Buick Open Limbo - How Low Can They Go?
Here comes the good old Buick Open, the All-American shoot-out at Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club, a tournament and a 7,000-yard course that combine to inspire golf's version of that happy pastime born in Caribbean bars - the limbo.
For every player that enters this event, the question is the same: How low can you go? It has been a slow, strange metamorphosis of Warwick Hills, which debuted on the PGA Tour in 1958 as the longest tournament track, to one in which scoring records are seemingly up for grabs every year.
In its early days, the course had little to recommend it. It was just long, long, long and not even completely grown in when Billy Casper won the inaugural Buick Open at three-under-par, a shot in front of Arnold Palmer and Ted Kroll.
But the Buick hospitality, the unheard of perk of courtesy cars and the tour's first $50,000, then $100,000 payoff kept the big names coming. The winners were big-time, even if the scores weren't that great. Jackie Burke, Tony Lema, Tom Weiskopf and Julius Boros, all won the title at no more than eight under par.
Boros, on the first of two championships, had the best score of 12 tournaments of the Early Buick Period, 14-under 274 in 1963.
The scores began to tumble after Joe Lee's great revisions of Warwick Hills, which trimmed off some the excess length and made the course an interesting trip. But it still took time as the patient people at Buick, with Buick and Buick Goodwrench joining forces, to get better dates and attract the name players to the now lush, vulnerable acreage.
Peter Jacobsen approached Boros' best early score as he won the final Buick Goodwrench Open, his initial tour victory, at 12-under 276.
But that tore the wraps off . . . the Buick Open was back, big time. It didn't help Warwick's defenses any when rain - usually a minimum of one day in every tournament - softened the course, left the big greens prime targets for the outstanding field's dart practice with their approach irons.
The winning score tumbled each year for four years after Hale Irwin's 277 in the first re-born Buick in 1981. It was lowered to Lanny Wadkins' 273, Wayne Levi's 272, Denis Watson's 271 to Ken Green in 1985 when he tumbled the tally to 20-under 268.
Since then, all bets have been off. Just two years later, following Ben Crenshaw's modest 15-under270 in '86, an unobtrusive pro named Robert Wrenn walked in unannounced and ripped the unsuspecting Warwick asunder with his 1987 victory at 262. The thunderous 26-under-par was barely one too many to join Ben Hogan (1945) and Souchak ('55) in the PGA Tour's all-time record book.
That figure has since gone by the boards on the Tour and while Wrenn's record remains intact in Grand Blanc, players are taking hellish potshots at it.
Wrenn, unable to work that kind of magic anywhere else (his lone victory was the '87 Buick), but the challenge was there. Justin Leonard reached 22-under in '96, Rocco Mediate got it to 20-under in 2000 and last summer Kenny Perry nudged within a stroke of Wrenn as he won with 25-under 263.
Along the way, Perry became the first player in tour history to shoot 29 twice in the same tournament, doing it in the second round and again in the third. Amazingly, he held the spotlight only overnight as Billy Mayfair showed up with an early tee time in the final round, picked on the still unscarred greens and proceeded to shoot virtually zero . . . well, not quite.
But the blond putting machine from Arizona went on a tear with the best birdie-eagle streak in Tour history, making birdie, then an eagle, then followed with six more birdies. Resulting was the best sub-par nine holes ever recorded, 27, plus the Buick Open's best-ever 18 holes, 11-under-par 61. Still, Mayfair had to settle for a 14th place tie as Chris DiMarco and Jim Furyk finished two shots behind Perry, despite being 23 shots under par.
So where does it all end?
We caught up with Mayfair earlier this summer and asked about the Buick. "It's a birdie-fest up there,'' he said, then, after mulling the way modern players and their equipment and the golf balls they use are turning nearly every course to mush, he added:
"I don't think they've hit the limit there, probably not. For the Buick, it depends a lot on the weather. If they get a lot of rain and the course gets soft, we can shoot a lot of low numbers.''
There are a lot of outstanding putters out there nowadays, but Mayfair says low scores can be attained, even by putters not nearly as proficient as himself.
"If you can hit it close, you can make putts," he said, then added with a laugh, "and absolutely remember that everything breaks to Flint."
The limbo game goes on. How low can they set the bar and who can wiggle under? MG
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