Sports memory No. 2: Rex Caldwell doesn’t have to chili dip

Rex Caldwell was a colorful pro golfer back in the early 1980s.
Rex Caldwell was a colorful pro golfer back in the early 1980s.

1982 PGA Tour Championship, Southern Hills Country Club, Tulsa, Okla.: Near the 200-yard, par-3 No. 6, I’m talking with Terry Burcham, who’s a rules official on that particular hole. Rex Caldwell tees off and slaps a drive onto the green that bounces right into the lap of a spectator who is sitting just beyond the fringe. Terry breaks off our discussion and runs toward the spectator, who’s sitting on a portable walking chair, paralyzed because the ball is lying squarely in her lap. Everyone, including Terry, tells her not to move. In a few minutes, Caldwell strolls up to the scene and breaks into a wide grin. Without the spectator, his ball would’ve have surely bounded off the gallery area and even farther out of bounds, so he’s grateful. Caldwell asked for Terry’s ruling. I remember writing that Caldwell could either have gotten a one-stroke penalty, chili-dipped the shot out of the spectator’s lap … or taken a drop when the spectator stood up. Obviously, it was the latter choice. Caldwell was left on the fringe, but he popped the putt over it and the ball rolled several feet and straight into the cup. Birdie! The gallery cheers loudly, Caldwell hugs the spectator — and Terry had the call of the tournament.

More from the tournament: I’m a 23-year-old sports writer looking for something interesting. I see the Southern Hills Country Club’s clubhouse back door is open and unguarded. I slip in and, if anyone notices, I’ll feign ignorance and tell them I’m lost. Within seconds, a familiar face appears from around the lockers. OMG, it’s Jack Nicklaus. The Jack Nicklaus. He asks me, “You lost, son?” No, I tell him, “just looking for good interviews.” He asks, “Are you from around here?” I say yes sir, I work for the Muskogee paper. Then, he sits, pounds the mud from his cleats and softly breaks into song: “We don’t smoke no marijuana in Muskogee …” That breaks the ice, and I score a nice one-on-one interview with Jack Nicklaus.


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