Used to life in rough, Wargo up to PGA test Club pro withstands Seniors challenge

April 19, 1993|By New York Times News Service

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Life has never been easy for Tom Wargo.

It wasn't easy as a farmer, as an ironworker, as a commercial fisherman in Alaska or on an automobile assembly line in Flint, Mich. Nor has it been easy in the 17 years he has tried to make a living playing golf.

It certainly wasn't easy yesterday when Bruce Crampton birdied the last two holes to tie him at the PGA Seniors Championship. And it seemed hopeless when Wargo hit a fat approach into a bunker on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff.

But just as he has done all his life, Wargo, 50, dug deep. He got the ball up and down for a saving par, and on the next tee, after Crampton mishit a 6-iron into the water, Wargo put a 7-iron onto the green, then two-putted to complete golf's latest Horatio Alger tale.

Wargo, a teaching pro, superintendent and part owner of the Greenview Golf Club in Centralia, Ill., who didn't pick up a golf club until he was 25, won the oldest championship on the Senior Tour.

In an event won the past three years by Lee Trevino, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, Wargo became the first club pro to win since Jack Fleck in 1979.

By taking the $110,000 first prize, the 6-foot, 204-pound Wargo joined former club pro Larry Laoretti, who won last year's U.S. Senior Open by four strokes, as the Senior Tour's greatest Cinderella stories.

"This is really refreshing," Arnold Palmer said after finishing in a tie for 27th at 2-over-par 290. "I'm really pulling for Tom."

Wargo shot a controlled 2-under 70 over the PGA National Resort & Spa for a 72-hole total of 13-under-par 275. But it was a total that was tied by the tenacious Crampton, who holed 20-foot and 10-foot putts on the 71st and 72nd holes to erase a lead Wargo had held since early in the third round.

"Always the hard way," is how Wargo characterized his day. "That's what golf is all about."

But in sudden death, the former ironworker proved his mettle once again. With Crampton only 30 feet away in two on the first playoff hole, the 412-yard 16th, Wargo hit his 1-iron fat from 210 yards and watched it fall into a front bunker.

But the native of Marlette, Mich., hit a superb 20-yard explosion that left him a 5-footer for a tying par, which he banged into the center of the cup.

"I've had to make a lot of 5-footers for $5 nassaus, when I only had $10 in my pocket," said Wargo.

Crampton finally seemed to feel the force of Wargo's resolve on the next hole, the watery, 152-yard 17th, which concludes the three-hole "Bear Trap" at the Jack Nicklaus-designed course. The 57-year-old Australian hit a weak 6-iron that splashed into the water to the right of the green.

Wargo then took a 7-iron and flushed it 20 feet left of the pin.

For a time on the back nine, it looked as if Wargo was succumbing to the improbability of it all. He bogeyed the par-4 12th to see his lead drop to two, then hooked his drive into a fairway bunker on the 13th.

"If I had a bad spot, it was probably going down 13," said Wargo. "I felt some pressure because of my friends and the people who were pulling for me."

Wargo recovered to make his par. When he dropped a 7-iron within 3 feet of the cup on the 164-yard 15th and made the putt for birdie, he had a three-shot lead with three to go. Wargo bogeyed the 16th when he pulled his 1-iron approach. And despite playing solid golf on the two closing holes, he was tied by Crampton's clutch putts.

But two holes later, Wargo's storybook life finally had become

much easier.

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