It was every golfer's romantic image of what the game is all about, and what it rarely ever is. It was so purely heavenly that all of those millionaires up there in the forest and all of those artists down there on the rocks will be more intolerable than ever about the glories of the place they inhabit, this place called the Monterey Peninsula, set in oils, watercolors, Dutch doors, postcards and money. Carmel-by-the-Sea and Pebble Beach-by-the-Nicklaus. It was Riviera West, in double-knit and cleat.
What happened was professional tournament golf got all dressed up last week in its finest weather, at its prettiest place, and then, to top everything off, thrust most of its appealing stars into the forefront of an event that has all the glamour it can usually handle, anyhow, what with movie stars roaming all over the place. Quite suddenly and surprisingly, the Bing Crosby National Pro-Amateur was the PGA tour at its absolute dazzling best.
It was unlike anything the Crosby tournament had ever produced before, which was fog, rain, cold and an occasional string of pars for the winner. This was show biz. It was Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin and Lee Trevino and the young hero Johnny Miller firing colossal golf on some of the world's most renowned courses under skies that stubbornly remained cloudless and blue from the postcard 16th at Cypress Point to the cliffs of Big Sur.
And if the week seemed pretty much of a fantasy with all the exotic scores on the rugged terrain of Pebble Beach, Cypress Point and Spyglass Hill, it ended quite properly with still another dramatic element—a sudden-death playoff between Nicklaus and Miller. Although darkness was mildly threatening to turn the tournament into a breakfast event, Nicklaus managed to stay in the same old rut he had been in for weeks.
When Jack finally had to have it, he went out to the 15th green and sank himself a 25-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole to win his fifth tournament out of his last six tries, his second Crosby and his third championship on the lovely peninsula, having captured a U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach back in 1961.
So let's see, now. When we last left Nicklaus it was 1971 and he had just taken two big tournaments down in Australia with some startling scores, following that up with a win in the World Cup in Palm Beach. He then slipped to a horrendous third-place tie in the Heritage at Hilton Head Island, but he won the Disney World at Orlando, which gave him a money-winning record of $244,490 for the year. Terrible finish. Right?
Now it was 1972. The Crosby is always Nicklaus' first tournament of the year, so he said he arrived on the peninsula more inquisitive about his game than anything else. Would he still be playing well? He didn't know. As it turned out, he played satisfactorily—for him—from tee to green all the way on all the courses with the lone exception of a poor nine holes—a 40—at Spyglass on the second day.
"It was the only nine holes I didn't get to practice on," Jack said later. Wouldn't that figure?
Nicklaus had opened the tournament with a crushing 66 at Cypress Point, taking a three-stroke lead on the field. That was the coolest and windiest day of the week, although it was clear and enchanting and nothing like those notorious Crosbys of other years. There was wind, but hardly a gale. Still, Nicklaus was fortunate to be on Cypress that day, Cypress being the easiest of the three courses. Johnny Miller, the San Franciscan, was at Cypress, too, but he shot a 75 and found himself a whopping nine shots back of Nicklaus. The fact did not bother him much. At that point he was worrying mostly about making the cut.
The second day was when things changed. Nicklaus began his round on the back nine at Spyglass in the early morning, and it was at the 15th hole (his 6th) that he made a major contribution to the thrilling race that developed. There he spun a shot off the green and back into the water for a double bogey, and he followed that up with another bogey by three-putting. He was on his way to a 74 while Miller was firing a four-under 68 on the same course and picking up six strokes. Jacklin, meanwhile, playing better golf than anyone had seen him do lately and wearing knickers like some modern-day Harry Vardon, was holding steady with his second straight 70 and moving into a tie with Nicklaus. Trevino, who would ultimately win the pro-am part of the show with his amateur partner, Don Schwab, a nine-handicap advertising executive from Los Angeles ("My thief," Trevino called him), was also lurking close after rounds of 69 and 74. The big names were up front, granting that Johnny Miller is becoming a big name.
As it happened, the leading contenders were all at Pebble Beach on Saturday, and this was the finest day for golf in anyone's memory around Monterey. Yet, strangely, only Miller among the leaders took real advantage of it. The course gave up 13 subpar rounds on Saturday, including a record-tying 65 by Bob Rosburg and then a record-breaking 64 by Rod Funseth. Miller himself seemed ready to shoot something even more absurd than those figures when he went six under par through the first 12 holes. He cooled down a bit and finished with a more modest 67, which was still good enough to shove him into the lead on a course he has been playing since he was a teen-ager.
At this point Miller was one stroke ahead of Nicklaus and Jacklin and three strokes ahead of Trevino and the ever-present unknown, Herb Hooper. What would a golf tournament be without at least one Herb Hooper lurking about?
"I'm playing as well as I was just before Christmas," Nicklaus confided, "but my putter must still be at Cypress. I haven't holed anything in two days."
For awhile it looked as if he wouldn't hole anything on Sunday, either. Through the first seven holes, he managed only one birdie—despite having chances on at least five holes—and bogeyed both of the par-3s, No. 5 and No. 7. With that, he dropped three strokes behind Miller, who birdied the 7th.
Only Trevino started out in a way that suggested he might make a move on Miller. Gabby as ever and seemingly more concerned with the pro-am phase than anything else, he birdied the 2nd, 3rd and 4th holes to leap into a tie for the lead, even though he was spending most of his time lining up putts for his partner Schwab. But then came the 6th hole, a par-5 along the ocean. As Trevino explained, "All I did was let a three-wood go off in my hand." The three-wood really went off in the sea. Trevino suddenly had a double bogey and he was out of contention. But Miller did what a lot of young and relatively inexperienced pros sometimes do. He grudgingly made three consecutive bogeys and came back to the field—back to Nicklaus.
In rapid fashion then, with the tournament now on television, they each began to win it and they each began to lose it. When Nicklaus made virtually his first putt in three days for a long birdie and a stroke lead at 14, Miller countered with a long birdie of his own at the 15th and they were lied again.
What happened next must have shaken all who believe that touring pros never have to worry about anything but making putts and what color slacks they are going to wear. On the 16th Miller shanked a seven-iron more skillfully than any trick-shot artist could ever do. Just cold-shanked it. A pitchout, a lateral, the worst thing that can happen to a golfer; a ball that goes off the heel of the club face and squirts directly at the gallery. A Spiro special. "I haven't shanked a shot since I was 12 years old," Miller said later. "I'd forgotten what it was."
Only a remarkable bunker shot saved a bogey for him and kept him within a stroke of Nicklaus. It was on the 17th, a par-3 hanging on a ridge above some rocks, ocean, sea lions, coots and whatnot, that Nicklaus missed a 2½-foot putt for a par, giving Miller a share of the lead again.
"The bad thing about the shank was that I had two more irons to play," Miller said."They say when you shank once you're liable to shank everything. The three-iron I hit to 17 I caught right on the heel. It's a good thing the club has a long blade. Then I had to hit an approach shot on the 18th. I said to myself, don't hit another one. Not on television. I was really shook up. More embarrassed than anything."
Nicklaus and Miller halved the last hole in par 5 and then went out to the 15th where Nicklaus' putter came back to him for one more precious time and gave him a chance to be the only undefeated golfer of the year. He is not only five out of his last six, he is, after all, also one for one. Thinking ahead to the U.S. Open, which will be played at Pebble Beach in June, somebody asked Nicklaus, "Do you think this makes you the favorite for the Open?" Jack gave the question the shrug it deserved, but then he said, "Although I won I didn't exactly take Pebble Beach apart, did I?"
Will anyone, come U.S. Open time? It is a worthy question. Before the low rounds came rising out of Carmel Bay, Joe Dey, who ran the USGA for 34 years and now runs the pro tour, and who usually knows more about such things than anyone else, had looked Pebble over.
"I don't think Pebble Beach's reputation is exaggerated," he said. "I think there are four or five really classic holes here, and you can't normally find that many on a single course. In addition, for the Open I'd say they're making it about a stroke and a half tougher per round than it was."
By taking the Open to Pebble Beach, the USGA finally did something that the British Open has been doing forever—playing on a links, a course hard by the sea. By tradition, British Opens can't be played anywhere else.
The U.S. Open can and has been played just about everywhere—from farmland to river bottoms—except by an ocean. At least not since 1923, when it was held at Inwood on Long Island, N.Y., a course now frequently seen from the windows of jetliners landing at JFK. It is high time the Open returned to a links, and the vagaries of weather that implies. No one in his proper mind could expect the Pebble Beach weather to be the same in late June for the Open as it was for the 31st Crosby.
Bing Crosby himself says, "This weather was a 50-to-1 shot."
Jack Tuthill, the PGA tour director, says, "It can get just as cold here in June as it can in January. The fog could move in and stay three days. It could rain. But it could also be very nice. I think Pebble should play more consistently than it normally does at the Crosby. It ought to be faster, the ground-harder. The lies should be tight and the greens should be good."
The USGA will hold to Pebble Beach's par of 72, which means that 288 would be a nice figure to shoot at over four rounds. If someone were to manage eight under par, or 280, that would not embarrass the Pebble lovers. Anything below that might. The weather plus the rough suggests it should not happen.
Not too many drastic changes have been made for the Open. All were visible at the Crosby, except that many of the back tees were not used. A new bunker was put in here, a tee or two lengthened there.
"They've concentrated on the early holes, which were always thought to be too short," says Tuthill. "To me the golf course starts at the 8th hole, and then it's all you'll ever want."
The first-time golfer at Pebble Beach, having been properly built up for the occasion by what he may have read or heard, unfailingly begins to wonder where the water is. A number of holes are right on the ocean, such as the 18th and the 8th, a scenic and demanding par-4 that requires a second shot down and over a cavern of rocks and waves. But the golfer cannot actually see the water or play near it until he reaches the 6th. Except that if he slices his drive at the 4th and happens to ask a companion where the sea is, he is likely to be told, "You're in it."
Thus Pebble has its subtleties as well as its drama. And it will have even more during the Open, with harder and faster greens and the thick, high rough that grows around and behind them. The competitors "will likely find themselves timidly underclubbing. "Over a green will be the worst place to be," said Nicklaus last week. "It will be tough to get down in two."
For all of its charm, its fame and this year its Open-preview quality, the pros are no great lovers of Pebble Beach—or even of the Crosby. They don't like playing on three different courses, they don't like the normally bad weather ("It takes three weeks to get your swing back," says Gay Brewer), they don't like being paired with amateurs, they don't like the expenses and they don't like playing even one round on Spyglass Hill.
For instance, Arnold Palmer had been thinking the last few years of skipping the Crosby. The man who has made more of an effort to play at more tournaments than anyone else reasoned that he couldn't play them all, so why not pass up the Crosby, which he had never won? "It won't be the same as the Open course, anyhow," he said at the Los Angeles Open.
Told of Palmer's intentions, the world almost collapsed for NBC, which was televising the event, and for the 3M Company, a sponsor. Palmer was begged to play. And then he was ordered to play by some undiplomatic soul. That clinched it. Palmer was among the missing on the peninsula, the only thing that kept this from being about the best Crosby ever staged.
When it was over, the Jack Nicklauses, the Lee Trevinos, the Tony Jacklins and the Johnny Millers—all the glamour types—had combined with some brochure weather to make the Crosby Clambake a very inviting appetizer for the U.S. Open feast to come.
Pebble Beach still looked like the course that terrorized golfers but, bathed in bright sun and gentle breezes, it played like a lamb.