Major golf tournaments have taken on such immense importance—and I am talking about prestige as well as money—that playing in them has become something more than just having your game in shape. There is the increasing problem of keeping your emotions under control as well. It is not at all difficult to get keyed up for a tournament. But how do you keep from becoming so keyed up that you can no longer play golf the way you should? A lot of things went wrong for me at The Country Club in Brookline last week, but my failure to maintain emotional control was what caused me the most trouble of all.
At the Masters I was very keyed up on the eve of the tournament, but my game was so sound that I felt nothing but confidence. At the Open, however, I felt nothing but annoyance and frustration. I was not hitting the ball at all well nor was I putting well in practice. Time was short and I was too charged up to be able to do anything about it.
I came into last week's Open as both the defending champion and the Masters champion. Ever since I won at Augusta in April I had been working toward this Open Championship. I was looking forward to it so eagerly, in fact, that I could hardly think about anything else all spring. By the week before the tournament I was sky-high. People have told me I didn't appear to be so charged up. Maybe I didn't look it, but I was. I was mean and irritable. Little things upset me. I was snapping at my wife, Barbara, and in general I was scarcely fit to live with.
While getting worked up to this pitch for the Open, I was also trying to adjust my game. I wanted to change my shots to fit my idea of how The Country Club course should be played. First of all, I figured that the course would not be too tight; I decided I would do best by hitting my tee shots as I normally do—which is just as hard as I can. This turned out to be a bit of happy optimism that contributed to my troubles. In the past when I have tried to hit the ball as hard as possible I have been able to keep it straight by employing a slight left-to-right fade. So after learning to hook from right to left in order to play well in the Masters, I had to adjust back to what I had done before. Because of the small greens at The Country Club I also wanted to hit my irons from left to right.
I began working on these adjustments during the two-week vacation I took from the tour following the Memphis Open and—though they were more difficult than I thought they would be—by the last round of the Thunderbird Classic I felt my game was almost in shape. I could hardly have been more wrong.
My troubles started right off the first tee. I hit my opening drive very well and dead straight. But I had aimed wrong, and it went into deep rough on the left side of the fairway. From there all I could do was chop the ball out for a bogey. On the 190-yard, par-3 2nd hole I hit my tee shot well, but into the rough on the right side of the hole. That cost me another bogey. I then bogeyed the 3rd hole by hitting my drive into the rough again. It suddenly occurred to me that I was now exactly six shots back of the Jack Nicklaus who had won the Open a year ago. At Oakmont I had birdied the first three holes.
From there on nothing seemed to go right. I had completely lost the feel of how I should be standing up to the ball and how I should be swinging. This will sometimes happen to a player for five or six holes. His stance or his swing will seem all wrong, but with some minor compensations the right feeling often returns. At Brookline I was never able to get it back. I knew that my stance was not right and that I was not swinging the way I should, but my adjustments never seemed to help. If I hit the ball well I had aimed it wrong. If I aimed correctly I would pull the shot off to the left or push it to the right. Sometimes I would hit what I thought was a fine shot, only to look up and see it land far short of where I expected it to.
Still, even after my opening-round 76,I was not too worried. Most of the scores had been high, and I thought for sure that my game would come back on the second day. But a combination of my overcharged feelings, my failure to adapt my swing successfully and the gusty winds kept me in constant trouble again. After I had bogeyed the 11th and 12th holes I knew it had become a question of just trying to make the 36-hole cutoff. I kept telling myself a defending champion ought to make the cut. I started to play better at that point, giving myself birdie chances on the next four holes. By the time I got to 18 I knew I needed at least a par. My drive was in perfect position on the left side of the fairway, but I played my second shot poorly and ended in the bunker short of the green. I exploded out but couldn't sink the eight-foot putt I needed. I was out of the Open.
It seems strange, as I think about it, that I won the Open last year when I did not feel I had much of a chance, and then made a shambles of it this year when I really thought I was going to win. Though my own disappointment and frustration have been extreme, I would like to offer congratulations to Julius Boros, one of our best players for many years, and to Jacky Cupit and Arnold Palmer, who fought so courageously. As for me, I learned what can happen if I get too emotionally charged up for a tournament.