Kermit Zarley's Game, If Not Name, Down To Earth

KENMORE - For the past eight years, he had played weekend golf and written books about the Bible. It figured.

But even the man comedian Bob Hope called "the pro from the moon" couldn't stay away from the down-to-earth reality and riches of the PGA Senior Tour.

Kermit Zarley, 50, was back yesterday - in golf, in the Northwest, with a name and a game you couldn't forget if you tried.

"I haven't played this course in 20 years," he said looking across the rolling landscape of Inglewood Country Club. "I don't know how I'll do this week: I write about prophecy, but I'm no prophet."

Zarley has a chance to win the GTE Northwest Classic that begins tomorrow. He tied for fourth in last week's Senior tournament in Birmingham, Ala., two strokes behind the winner. And this week's field at Inglewood is the weakest in years, with seven of the top 20 money winners bypassing the two-week Western swing.

In his first full year on the Senior Tour, Zarley is 19th in earnings ($232,776) and second in hitting greens in regulation, the best indication of a golfer's ability to strike the ball.

But then he could always strike the ball, his exploits stitched tightly into the fabric and history of Northwest golf.

Kermit Zarley grew up in West Seattle; his dad, Kermit Sr., ran the restaurant concession at the West Seattle Golf Course. As a kid, Junior practiced golf, cut lettuce, washed dishes and practiced more golf.

"I'll bet he'd hit balls for nine hours a day," said Rick Adell, the head pro at Inglewood. "Nobody worked harder than he did."

It paid off for the West Seattle High School graduate. Zarley won the State Amateur in 1962 and then, in a huge upset, beat University of Houston teammate Homero Blancas, 5-and-4, to win the NCAA championship that same year.

His dad, meanwhile, moved from the golf-course concession to open Kermit's charbroiler restaurant in West Seattle and then on to Yakima in 1961, when he opened Zarley's. The name worked either way.

The name. Besides the "pro from the moon," Hope also said a Kermit Zarley sounded like a Bulgarian sports car. Zarley, of course, looked the part of an alien, a wispy young man with thick glasses.

He went on to win three times as a pro - at the Kaiser in Northern California (1968), the Canadian Open (1970) and the National Team Championship with Babe Hiskey (1972). In all, he won $715,721 on the PGA Tour.

He stayed in Texas after college and returned to the Northwest only to visit his dad, who is retired in Yakima, his mother in Seattle and a sister in Bellevue.

Life was good on the regular tour, but it is better on the Senior Tour. That he won more than $700,000 on the regular tour assures him a spot weekly with the seniors, a situation he couldn't pass by even though his life has been immersed in the study of the history of the Bible.

Zarley has written three books, the most recent of which is "Palestine is Coming."

"Nobody who is exempt passes on playing on the Senior Tour anymore," Zarley said. "I was talking to Billy Casper in the airport the other day, and we were listing all the reasons why this is a better tour for us than the regular tour was. You only play three days, there are half as many players, there's no cut, you don't have to qualify, there's a better chance to win, and the fellowship is terrific."

During his time between tours, Zarley played golf only on weekends but spent a lot of time lifting weights.

"I hit the ball farther than I ever did right now," he said. "I've added 3 or 4 inches to my chest and my arms are stronger. The time off hasn't been good for my short game, however; I'm coming out of the worst putting slump I've ever been in."

Kermit Zarley walked unnoticed yesterday to the practice tee. But without the glasses - and with a mustache and a more muscular body - he no longer looks like the pro from the moon, even if his name still makes him sound like one.