Jun 24

Frank Tatum, Author of ‘Massacre’ Dies

Frank ‘Sandy’ Tatum, former President of the USGA

Prepared Winged Foot for Difficult 1974 U..S. Open, Was Much More 

It is amazing, the jobs one can get if they are wealthy enough. Men and women with little to no knowledge of the industry can oversee complicated business networks, regardless of background. However, we should never attempt to draw such an inference for Frank ‘Sandy’ Tatum, former President of the USGA. In addtion to a brilliant career as a San Francisco lawyer and as a resuscitator of languishing golf courses in Sn Francisco and Los Angeles, he could play golf in a big way. He won the individual NCAA title in the early 40s, and led his alma mater, Stanford, to team titles in 1941 and ’42. In short, if there was any golf question to be answered, Tatum could change his clothes and go answer it himself, on the course with a club in his hand. In his time, he befriended the greats, and traveled incessantly to play with them. Tom Watson once observed that Tatum really got links golf into his blood in a tour of wickedly diffiult British courses before the ’82 Open. He is also known as the Bogey Man of the U.S. Open, and unfairly criticized for preparing one of the most demandiing majors ever played, the 1974 U.S. Open.

Perhaps it was the year before that caused Tatum to prepare 18 holes of consumate evil at Winged Foot . That was the scene of Johnny Miller’s 63, and the last major in which Arnold Palmer would finish in the top 5. Former champion Ken Venturi missed the cut, and Sam Snead injured himself, withdrawing from the tournament. At the time, some wondered if Snead just saw the handwriting on the wall and did the smart thing, Players grew increasingly furious at the dearth of low scores, and many suggest that it was the USGA’s and Tatum’s intent to humiliate the best of the world. But the fine golfer, lawyer and iron-minded administrator, would have none of it.  He insisted that as regards the USGA’s goal, “We’re not trying to humiliate the best players in the world. We are simply trying to identify them.” In the end, Hale Irwin walked away as the winner of the U.S. Open, a tournament he would win three times. Irwin played masterfully, and out-mentaled the field on his way to an accumulated score of plus 7 – that’s 7 over, usually not enough to make the cut going into Saturday. What came to be known as the “Massacre at Winged Foot,” in which no one broke par on the first day, left the tour players in horror, but Tatum walked away with no regrets. In fact, he initiated the idea of playing the recent U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. Players were bringing the media out, dropping balls, and daring them to find a way to play it, but it didn’t wash with Sandy Tatum.

I’m with the head man on this one. I don’t understand how shooting a 77 to win a major tournament is humiliatiing, considering that you just beat the entire field to do it. No one says “What a terrible golfer,.” They say “What a hard course,.” Perhaps the mentality is that the best round should massacre par over defeating the best competition in the world, but I don’t get it. That trophy is yours, no matter what you shot to do it. If you’re addicted to 63s all over your stat sheet, don’t worry. You’ll play somewhere else next week that offers kinder territory.

Whatever a player’s feelings about the Winged Foot U.S, Open, that major did not and does not define Frank Sandy Tatum, and to equate him with the controversy is a mistake. He was, by many accounts, a super gentleman, and a pretty good model for improving one’s swing. Jerry Tarde of Golf Digest once said that you could recite the Lord’s Prayer before the beginning of Tatum’s downswing. That sounds good for the spirit and the swing. Gone at the age of 96, Tatum and his way of keeping track of the game may be hard to replace.

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