It is not recorded whether Georges Seurat ever had any trouble with his short irons or if he even knew about the game of golf for that matter, since he died in 1891, four years before the first U.S. Open. Nevertheless it was the pointillist technique of this famous French post-impressionist painter that Don Moss decided to use when he was assigned to illustrate the key holes at the Champions Golf Club in Houston, scene of next week's Open. To do so, Moss first went to Chicago to study Seurat's masterpiece, Un Dimanche √† la Grande Jatte, which hangs in the Art Institute. He then spent the better part of a week cruising Champions in a golf cart, parking when he found the place from which he wanted to paint a hole, using the wheel of his cart as an easel. The results are shown on the following three pages along with literal diagrams of each hole, the red arrows marking the spot from which Moss viewed the scene. Following this, Jack Nicklaus discusses the problems that will confront the Open players at Champions and identifies the type of golfer who is likely to win.
A NICE COURSE IF YOU LIKE SNAKES
I am afraid that next week's U.S. Open on the Cypress Creek course at Champions will be an unhappy homecoming for most of us. For the past three years Champions has been a regular stop on the tour, and each time the pros have played a course that was not as long and not as challenging as it could have been. When these same pros—Jack Nicklaus included—play Cypress Creek in the Open, they will discover that their short, fairly easy friend has changed.
Cypress Creek has retained its name, but it has lost its old identity. Oh, the thousands and thousands of trees are still there alongside every fairway, helping to provide that claustrophobic feeling. So are the 10 water holes and those awful snake-infested gorges. The greens still are Texas-sized, too. But now Cypress Creek has a mean new look.
Here is what has happened. When we have played Cypress Creek on the tour, the PGA field staff has advanced some tee markers, widened the fairways and centralized the pin placements. If the field staff had set the course the way Jimmy Demaret and Jack Burke Jr. designed it, well, some of us might still be out there trying to thrash our way through the woods and out of the gorges. So, we have always played an easier Cypress Creek; we have never been exposed to all of the wicked hazards Demaret and Burke built into the course.
The USGA never likes to make things easy. It attempts to establish a difficult but fair test of shotmaking over a course complete with every conceivable situation. In other words, the U.S. Open aspires to be a 14-club tournament—not one that requires only a driver, a short iron and a putter. The USGA has attained this objective at Cypress Creek.
Since Demaret and Burke constructed Cypress Creek with an Open in mind, the USGA (I still want to say Joe Dey) has not had to perform a golf-course transplant to prepare a challenging 18-hole test for the Open players. The USGA has, in fact, made fewer major alterations at Cypress Creek than it has at any recent Open site. The officials have changed the par on only one hole—the dogleg-left 5th. This used to be a 513-yard par-5, a fairly easy birdie hole for most players. In the Open it will be a 451-yard par-4, an unlikely birdie hole for any player.
Other than that, Cypress Creek will play almost the way it was designed to play—a 6,967-yard par-70. The tee markers will be set in locations that most of the pros have never played. The players will find that their drives will not clear some trees and sand traps and gorges and lagoons as they used to do. The fairways themselves have been severely narrowed. Trees once formed the edge of the fairways, but now there is four-inch rough extending out about 15 yards on either side. That new rough will prevent tee shots from bouncing through the corners of the doglegs and back onto the fairways.
Let me cite just a couple of examples where the change of tee and added rough will affect our golf:
The par-4 450-yard 11th hole always had the tightest driving area when we played the Champions International. Drives hit to the left were either in water, sand or the trees. Drives hit to the right were lucky—no sand there, no water—just a tree every few inches. (Let me say one thing about the Cypress Creek trees; when you hit into the woods, nine times out of 10 there is only one way out—sideways.) This driving predicament obviously was not severe enough to satisfy the USGA. Now there is thick rough growing where there used to be carpetlike fairway. The driving area on No. 11 is not wider than 25 yards.
The par-4 18th hole at times has been a birdie-type finisher that required a drive hit anywhere in the fairway and an easy nine-iron or pitching-wedge approach to the green. The trees on the right and the trap on the left did not come into play because the tee markers were moved so far forward. Even the shortest hitters were able to hit their drives past the obstacles. For the Open the tee will be set back into a clump of trees. The drive must be placed down the left side of the fairway—as close to the edge of the trap as possible—for the player to have a good angle into the green with his approach shot. That approach now must be played with a medium-range iron—certainly not a wedge. The trap in front of the right side of the green will be a popular visiting place. I think it is unlikely the Open will be won with a birdie on the 72nd hole—the manner in which Frank Beard won at Champions in 1967.
Even though this all sounds very tough, Cypress Creek will still present a fair test of golf. I think the USGA does an exceptional job every year in its attempts to incorporate every type of golf shot into an Open—and certainly this year the Open champion will be a complete golfer. That is what an Open champion should be.
For me this will be a U.S. Open filled with firsts. For instance, this will be the first year I will play an Open on a so-called modern golf course, although Congressional and Bellerive had been rebuilt and therefore might be considered new. Cypress Creek, after all, is only 10 years old. Oak Hill, Baltusrol, Olympic, The Country Club, Oakmont, etc., the scenes of other recent Open championships, are old, established clubs. Cypress Creek, however, is not the typical modern golf course. It does not look like—or play like—a parking lot.
The 1969 Open also marks the first time I will play an Open course that is the site of a regular tournament on the PGA tour. I have never won the Champions International. I finished 19th in 1966, 38th in 1967 and fourth in 1968. I played my 12 rounds there in a total of one over par. Since I have played Cypress Creek many times, I have changed my usual pre-Open routine this year. Usually I take off from the tour and practice at the Open course the week before the championship. This year I will play in the Western Open, and try to defend my title, the week before the U.S. Open. I probably will not arrive in Houston until Monday—three days before the Open begins.
The most important first will occur next Thursday when I putt. After playing in 12 Opens, I finally will have to putt on Bermuda-grass greens. Frankly, I have never been a great putter on Bermuda greens. I prefer the bent-grass putting surfaces. I learned to play golf on a course, Scioto Country Club in Columbus, that has bent-grass greens, and I have won the majority of my championships on bent grass.
Bent is a slick, fast, true putting surface. Bermuda is usually slower and grainier. I am a "die" putter. I like to tap my putts on a line and let them die into the cup. I can do this on bent grass because the ball rolls without interference from any grain. On Bermuda grass I must become a "charge" putter. I must stroke my putts solidly into the cup, for if I play them to die, the grain will grab them and change their direction. For me the conversion will not be easy. I play poorly in Florida, where practically all the courses have Bermuda greens, while I play better in the Midwest and the Northeast sections of the country, where most courses have the bent-grass greens I prefer.
Therefore, I think the players who usually putt well in the Deep South will have a slight advantage at Cypress Creek. Some of the best Bermuda putters on the tour are Dan Sikes, Doug Sanders, Gardner Dickinson, Frank Beard and Lee Trevino. At the same time I expect that the players with a fine touch on ultra fast greens will not do as well. Sometimes this advantage and disadvantage theory does not prove true. Last year Trevino won the Open on a course—Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y.—with bent grass.
Putting will be important at Cypress Creek, but I do not think the Open will be won on the greens. The greens are so big that all players will three-putt often enough over four rounds to negate the value of some of their unexpected one-putt greens. Nor do I think the Open will be won from the fairways. The big greens will provide sizable targets for all approach shots. There are no postage-stamp greens at Cypress Creek.
The 1969 U.S. Open will be won by the player who hits the ball with the most precision and the most accuracy off the tee. There is only one small place to be on every hole; if you are not in exactly the right spot with your tee shot, then you will have trouble making a par. The trees will force players to hit low, quail-high shots that will roll into water hazards lurking in unexpected places. All these water hazards have slick entrances; the surrounding grass has been cut short, and on some holes people will have stamped over it for a few days. Indeed, a misdirected tee shot at Cypress Creek will lead to a series of disasters.
This demand for precision and accuracy will be most critical on the 12th, 13th and 14th tees. It is here, as a matter of fact, that the Open may be won or lost. Not many players will be able to cover this stretch of holes in even par. I had a chance to win at Champions last year until the 14th did me in and I can think of half a dozen other players who also blew their chances to win because they could not handle these three holes.
The trouble begins on the 12th, a 213-yard par-3 over water. The shot requires at least a three-iron, maybe even a three-wood. The tee shot must land on the putting surface. If it hits anywhere short or left, it will roll down the slippery bank and into the water. If it hits right, you will be in sand. The green itself is about the largest on the course and it probably has the most undulations. It looks like a roller coaster. This hole courts bogeys.
Trouble continues on the par-5 13th. As the player stands on the tee, he notices that the wind is cutting across—left to right. Naturally they put a gorge along the right side, too. Still, the player must hit his drive onto the right side of the fairway if he wants to go for the green with his second shot. This is a real dilemma. The 13th is the only birdie hole on the back nine, so most players will gamble off the tee. The losers will make bogeys.
The 14th hole, a 430-yard par-4, is the most difficult hole at Cypress Creek. One of every three players has bogeyed this hole in the last two Champions International tournaments. It is easy to see why. To start, the tee is at the bottom of a hill and tight against trees on the right side. When the player sets up squarely between the tee markers, he finds himself aiming 50 yards out-of-bounds to the right. I have hit drives out-of-bounds here before and I expect other players will do the same.
So the player first must convince himself to take proper aim on the tee. Next he must find a way to drop the ball a fraction to the left of an imaginary line down the middle of the fairway. If he drops it any other place, he will not have a clear shot at the green. For example, say I hit my tee shot onto the left side of the fairway. I will have to hit my second shot 1) over trees and 2) over a lagoon to a severely narrow green. Almost impossible. Now say I hit my tee shot to the right—not in the trees, not even in the rough. I am there in the right fairway. Well, I cannot play the ball up the right side to the green because trees will catch it. I cannot play it left because the lagoon will swallow it. The only shot I can play will leave me in poor position around the green.
I will use either a three-wood or a one-iron off the 14th tee. I will not mind having to play my second shot with a three-or a four-iron, rather than a six-or a seven-iron, if I am in good fairway position. In fact, I will be happy to hit any club for my second shot if I am in decent fairway position.
However, no golf course, particularly a U.S. Open golf course, consists of only three holes. Cypress Creek has perfect golf-course balance. We start with a long dogleg par-4, then move to a straightaway par-4. (Bogeys will outnumber birdies about 4 to 1.) The 3rd hole is a short par-4 with a dogleg to the right. The tee shot here must be tunneled between the trees. The 4th is a tough par-3 with a 40-foot gorge (watch out for snakes) that runs along the left side of the fairway and then juts to the right near the edge of the green. The 5th will be a long par-4 instead of an easy par-5.
The 6th may be the sneakiest hole on the course. There is water along the right near the green, and the grass slopes at the water. When they place the pin on the right side of the green, many players will hit their approaches into the water. The 7th is another dogleg-right that demands a drive aimed at the second mound from the golfer's left as he looks out from the tee. The 8th is one of the best holes on the course, a par-3, about a six-iron, over water. The 9th is a par-5, a birdie hole. Trees on the right side of the driving area force the player to the left, away from the hole. The green is L-shaped. Some players will find themselves on the green with blind putts.
The 10th hole is a repeat of the first, and I have discussed the 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th. The 15th can be an easy par-4, but even so there are sand traps and an out-of-bounds threat to the right and trees to the left. The 16th is a short or a medium par-3, depending upon pin placement. There is a trap to the left and front of the green to menace approach shots. The 17th hole is a strong par-4, an excellent hole. The best tee shot is left, but there is water left. A ball hit over the green will wind up in the bushes. As I said earlier, the 18th will not be a birdie hole in the Open.
Checking the Champions International tournament record book, I see that the three winners, Arnold Palmer, Frank Beard and Roberto De Vicenzo, shot 275, 274 and 274, respectively. I don't expect anyone to match those scores. If anyone comes close, he surely will be the winner.
I suspect that at the end of the tournament, when the last player has putted out on the 72nd hole, we all will be happy to contemplate the 1970 Champions International and a return to the Cypress Creek course we used to know and love.
THE CRITICAL HOLES...
The 12th hole begins a stretch of three over which the Open may well be won or lost. A 213-yard par-3, the 12th asks the golfer to hit a long iron or even a wood over a large pond in front of the green.
The 13th, a 544-yard par-5, is a birdie hole, but one mistake will mean a bogey. The drive must avoid a gorge on the right and trees on the left, and the second shot must carry a small desert.
The 14th is the toughest hole on the course, a 430-yard par-4. Players should hit a three-wood or a low iron off the tee to keep the ball in play. The approach to the narrow green is threatened on the left by tall pines and a lagoon. Cautious pros will choose to hit short with their approaches.
...PLUS A LITTLE DEMON
The 4th hole is a 193-yard par-3 that offers the golfer a chance to hit into a mini-Grand Canyon from which he may never emerge. Reminiscent of the famous 16th at Cypress Point, the 4th will intimidate a lot of pros into hitting their tee shots so far to the right that they will have to pitch up for their pars.