This piece was originally published in the 2011 U.S. Open program.
SERVING THE GAME
Boundary Tester: Frank (Sandy) Tatum
June 22, 2017
By David Shefter, USGA
Sandy Tatum was appointed to the USGA Executive Committee in 1972 and retired in early 1980 after serving two one-year terms as USGA president in 1978-79. He also was the chairman of the USGA Championship Committee for six years. A Stanford graduate and Palo Alto, Calif., resident, he still watches and plays the game, although he said that since turning 90, his game “had started to go south without leaving a forwarding address.”
Is Winged Foot your favorite U.S. Open venue?
Tatum: I have two favorites. One is Pebble Beach and the other is Winged Foot, in their respective ways, given the environment in which they exist. They reflect a lot about how to play the game of golf at the Open level.
Can you provide some perspective on how difficult Winged Foot was for the 1974 Open?
Tatum: The pros, almost to a man, thought what we were trying to do was completely humiliate them. And it got very, very controversial to put it mildly. On the second day, I was walking in the clubhouse at about 5 o’clock in the morning. There were about four players coming the other way, and they stopped me. One of them said, “Sandy, you look kind of tired.” And another one said, “You’d be tired too if you were up the whole night on your hands and knees waxing the greens.”
What was your reaction to that comment?
Tatum: I loved it. The atmosphere was so pyrotechnic. And let’s face it, the average score in the first round was 77. The media was all over me. It was when I was so seriously challenged by the media and by the players that I spontaneously said, “Look, we’re not trying to humiliate the best players in the world, we’re simply trying to identify who they are.”
Winged Foot certainly isn’t a pushover, even for regular member play.
Tatum: Hale Irwin won it at 287, which was seven over par. But we had changed two par 5s into par 4s, so it was pretty close to being even par. That just added fuel to the fire. But when the Open went back in 2006, guess what, 285 won it. And it was a totally different environment. The players finally understood and accepted what we were trying to do and that it was legitimate. I just found it fascinating that the environment in 2006 was so positive, and the environment in 1974 had been brutally negative.
Did you have a favorite player or someone you marveled at when they competed in the U.S. Open?
Tatum: Tom Watson. He’s the whole package. He’s got a beautiful golf swing and he’s very intelligent. And he loves the game. It’s an absolute pleasure to be out there on the golf course with him. To me, he’s a stand-alone.
Have you played a lot of golf with Watson?
Tatum: He and I met at the Crosby in 1977. I played with him in that event (now the AT&T National Pro-Am) for 20 years. And we developed a very close relationship. I once said to him, “I have a lot of perks in my life and one of them is that the devil never turned up and offered me your golf swing.”