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Buick’s 10 Most Memorable Players
by Jack Saylor

The 1999 Buick Open had a very familiar look to it, a classy field making birdies by the bushel and a hard-driving, mostly unknown player breaking through at the finish to win his first-ever tour victory.

Golfing de ja vu all over again.

When the smoke cleared at Warwick Hills last August, Tom Pernice, Jr. merged as the ninth tour player to win for the first time in the Buick Open.

It had been a struggle for the native of Kansas City, Mo., who got to the winner’s circle just one month before his 40th birthday.

After being a member of a high-powered collegiate team at UCLA with Corey Pavin, Duffy Waldorf, Steve Pate and Jay Delsing, Pernice bounced between the PGA Tour and Buy.Com between 1985 and ‘96, then out-lasted bad weather (a Buick staple and a powerful field at Warwick to score his maiden win.

Pernice shot 67-66 to share the 36-hole lead with Ernie Els and Rocco Mediate, then a third-round 72 left him ready to fall back as Tom Lehman shot 64 and was also chased by names such as Els, Loren Roberts, Fred Funk, Hal Sutton, et. al.

Being five strokes back with a number of heavy hitters in front of him probably worked to Pernice’s advantage as he came down the stretch Sunday afternoon.

“I never looked at a leaderboard so I didn’t have a clue where I stood,” recalled Pernice, who was busy posting a final-round 65.

“I never knew until I walked off the 18th green.”

He signed for 18-under 270, then glanced to see what the others were doing.

The challengers fired and fell back and Pernice squeaked out a one-stroke victory over Lehman, Ted Tryba and Bob Tway.

He joined what has become an august group of golfers who registered their first tour victory at Warwick, including the likes of Peter Jacobsen, Ken Green, Robert Wrenn, Woody Austin and Justin Leonard, among others.

Their names spice the roster of Buick champions, dating back to those medieval times of 1958 when Jerry Rideout and the other Buick PR rascals sold the company on putting up a few bucks for a golf tournament to help spread the word about their product.

There are 2.5 million reasons, all of them green, why it’s not your father’s Buick Open anymore, but memories of the old days always filter back through my memory in recalling favorite Buick champions past.

Like these:

1. Tony Lema, 1964. A latter-day Walter Hagen, who exuded good cheer and appreciated a good victory and was willing to share. Champagne corks popped in the press room, a nickname was celebrated and, best of all, he won again in ‘65. Alas, he left us far too soon.

2. Peter Jacobsen, 1980. It may have been the hybrid Buick-Goodwrench, but didn’t lessen the impact on this talented, friendly competitor. The lasting memory was Jake holding month-old daughter Amy with one arm while accepting the trophy as Amy barfed all over Daddy’s shirt.

3. Hale Irwin, 1981. Although he usually prevailed on more difficult tracks (i.e. three U.S. Opens, two Memorials, etc.), this all-time great showed he could go birdie-to-birdie in a shoot out, too. He emerged from one of the tightest Buick finishes from a four-way playoff with defending champion Jacobsen, Gil Morgan and Bobby Clampett.

4. Ben Crenshaw, 1986. Scored a popular victory by pulling off one of the best shots in Buick history. At the short, par-five 13th, where a par usually lost you ground to the field, his second shot nestled against the trunk on the wrong side of a little pine tree for the right-handed Crenshaw. No problemo. Gentle Ben turned lefty, flipped his wedge to the reverse side and popped a shot within a couple of feet to save his birdie—and perhaps the title.

5. Robert Wrenn, 1987. This likeable Virginian picked Warwick Hills for his “15 minutes of fame,” which lasted a torrid four days in which shot an unBelievable 26-under par 262 and missing tying Ben Hogan’s record by a Sunday bogey at No. 14, one of the very easiest holes. The victory touched off seven financial-productive years, but no more wins before he exchanged clubs for microphone.

6. Julius Boros, 1963. Nobody tired of watching Big Jay’s rhythmic, easy-going, smooth swing, wondering how he generated such power, plus the equally effective work around and on the greens. A giant of the era, he beat perennial runnerup Dow Finsterwald by one shot. He loved fishing the ponds in his spare time so he returned and won again in ‘67.

7. Dave Hill, 1969. One of the hardest workers and greatest strikers of the ball ever to trod the tour, Peck’s Bad Boy avenged brother Mike Hill’s loss of 1968 (to Tom Weiskopf), with a fine 11-under 277 that put him in the books as the last Buick Open champ as management pulled the plug on the event until cooler heads thankfully prevailed nine years later.

8. Fred Couples, 1994. Coming to Warwick after a long layoff and fighting back problems, Couples seemed like a poor bet even to make the cut. But with his lazy, effortless Boros-like swing style, Couples ignored inclement weather, even endured a 36-hole day and won going away with a blazing 18-under 270.

9. Chip Beck, 1990. Never altering his smile whether making birdie or double-bogey and had the groove this week to win another exciting four-man playoff with another fan favorite, Fuzzy Zoeller, along with U.S. Open playoff rivals that year, Hale Irwin and Mike Donald. The company liked Beck, too, and signed him as a Buick spokesman.

10. Billy Casper, 1958. There was more chalk lines on Warwick Hills than on the local football field to mark unplayable, free-drop areas on the new and quite rough golf course, but the $100,000 purse was crisp (Sam Snead said they’d play down Woodward Ave. for that money). The field was classy and so was the winner as Buffalo Billy nicked Arnold Palmer, along with Ted Kross, by one shot. It started a great Michigan tradition.

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