Dillard deep-sixes his anonymity with brilliant early show

June 19, 1992|By Michael Madden | Michael Madden,Boston Globe

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Of course, none of us knew who he was. A golf junkie offered that he thought Andy Dillard had gone to Oklahoma State way back when, but he added, "All I can say for certain is he's the only human being who could stand between Craig Stadler and the sun and cause a solar eclipse."

Which shed no light on anything.

The Pacific and Carmel Bay now were at our backs, the back nine was somewhere there in the fog and low clouds, and still we knew nothing of this golfer who had birdied the first six holes of the U.S. Open, only the second golfer in Open history to birdie six straight. "I wonder what he's been doing the last few years," I said. The golf junkie only shrugged his shoulders.

"He's been playing the Texas Tour and mostly staying at home," said a woman to our right. We looked to our right. There was a blonde lady, youthful and pretty, looking a bit proud, too. "That's what he's been doing."

Tammy Sullivan, she said she was. Works as a civilian at Tinker Air Force Base outside Oklahoma City. "I've known Andy for two years," said Tammy. "I'm his girlfriend."

Ah, an Andy Dillard expert. There weren't many despite all the golfing expertise of the world centered right here on the cliffs above Carmel Bay. Tell us, Tammy, tell us about Andy Dillard.

"Well, he was on the Texas Tour ... you know, that's where the players put up a lot of the money themselves," said Sullivan. "If you win, you might get $2,000, but it depends on how many players are entered."

And Andy? How did he do on the Texas Tour? When's the last time he's won?

"Well ... ahh ... let me see ... actually, Andy's never won," she said. "I really even can't remember when he finished up high. But he was on the Hogan Tour for two years, too . . . but he lost his card on the Hogan Tour, too, and ..."

Tammy walked and Tammy talked. Andy had lost three strokes to par on the back side, but his 6-under on the front nine would wither to no one and no thing this day. Oh, yes, Tammy said, Andy had qualified for the Open last Tuesday in Memphis, "and that was the day after he qualified for the St. Jude. Monday he made Memphis and Tuesday he made the Open."

How did you guys make it up here to Northern California? Tammy was asked. On Andy's MasterCard?

Oh, no, she said, "Andy's got a sponsor. You know Eddie K. Gaylord II? He's the guy that owns the newspaper in Oklahoma City and he owns the Grand Ole Opry, too. Andy met up with him at Mr. Gaylord's club in Oklahoma City last year and he's been Andy's sponsor." Tammy didn't have to add, "And good thing, too."

So the dream day wore on, Andy Dillard recovering a stroke with a birdie on 15, then parring out for a 4-under round of 68. Tammy was beside herself with joy, and "Weed," Andy's caddie, was schmoozing with ESPN's Chris Berman, trying for a cameo on "SportsCenter," and "Weed," aka Rick Motacki, then came over and had this to say about the amazing six birdies on the first six holes at Pebble Beach.

"We were on the sixth hole and we had a long wait to the green and Andy remembered that Billy Ray Brown had said that he'd seen sharks out in the Pacific on the sixth and what am I but a New Jersey-Florida guy and I don't know for sure. And Andy says, 'Why don't we go over and look?' and darned if we don't see the fins in the water, a whole bunch of tiger sharks." Translated, Andy was well within himself on the amazing birdie run, taking time out to look for sharks.

In time, Andy was brought to the media tent, and the interviews started with the most basic of questions -- "Who are you?" -- which Andy Dillard began answering with, "Well, I'm 30 years old and...."

But it wound deeper and deeper, touching down to the bedrock of human spirit. His thoughts during the birdies? "Somebody had told me that Titleist pays good money if you get its visor on TV" and maybe his six birdies might be good enough to get Andy -- with his Titleist visor -- on TV. Which might bring in some "good money."

"I'll tell you," said Dillard, "it's tough to play golf if you don't have any money. There have been times in the last year that I didn't have a dime in my back pocket. I didn't have money for car payments, for anything."

So, he went on, "I would play anywhere and anything and hope for some money," from the piddling money on the Texas Tour to hustling at his course in Oklahoma City where he'd play for $100 and on up, though "one day I lost $1,600."

Did he have enough money to feed himself?

"Bare..." Dillard started to say, giving the stock answer of barely. But he is 5 feet 9 and 210 pounds and so he told the truth: "Obviously." His nickname, he said, is "Bib."

Andy Dillard then talked about the huge gallery that swarmed to him ("I played in front of more people today than I did since 1988 combined"), of how he missed by a stroke in Fort Worth of qualifying for the Open in 1987 ("I shot to the wrong green on one hole") and how he once was on the PGA Tour but it all fell apart.

"My girlfriend might not like this, but this is the truth," he said. "I got mixed up with a girl -- I'm not blaming this on her -- but we had a lot of problems and that's when it went."

Only to return so magically yesterday at Pebble Beach. He never gave up, said Andy Dillard, "because in my heart, I felt I was good enough to compete."

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