Easygoing fan favorite Fuzzy Zoeller is popular US Open champion
Mamaroneck, New York
Frank Urban Zoeller, Jr. may be called ''Fuzzy'' for his initials (F.U.Z.), but there is nothing unclear about his outlook on golf and life. ''We're out here playing a game for a good living and I enjoy it,'' says the fast-playing new US Open Champion. ''I have fun every day. I wake up and can't wait to get to the course. It sure beats pushing buttons on a computer from 9 to 5.''
Zoeller's easygoing attitude manifests itself in rollicking exchanges with his galleries, which are sure to be larger from now on. He once stood over a tee shot at a critical stage of a major championship and heard a fan yell, ''Come on Fuzzy,'' just before he began his swing - an interruption that surely would have unsettled most pros. But without missing a beat Zoeller just hollered back, ''Where we going, man?'' and whacked the ball far down the center of the fairway.
''Kidding with the fans relaxes me and gives them a little more for their money,'' Fuzzy said. ''That's just me. I make sure I don't do it when it might bother the other player.''
There is nothing frivolous about his play though. He won the 1979 Masters in a playoff and has won six pro tournaments in all. His career earnings come to almost ,400,000 including the $94,000 he made here at Winged Foot with his runaway playoff victory over Greg Norman.
''I'm not a great player, but I am a good one,'' says the 32-year-old father of three from New Albany, Indiana. ''I'd rather be good than great so I can keep sneaking in there. Being great means added pressure.''
A few more showings like the Open, though, and Zoeller will be knocking at the door of greatness. Whistling while he worked, Fuzzy shot a 4-under-par 276 over the 72 holes of regulation play and appeared to have the title won Sunday until Norman rallied and eventually pulled even via a 40-foot par-saving putt on the last hole. Undaunted by this blow, Zoeller just shrugged it off, came out Monday, and routed Norman in what turned out to be an anticlimactic 18-hole playoff, firing a 3-under-par 67 to win by eight strokes - the widest margin in the 23 18-hole playoffs which have occured in the Open.
The showdown, in fact, was virtually over after two holes. Both men birdied the difficult first hole. Then on the second green, Zoeller drove in a treacherous birdie putt he estimated at 70 feet. It was downhill, with a sweeping break from left to right, and he hoped only to stop the ball within six feet of the hole.
''I was trying to lay it up short, and it dived and dived and dived and finally dropped in,'' he said. ''Don't ask me to do it again.''
Norman, stunned, three-putted for a double bogey and suddenly was three strokes behind. He three-putted again at the par five 5th hole after reaching the green in two big shots, his third three-putt of the day, and at the end of the front nine was five strokes down.
''The fifth hole was pivotal,'' the young Australian said. ''I had a chance to make up ground and missed it.''
Norman's prodigious length off the tee (he may be the longest player on tour) never put him at an advantage. Zoeller would hit first to the green, but he simply kept the pressure on by making one good shot after another. Furthermore, when he did miss the green he was marvelous from Winged Foot's deep bunkers, getting the ball up and down for par four times in as many attempts.
''I didn't want to leave any doors unlocked for him,'' Fuzzy said. ''I had a good lead Sunday and got caught when he made those three great saving putts.''
Sunday's finish had a light moment when Zoeller, mistakenly thinking Norman's putt on 18 was for a birdie, ''surrendered'' by waving a white towel. So on Monday Norman returned the compliment on the final green, managing a grin as he waved his own white towel in acknowledgment of Zoeller's magnificent round.
''I feel hollow,'' Norman said afterward. ''I couldn't get my momentum going. I learned not to try too hard when you have a chance to win a major championship , and I think I'm ready to win one. I'll just have to regroup and get ready for the British Open in July.''
Regrouping is also in order for Hale Irwin who won the 1974 Open here but blew his third-round lead Sunday by shooting a 79 for a 284 total that left him sixth behind the two leaders, Curtis Strange, 281, and Johnny Miller and Jim Thorpe, 282 each. Leading money winner Tom Watson had 287, and Jack Nicklaus 289 , while Master's winner, Ben Crenshaw, and Open defender Larry Nelson missed the 36-hole cut.
''Golf can be a rude game,'' said Zoeller with unquestioned clarity. Not for Fuzzy, though, in this 1984 Open.