“The pros – almost to a man – thought what we were trying to do was completely humiliate them,” Tatum said of that 1974 Open in a 2011 interview. “And it got very, very controversial, to put it mildly.
“The atmosphere was so pyrotechnic. … It was when I was so seriously challenged by the media and the players that I spontaneously said, ‘Look, we’re not trying to humiliate the best players in the world, we’re simply trying to identify who they are.’”
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Hale Irwin won the first of his three U.S. Open titles that week with a 7-over-par score of 287 amid a chorus of cries about the perceived punishing course setup.
“But when the Open went back in 2006, guess what – 285 won it,” Tatum said in 2011 of Geoff Ogilvy’s 5-over-par victory 32 years later. “And it was a totally different environment. The players finally understood and accepted what we were trying to do and that it was legitimate. I just found it fascinating that the environment in 2006 was so positive, and the environment in 1974 had been brutally negative.”
Tatum, born on July 7, 1920, and raised in the Los Angeles area, led Stanford to back-to-back NCAA team golf titles in 1941-42 before accepting a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University. He later returned to Stanford to earn his law degree in 1950, and was admitted to the bar in California that same year.
While he was a strong enough player to give professional golf a try, Tatum chose another career path with the law firm of Cooley Godward Kronish. He also served as general counsel to the University of San Francisco and as special counsel to the chief administration officer of the City and County of San Francisco.
“There is infinitely more to be had in and from a life than making barrels full of money and having extravagant public exposure,” Tatum wrote in his 2002 book, “A Love Affair With the Game,” which had a foreword by longtime friend Tom Watson. “There is no price that can be put on the opportunity to develop fully as a mature and educated person.”
In 1997, he spearheaded the effort to renovate Harding Park, the crown jewel of San Francisco’s municipal golf courses. The annual site of the San Francisco City Championship, the course had gone into disrepair, and Tatum came up with a plan to revitalize the layout. With help from other city leaders, Tatum saw his vision come to fruition. The $16 million renovation included a chapter of The First Tee and a nine-hole short course.
Shortly after it reopened for play, Harding Park landed the 2006 WGC-American Express Championship as well as the 2009 Presidents Cup. The Charles Schwab Cup Championship, the season-ending event on the PGA Tour Champions, was played at Harding three times (2010, 2011 and 2013). The course is set to host the 2020 PGA Championship.
“Sure I am going to play Harding,” Tatum told Golf Digest. “What I really look forward to is the first City Championship after all the work. It will again be a premier amateur event. God, I loved playing in ‘The City.’”
Tatum, who had memberships at San Francisco Golf Club and Cypress Point, competed in the AT&T National Pro-Am – the PGA Tour event founded by Bing Crosby – with Watson for 20 years. Both were former Stanford standouts and Tatum admired Watson’s grace and etiquette.
He once said of Watson: “I have a lot of perks in my life, and one of them is that the devil never turned up and offered me your golf swing.”