ARNOLD AND JACK
AND THE MAJORS
GO MARCHING BY
IT'S A LITTLE embarrassing for me — me the history junkie, the keeper of memories — to confess that I hadn't heard the term "major championship" used to describe golf's leading tournaments until a day in 1954 in Augusta, Georgia. I was covering the Masters for the fourth year in a row, a romance with the dogwood that's gone on for 63 consecutive years. That's 46 more than Grantland Rice covered — thanks for asking.
When I lump those years together, they become a maze of pimento cheese sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches, and country ham with red-eye gravy for breakfast upstairs in the main clubhouse, where I've often dined overlooking the veranda while wishing I'd been there in the Thirties when the wraparound balcony served as the press room.
I've covered the Masters through six tournament chairmen, from Clifford Roberts, who was always helpful to me — my relationship with Ben Hogan didn't hurt anything — on up to Billy Payne, who has already proved he ranks up there with Cliff in leadership. And I've watched the press center evolve from a tent kept open at two ends to catch the breezes, to the Quonset hut, to the present auditorium, or amphitheater, or whatever it is.
It was Herbert Warren Wind who introduced me to the word "majors." When Herb spoke I listened. He was to golf writing and golf history what the Sistine Chapel is to ceilings, or to put it another way, what fried food is to Texans.
"A golfer's true greatness," Herb said on the Augusta National veranda that day, "must always be measured by the number of major championships he wins."
Herb had befriended me, a young writer from Fort Worth covering Ben Hogan. This was the spring after Hogan had scored the Triple Crown, winning the Masters, U. S. Open, and the British Open in the same year. The word "major" made sense to me, but in the '50s the pros were still referring to the big ones as "bonus tournaments" or national championships. There are purists in our trade who love to point out that Bobby Jones's 13 "majors" are all national championships — his four U. S Opens, five U. S. Amateurs, three British Opens, and one British Amateur. They were the championships of the U. S. Golf Association and the Royal &Ancient, golf's two ruling bodies. For Jones worshippers, this makes them extra special.
When the press ordained the Masters a major, which was five minutes after Gene Sarazen made that double eagle in 1935, the club companies placed it among the bonus tournaments. Winning a bonus tournament or national championship not only meant matching prize money, but larger paydays for exhibitions, clinics, outings, and magazine ads.
Ben Hogan enjoys the smooth taste of a Chesterfield.
Sam Snead says there's nothing like a cold Coca Cola after a hot round of golf.
Herb Wind was a man in a checkered golf cap, tweed suit, shirt and tie, and shooting stick, a Yale man who had studied at Cambridge in England. He was sociable, painfully polite, and could tell fascinating tales of literary folk and famous athletes he'd known, but he could cut a figure down to size in his own debonair way.
He made me laugh the day I asked him about Robert Sweeny, a romantic figure who'd won the '37 British Amateur and was runnerup to Arnold Palmer in the '54 U. S. Amateur. He'd moved in social circles from Long Island to Palm Beach. The word was that Sweeny had volunteered and flown Spitfires in the RAF'S Eagle Squadron when World War II broke out.
Herb said, "Yes, well, it's sometimes easier to do that sort of thing than pay your bills."
There was the day Herb and I were checking in for our press credentials at Royal Birkdale for the '71 British Open. We found ourselves receiving a lecture from the proper Englishman, George Sims, who for many years was in charge of the press for the R&A.
After handing us the badges and armbands, George said, "You will not walk to the left of No. 1. You must stay to the right of No. 4. Crossing the seventh is not allowed. Please do not attempt to circle behind the tenth. It is imperative that you keep right of the fourteenth, and by all means have your badge and armband visible at all times."
Herb smiled and said, "Thank you, George. Now if you will hand me my copy of The Pilgram's Progress I'll be on my way."
Aside from his profiles in The New Yorker, Herb was known for his book, The Story of American Golf, published in 1948 and updated twice since. It's still the finest history ever written on the game. By 1957 he would become even better known for writing Ben Hogan's Five Lessons — The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.
When Five Lessons came out, the book introduced the world to two strange words: "pronate" and "supinate." Herb wrote that Ben "pronated" in his swing when, at impact, his forearms and hands were in the perfect position and his left foot was slightly opened in his stance.
Personally, I'd have bet one kidney that Ben Hogan — like me — had never heard the words pronate and supinate, much less used them in conversation.
I said to Herb, who was a member at Sands Point, a quaint private golf club on Long Island, "You people may pronate and supinate at Sands Point, but if we tried it at Goat Hills in Fort Worth, our tee shots would wind up in somebody's front yard across the street, which may or may not be out of bounds, depending on the rules of the day."
Herb had been a fixture at The New Yorker for seven years, but he would soon become the first golf writer for a new publication called Sports Illustrated. That relationship lasted only four years. Herb returned to The New Yorker where he was more comfortable with leisurely deadlines and no space restrictions.
Herb may have been paid his highest compliment by Herb Graffis, an old Chicago sportswriter turned golf industry promoter. In a group of writers who were discussing the most talented in their trade, Graffis said, "Let's face it. Herb Wind can write better than all of us put together with a bucket of white wash and a paint brush stuck up his ass."
In any case, I hereby give Herb Wind full credit for establishing the notion that golf's biggest events should be known as "majors." However, it took Arnold Palmer to sell it.
I WAS STILL at the Press in 1960 when I covered Palmer winning his second Masters with birdies on the last two holes to defeat the unlucky
Ken Venturi. That was when Palmer became the "Whoo, ha, go get 'em, Arnie" that the public would begin to worship as if he were Lassie.
In his press conference after winning that Masters, Arnold talked about his desire to win "majors," and tossed out the possibility of a modern Grand Slam. He was thinking about entering the British Open in July at St.
Andrews. Only a handful of Americans had won it, he reminded us, adding that it said something about the British Open title when greats like Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, and Ben Hogan had gone over and tried to win it — and did.
Will Grimsley of the AP was in the audience and saw Arnold's comments as a magazine piece. So it was that a week before the U. S. Open in June, out came an article in The Saturday Evening Post by Arnold Palmer as told to Will Grimsley with a headline shouting, I WANT THAT GRAND SLAM. Interestingly, the word "major" never appears in the piece. But there is a reference to golf's "Big Four."
Any mention of Arnold Palmer's name is prohibited by law to appear without Cherry Hills attached to it. The last day of the 1960 U. S. Open at Cherry Hills in Denver has been immortalized and replayed so many times in print and on TV, I feel like I've only heard about it instead of being there. Right down to the end on that bright afternoon of June 18 it produced a clash of eras involving three of the greatest names golf would know. A 30-year old Palmer, the current king, a 48-year old Ben Hogan, the past king, and a 20-year old Jack Nicklaus, the future king.
It remains to this moment the most incredible last day of a major I ever covered.
Since I was there, I can verify what took place in the Cherry Hills locker room between the 18s on "Open Saturday."
My golf writing pal Bob Drum and I had gone in the locker room for lunch. At that point in history the "working press" was welcome in the locker room to chat, dine, hang out. This was because the players needed print people to help spread their fame, make them richer. They no longer do. They have TV.
We'd scooped hamburgers and ice tea off the buffet and were sitting on a bench near an exit when Arnold Palmer came by on the way to his fourth round. He was not to be mistaken for a threat. He'd shot 72-71-72 and was seven strokes and 14 players behind. Nobody had ever come back to win from that far behind in a U. S. Open with only 18 to play.
"There's two guys working hard," Arnold said. Latrobe humor.
Bob Drum had been covering Palmer since he was a junior golfer in western Pennsylvania. They were good buddies. Partly through my friendship with Drum, I'd come to know Arnold fairly well.
"Go on, boy, get out of here," Drum said. "Go make your usual six birdies and shoot 73."
A reference to Palmer's aggressive style. Arnold's spiraling popularity was partly due to him thinking he could drive the ball through tree trunks, hit irons out of quick sand, hitch up his trousers, take a drag on a cigarette, and sink a 30-foot putt. But too frequently his boldness scared up as many bogeys as birdies.
"That first hole bugs me," Arnold said. "I ought to be able to drive the green. I've come close."
The first hole at Cherry Hills was a downhill 346-yard par four, but protecting the green was a ditch and a big patch of USGA cabbage. Length was needed to reach the green, but a lucky bounce wouldn't hurt.
Palmer had double-bogied the hole in the first round, birdied it in the second, but bogied it that morning.
"What good will it do you?" Drum said.
"I can get a birdie or an eagle," said Arnold.
"Great," Drum said. "You'll tie for 28th."
Arnold said, "If I start with a birdie I might get it going for a 65. A 65 would give me 280. Doesn't 280 always win the Open?"
"Yeah, when Hogan shoots it," I said.
Palmer laughed and went out the door.
What happened over the next 30 minutes came in a series of verbal reports. Maybe I ought to mention that TV was covering only the last four holes then.
Now in the Cherry Hills locker room a guy poked his head in the door and said, "Arnie drove the first green! He two-putted for a birdie!"
Bob Drum grinned. "I'll be damned."
Then a USGA committeeman came in and said, "Arnold chipped in for a birdie at two."
Drum and I laughed.
More time passed.
Another USGA committeeman came in with a walkie-talkie, and a big grin. He called out, "Arnold almost holed it for an eagle at the third. He got the birdie. He's three under."
Drum and I looked at each other. Should we? Naw. He'll make a bogey any minute.
A moment later we heard that Mike Souchak had driven into the ditch at No. 1 and made a double bogey. We shrugged. Had the leader opened the door? Lot of golf left.
Now an excited Cherry Hills member entered and hollered, "Arnie holed a twenty footer for birdie at the fourth! He's four under through four!" Drum said, "That son of a bitch!"
I said, "Yeah."
We tore out of the locker room door and set a sportswriters' record for the 3,000-yard run to catch Palmer at No. 5.
It was the fastest I'd moved since I ran after Foot the Free in the Goat Hills parking lot to collect the eight bucks I'd won from him before he slipped away — and wouldn't remember it later.
It was the fastest Robert Francis Xavier Drum of the Pittsburgh Press had moved since WW11 when he was Sgt. Drum of the U. S. Army. "You are aptly named," said his commander. "Big, loud, and empty." This was in '43 when Drum was chasing Rommel out of North Africa and capturing the wadi zim zim.
We arrived at No. 5 in time to see Palmer miss a birdie putt. But he sank a 20-foot birdie at the sixth and stiffed a 7-iron at the seventh and went to six-under through his first seven holes. In front of him and behind him, the field was feeling shock waves.
Arnold impulsively went for the flag at the 233-yard eighth hole but found a bunker and bogied. But he got back on track with a par at the ninth. He was out in a five-under 30.
We pushed up against the ropes at the 10th tee. Palmer saw us as he arrived and came over to the ropes.
"Fancy seeing you here," he said with a grin. "Who's winning the Open?"
"Everybody!" Drum said, loud enough for two fans to glare at him.
Over the last hour the lead had been held or shared by Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Mike Souchak, Julius Boros, Ted Kroll, Dutch Harrison, Jack Fleck, Jerry Barber, and Dow Finsterwald. It was a demolition derby out there.
On the 10th tee Arnold said, "Damn, I wanted that 29."
"The 30 ain't bad," I said. "Some of 'em are starting to back off. One or two more birdies might get it."
Arnold relieved me of my Coca Cola, fresh from a concession stand, and my pack of Winstons.
"Keep 'em," said Drum, a non-smoker. "He has eight more packs in his pockets."
I did have two more. You can't have too many on deadline.
Arnold kept the Coke and Winstons. My contribution to what would be his dramatic victory.
He birdied the 11th hole and parred the others on the back nine for his fantastic 65 and winning total of 280 that caused him to throw his red visor in the air. He needed a little help, though, like any Open winner.
Every player in contention faltered on the closing holes one way or another, mostly on the greens. Drum and I drifted back and forth between groups to absorb it all. Nicklaus, the beefy crewcut amateur, had eagled the seventh and birdied the ninth and parred 10, 11, and 12, and stood over a 10-foot birdie putt at 13 that would put him two ahead. But he stroked it two feet past the cup, missed it coming back, and wound up three-putting. In fact, he three- putted three of the last six greens. And just when my mind was writing a story about an amateur winning the U. S. Open for the first time since Johnny Goodman back in '33.
Now it was crunch time for Hogan. He had hit every green in regulation — 34 in a row. He looked flawless. A young Hogan. When he holed a 20-foot birdie at 14, he pulled into a tie with Palmer. He had a chance to seize the lead with a 10-foot birdie at 16, but it curled out.
A Hogan-Palmer playoff was looking like a mortal lock, but here came Cherry Hills' 518-yard par-five 17th hole. Ben placed his drive and second shot in perfect position, and with Palmer back on the tee watching, Hogan faced a 70-yard pitch, the pin down front just beyond the pond.
Two pars to the house would give Ben 280. A birdie and par would put him in at 279. Either way, the pressure would be on Palmer.
Drum and I were inside the ropes, no more than 30 yards away from Hogan as he addressed the pitch shot, and my mind was writing a story about Ben winning his fifth "official" Open, his sixth overall.
Mere seconds before Hogan hit the pitch, I whispered to Drum, "I'll tell you one thing. He will be over the water."
Ben hit the pitch fat. Just a tiny bit fat. I could hear it. The ball struck the embankment and rolled back in the water.
A sad scene followed. Ben removed a shoe, rolled up a pants leg, and splashed it out. But he missed the15-foot putt for par. Then for the first time I ever saw him do it, he lost his composure. He went for an extra-long tee ball at the 468-yard uphill 18th, but his foot slipped and he hooked the drive into the lake, He suffered a triple bogey seven.
He would finish tied for 9th, four back. A younger Ben Hogan would have played to clinch a par at the last hole to keep the pressure on Arnold.
In the locker room later, Ben said, "Palmer was having a good round. I thought I needed to finish 4-4 to beat him. I thought I hit a good shot at 17... a good shot." He knew better. I'm sure of it.
A cigarette and a drink later, Ben said, "Hell, don't feel sorry for me. I played 36 holes today with a kid who could have won this Open by 10 shots if he'd known what he was doing."
A kid named Jack Nicklaus.
On deadline and into my last pack of Winstons, I wrote:
DENVER, Colo. — So it had come down to this. The 60th National Open golf championship had arrived at the moment when one immortal had to give it to another — from Ben Hogan to Arnold Palmer, with drenched wishes.
It came down to the 71st hole of a gasping last day here at Cherry Hills Country Club, down to a portrait of an aging Ben Hogan with a pants leg rolled up, standing in a watery grave, an ineffectual instrument of destiny in his helpless hands. Hogan had plainly lost the Open when he hit a pitch shot into the pond guarding the next to last hole. Now he had to wade in and make what he could of it and get out of the way.
Arnold Palmer had been lucky they let him inside the ropes for the first three rounds, but in the fourth he scored the most incredible knockout in golf history. He won this Open with a stunning six-under 65 over the final 18, elbowing his way through a convention of contenders like a Shriner who'd lost his fez. They fell all around him.
ON THE Fort Worth Press budget, there was only one way I could make it to St. Andrews for the British Open. Have Amelia Earhart turn up alive in Fort Worth and fly me to Scotland.
It was just as well I wasn't there. Palmer battled all the way with Roberto De Vicenzo, Gary Player, Peter Thomson, and Kel Nagle. Roberto led the first two rounds, but Kel Nagle, who was little known outside of Australia, led after 54 holes by four strokes over Palmer. This set the stage for another Augusta-Cherry Hills "charge" by Palmer.
Out ahead of the Australian, Arnold shot a four-under 68 to reach the clubhouse with a 279 and the look of a winner. The Slam was alive. Nobody could have figured that Nagle would do something outrageous like birdie the last two holes for a 71 and beat Palmer by a stroke.
I followed the action on the UP wire machine in the office at the Press. Had I been at St. Andrews, I'm afraid I would have been unable to stop my Olivetti from writing:
"Meet Kel Nagle. Here's a man who really knows how to screw up a good story."
SPORTSWRITERS love a dynasty. A dynasty sells. Something else they love is the sheer fun of seeing a dynasty crash and burn. That sells, too. In golf there has never been a greater dynasty than Jack Nicklaus, who tricked us. He never crashed and burned.
Jack would need a U-Haul to carry around his impressive records. His18 pro majors breaks down into six Masters, five PGAs, four U. S. Opens, and three British Opens. He was runnerup in 19 majors, and by one stroke in eight of them. Finished in the top five in a total of 55 majors.
Let the fawns of Tiger Woods chew on all that for a while
Most of those records will stand until golf is played on top of Mr. Everest, or English is spoken in New Orleans. Interesting stat: if Lee Trevino and Tom Watson had never picked up a golf club, Jack would have eight more majors. He was second to each of them four times.
Nicklaus may not have been the greatest shotmaker who played the game. He grants this was Hogan. But Jack was the first to combine astonishing length with accuracy from the tee — and he did it using persimmon, which is not a town in France. And he was the first to hit high long irons and hold them on the greens.
He was unquestionably the greatest winner. Nobody hit more crucial shots or sank more crucial putts in majors, and do it over a longer period of time than anyone ever. How about 20 years?
All athletes want to win, or claim they want to win, but I contend the greatest were those who utterly despised the thought of losing.
They come in all decades and all sizes. Ben Hogan was one. Sugar Ray Robinson another. Sam Baugh and Doak Walker on the football field. Sandy Koufax on the mound. Joe DiMaggio in the outfield and at the plate. Michael Jordan on the hardwood. Carl Lewis on the track. Michael Phelps in the pool. Martina on the court. Too many to list, but so few when measured against the millions who've competed.
I once asked Jack if this mind-set applied to him.
He said, "I only know I was blessed with a God-given talent, and it would have been a shame to waste it."
It was my duty and pleasure to cover 16 of Jack's 18 victories in the majors, and 16 of his 19 second-place finishes in the majors. His winning of majors, his repetitious challenging to win majors, and his 73 tour victories brought with it a saying in the press rooms.
"Jack Nicklaus comma," we muttered to each other when Nicklaus's name would go up on the leaderboard. Sometimes we weren't joking.
Another thing set him apart for me personally. He was the best interview of any athlete I ever covered in any sport.
I'd seek out Jack before a major got underway. He'd tell me everything I wanted to know about the current state of his game, the key things to know about the golf course, and what 72-hole score it might take to win. When it ended, his analysis of why he won or lost would go on as long as you wished.
Jack wasn't short on opinions about all things pertaining to humans, which brings up a Johnny Miller remark:
"Nobody has ever heard Jack Nicklaus say 'I don't know' about anything."
It isn't always true that behind every great golfer there's a great wife. But I thought it was true in Jack's case. Barbara Nicklaus was the successor to Valerie Hogan, one of the loveliest women I ever knew, as the champion golf wife. Attractive, sweet, gracious, generous, thoughtful...that was Barbara. It was easy to see why the wives of the other players of the era nicknamed her Wonder Woman.
I've given considerable thought to the secret of Jack's dominance. It evidently wasn't a handicap that his small hands forced him to use the interlocking grip instead of the standard Vardon. It evidently wasn't a handicap that he was color blind. Green to him looked sort of gray, as best he could describe it.
It was his mental attitude. Like he once said: "I've never missed a putt in my mind."
But maybe the Australian Bruce Crampton said it best. Crampton was runnerup to Jack four times in majors, and finally came to a conclusion.
"We all suffer from human deficiencies," Bruce said. "Jack just suffers from fewer of them."
From His Ownself: A Semi-Memoir, by Dan Jenkins. Copyright 2014 by Dan Jenkins. Excerpted with permission from Doubleday General Adult.