Sandy Tatum, the chairman of the championship committee, and executive director P.J. Boatwright were snatched off the course and spirited away to a secret meeting with Charlie Jones, a Tulsa police lieutenant serving that week as the course's chief of security.
"Jones had a chilling story to tell," wrote author Robert Sommers. An unidentified woman had called the Oklahoma City office of the FBI with word that three men with serious police records were driving the 90 minutes to Tulsa to shoot Green as he played the 15th hole - which runs along private property and offered cover for hidden assailants. "I know they are serious because they showed me their guns," she said in a frightened voice.
The call came through at about 3:30 p.m., but word didn't get to Southern Hills and USGA officials until Green had begun play on the back nine.
Of course, everyone took the threat seriously. "Suddenly a phalanx of uniformed policemen sprang up around Green and plainclothesmen patrolled the gallery," wrote Sommers. "All of a sudden, there are state troopers in full regalia with garrison caps, wide brims and peaks, armed to the teeth surrounding Green.
I asked myself, 'What's this about?' reminisced prominent sportswriter Marino Parascenzo, who was in the media tent at the time. "I don't know how word circulated to the media, but he was still playing when we found out. It was tense watching; cops everywhere and, in those days, they just weren't there around the players, this was 30 years ago. Things were different then. There were just so many and not just in his immediate vicinity: cops in the gallery, cops all around."
Perhaps the most unusual aspect was an unidentified person descended upon the ABC Sports control center, the holiest of holies where no one is permitted, and gave orders to ABC Sports president Roone Arledge to have cameras scan the gallery around the 15th hole without telling the reason.
Meanwhile, Green, who was already leaking oil on the golf course, shedding shots off a once-huge lead, had to be informed. When he stepped off the 14th green, USGA officials called Green aside to an area where they could not be overheard. They told him of the threat and gave him three choices: first, withdraw from the Open (like he'd actually choose that); second, play could be suspended; and third, he could continue playing.
Green took a moment to consider and then quipped, "It's probably one of my old girlfriends. Let's keep playing," and said he would finish the round.
Nevertheless, for the rest of the round he stayed clear of Bean and both caddies just in case a wayward shot might hit them. Green won the tournament and no threat was ever carried out to everyone's inestimable relief.
Twenty-four years later when the U.S. Open came again to Southern Hills, the course became a police state once again. An escaped convict named Jerry Vernon was serving a life sentence for murder in New Mexico, but broke out of prison. "The "Fugitive Warrants Team" concluded that, because of his penchant for golf, he could be headed to Tulsa for the tournament," said officer Lucky Lamons. The search found nothing but, once again, the place was crawling with cops.
Just this Friday, a fatal shooting in the parking of Tulsa nightclub Marios's left one man dead and the assailant facing murder charges. While initial reports are as yet unconfirmed, many people say the victim had traveled to Tulsa for the PGA Championship.
Man, "Hotlanta" has got nothing on Oklahoma.
Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.