It has not been an uneventful trip. He lost his suitcase and golf clubs at customs in Los Angeles, but did not realize it until he arrived in Houston. It took two days for his things to catch up with him. Meanwhile, he was trying to enter two other U.S. tournaments during his stay. Because he does not have an official player's card, he can compete in only three events in the U.S., and he must be invited by the respective tournament sponsors. An invitation to the New Orleans Open, being held this weekend, was managed, but Papwa did not know if New Orleans was in the next state or the next continent, and he was worried about transportation costs. Discovering that he could fly to New Orleans for $24 was a pleasant surprise and left him able to concentrate on his golf, which was astonishingly good until he ate a Texas fried-chicken dinner on Saturday night. An ulcer victim, he became violently ill and was hardly able to get to the course on Sunday, but he still shot a 78. This, when put with his earlier 75-73-73, gave him a 299 that tied such name pros as Bobby Nichols and Charley Sifford.
While Sewgolum added interest to the Champions field, it was Nicklaus, Palmer and Beard who made the news. On the second day of the tournament Nicklaus, who is a slow player, was paired with Al Geiberger, who usually moves at a normal rate, and Cary Middlecoff. In his prime Middlecoff was the slowest tour pro in captivity. Now that he is 46 years old, he has slowed up. The result was predictable. As Nicklaus and his group teed off on 16, the threesome ahead of them was putting out on 18. At that moment Jack Tuthill, the PGA tournament director, decided to penalize each of them two strokes for slow play. When Nicklaus was told he angrily sent his pilot to rev up his airplane and informed a PGA official he was withdrawing because of "shin splints." But he later calmed down and agreed to stay. Geiberger registered his protest the next day when he teed off on the first hole, threw his driver to his caddie and ran down the fairway toward his ball.
Meanwhile, Palmer was shooting a second-day 66 that included his brilliant birdie streak, and he looked like a certain winner even when he followed it up with a rather uninspired 70 on Saturday.
An early leader can usually throw in a 70 in a big tournament and still be safe, but when he follows it with a 71 he is likely to be in more trouble than a cross-handed Indian, and that is what Palmer did. With nine holes to play on Sunday he was three strokes up on Frank Beard, but then Beard chipped in on the 12th for a birdie, and when Palmer three-putted his lead was almost gone.
The Houston Champions now became a replica of the Tournament of Champions at Las Vegas a month ago, where Beard fought Palmer gamely and then birdied the last hole to win. That time Beard sank an 8-footer. This time he needed an 18-footer to win. As Palmer watched, Beard hit his putt very hard, and squarely into the center of the cup. Palmer grimaced. He looked as if his stomach hurt, and he hadn't even had fried chicken.