Everybody had his own reason for playing in the Bahama Islands Open last week. Arnold Palmer wanted to win one. Lee Trevino showed up to make sure nobody grabbed his place at the top of the money heap. One of Tommy Aaron's sponsoring firms offered him a bonus for a good performance. Frank Beard, a tough man with a buck, decided to take his family when Dave Stockton got him a deal on a villa.
But as the last of the professional golf tour's 47 official events of the year—and the final $130,000 of nearly $7 million in prize money being offered in 1970—the Bahama Islands Open had something more precious to offer a particular group of touring pros. These players, who include such regulars as Dave Eichelberger, Jim Jamieson and Herb Hooper, weren't there for a good time or to soak up the Freeport sun or even earn money, at least not primarily. They were there to fight for their lives.
"Oh, I wouldn't say it's quite as serious as that," said Jamieson one afternoon, while Eichelberger, right behind him, rolled his eyes and snickered.
For these players and others, the Bahama Islands Open offered the last chance to win enough exemption points to finish among the top 60 on the PGA list. In the past, the PGA gave exemptions to the top 60 money winners, an exemption meaning a golfer is eligible to play in any tournament that isn't invitational, such as the Masters. Otherwise, unless a golfer has some other exemption, such as a U.S. Open title, tucked away, he must qualify on Mondays, which is a bad scene.
Commissioner Joe Dey created the point system so that, among other reasons, a monster money tournament like the $300,000 Dow Jones would not assume three times the importance of the good old L.A. Open. It was a sound idea, but the players have rejected it to return to the gold standard in 1971. As Dave Marr said, "The public can't identify with points. You can't spend them in the A&P."
Nevertheless, points were it this year. Win and you got 120, second was worth 90, and so on. But the players fighting for those last few spots at Grand Bahama last week were not concerned with first and second. Realistically, what they wanted to do was finish, say, 15th and pick up 56 points.
Before the start of the tournament Eichelberger was 61st, Jamieson 63rd and Hooper 64th. At 62nd was Don January, who wasn't there and didn't need to be, since his victory in the 1967 PGA Championship gives him lifetime exemption. Eichelberger was only 10 points behind the 60th man, Steve Spray, but Spray was entered in the tournament, of course, as was Bob Stanton at 59. Even Jim Colbert, who would have had to be passed by six players to miss out, was there. Not that it's all that important, mind you.
"What I mean is this," Jamieson continued. "So I don't make the top 60. I'm still in the top 70 and there are 15 tournaments, including the PGA in February, that are going to accept the top 70 of the list. If you play any good at all, you make the cut and that gets you into the tournament the following week. So it's not a matter of life and death."
"Says you," said Eichelberger.
Jamieson, a chubby young man along the lines of Bob Murphy, was in danger of losing his player's card last year, a letter from Commissioner Dey notifying him that unless his game improved and he started earning some money he could no longer play on the tour. Early this year he married, which evidently was a tonic, for he made the cut in 17 straight tournaments, tied for third in the Western Open and earned $28,385, assuring him of no more letters from Joe Dey.