A White House hacker named Gerald R. Ford won low President, golf's new Hall of Fame building edged out the Northpark shopping center in Dallas for architecture, half the field tied for the World Open after 72 holes in the pines and sand of North Carolina, Frank Beard set some kind of a record for a ball taking bad bounces as it came off a putter—that's how the pros sometimes say they blew a short one—Jack Nicklaus turned mortal again, Tom Weiskopf lost another bout with himself, and when the last big tournament of the year finally ended last week Johnny Miller (yawn, nod, chin on chest) had won again.
To get the necessary and impressive statistics out of the way first, it was Miller's seventh victory of the year, the 10th of his fresh career, and the $60,000 first prize sent his 1974 earnings screaming up to $316,383, making it all but certain that he will break the money-earning record for a single year that Nicklaus set two seasons ago. Miller needs roughly $4,000 more to do it. A mere bagatelle in the financial world of the touring pro.
As for the quality of all this achievement, by conquering wonderful old Pinehurst No. 2, Miller emphasized the fact that he is a fairly nifty customer on some of the game's finer layouts. Who else today can boast that he has scored a couple of pure knockouts over such treasured relics as Oakmont and Pinehurst? Miller ran a 63 into the veins of each.
It was, in fact, Miller's eight-under 63 in the second round at Pinehurst that vaulted him into the World Open lead, and thereafter it was his classy variety of shotmaking that enabled him to get into and survive the theatrics of last Sunday evening's four-way sudden-death playoff.
"I shoot low rounds because I'm not afraid to keep making birdies," Johnny said later. "Most guys go out there, make a couple of birdies and think to themselves, 'Gee, I hope I can get in with a 69, that would be a good score today.' When I start hitting it close and getting them in the hole, I try to keep doing it. I want to make all I can to make up for the round I may have tomorrow when nothing drops."
Actually, what it all came down to, in terms of Miller's victory, is that he hit a delicate and dangerous little chip shot just perfectly on the final hole of the tournament to save his par and join Nicklaus, Frank Beard and Bob Murphy in the swatfest that began on the 15th tee—the first televised hole, of course.
There, Murphy picked up on his way to a double bogey. On 16, Miller, displaying the stylish and almost effortless way he swings a golf club, laced a gorgeous three-wood through the tunnel of pines on the 504-yard par-5 hole that came to rest eight feet from the cup.
Beard, who blew winning putts on the last green and on the first sudden-death green—putts of only six feet—had reached the green, but he was 40 feet away and Miller's beautiful shot must have disheartened him because the 40-footer hurtled 12 feet past the hole. When he could not sink it coming back, Beard was out.
It was after Miller's beauty on 16 that Nicklaus had to try to duplicate a shot he had made earlier in the day with his trusty one-iron. This time he pulled the ball into an awkward lie just off the green, had virtually no chance to get his chip shot close, and did not. That was basically it. Miller wound up with the luxury of being able to two-putt from eight feet for another championship.
"I guess you can say that Johnny's good shot caused me to hit a bad one," said Nicklaus. "But although I knew he was close, I knew it wasn't an easy putt. So I lost another golf tournament, but I never enjoyed playing a golf course more. Pinehurst No. 2 is fabulous. I learned about five things about design this week—on a course 50 years old."
Jack should have. Old Pinehurst No. 2 stands the test of time, like Sam Snead. It may give up a 63 now and then to a Johnny Miller and the modern golf ball and club shaft, but it pulled the field back to a winning total of 281 despite its wide and utterly level fairways, despite the absence of a single water hazard and despite the fact that not one of those thousands of trees ever comes into play. Pinehurst No. 2 is in a sense an inland links, a subtle and haunting course that makes the golfer choose the right club on every shot or else pay a penalty.
If any other testimony is needed, let it be pointed out that Miller's other three rounds were all over par.
It was fortunate that the course held its own against as strong a field as golf can assemble and that it produced as a winner the guy, Miller, who has been doing it everywhere else. This was not the last tournament of 1974 but it marked the emotional end of the season, being the last of the "designated" events—the ones where everybody had to show up. Thus, it provided an opportunity to reflect on what kind of a year it has been. Weird. That is the best way to sum it up.
It was the year in which:
Miller won the first three tournaments, then four more—but in between performed horribly in the four major championships, the ones he wanted the most.
Everyone had the feeling Nicklaus played poorly because he missed taking one of the Big Four, but he won twice and finished in the top 10 in 13 out of the 17 tournaments he entered.
An abnormal number of nine players won a tournament for the first time, those being Leonard Thompson, Allen Miller, Rod Curl, Bob Menne, Tom Watson, Richie Karl, Vic Regalado, Forrest Fezler and Lee Elder, who will become the first black to play in the Masters.
A record 19 men scooped up more than $100,000 in prize money even though the total of the purses for the year is less than in 1973.
Hubert Green won three tournaments, proving he is a far better player than anyone thought.
Dave Stockton won three, insinuating the same thing.
Weiskopf, last year's hero, failed to win a single event, and in fact left Pinehurst by intentionally disqualifying himself, acting up again with his backhanded putting stroke and facing the very real possibility of a suspension. Pinehurst was the third time this year that Tom had "not tried" publicly, and his friend, Nicklaus, said he ought to "grow up" and take a lesson from Arnold Palmer, who was having just as bad a streak but was out there giving his best all the time, "like the champion he is."
It was also the year in which:
Gary Player won two of the Big Four (Masters and British Open) and was a serious contender in the other two (U.S. Open and PGA), offering some evidence that a modern Grand Slam is possible for someone other than Nicklaus.
Lee Trevino spent half the year complaining and performing indifferently, and then suddenly won the PGA, his fifth major title in seven years, and followed that up by overtaking Gary Player and beating him in the World Series.
Ben Crenshaw revealed himself to be human, but at least survived his rookie year—and a lot of magazine covers.
Lanny Wadkins got into the first slump of his career, and when last seen was having difficulty handling it.
Jim Dent made it official. He is the game's longest hitter.
Sam Snead kept rolling along.
And after getting rid of Arnold Palmer, Lanny Wadkins, Jim Simons, Eddie Pearce and Len Thompson, Wake Forest finally won the NCAA.
Along with everything else that could be summed up after last week, Pinehurst designated itself as the official home of golf with a huge social event in connection with the tournament, all of the festivities adding up to what the sponsors modestly proclaimed a "Grand Week of Golf."
The week began with everyone wishing Gerald R. Ford would grant a pardon to the heat. On Wednesday afternoon thousands gathered near the 4th green of Pinehurst No. 2 for a variety of ceremonies designed to help open the World Golf Hall of Fame.
There were 13 inductees into the hall, eight of them among the living, and it was a remarkable scene, all of them seated on a platform in Chamber of Commerce garb, perspiration soaking them through, looking as if they wished somebody would hurry up and dedicate the dam. On one side of the speaker's rostrum were Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson, in that order, like a row of retired bankers, while on the other side were Nicklaus, Palmer and Player. Beyond, were Gene Sarazen and Patty Berg. And in memory were Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Francis Ouimet, Harry Vardon and Babe Zaharias.
The Hall of Fame is a handsome structure, built at a cost of $2.5 million, all white and columned and surrounded by water fountains, and it stands quietly in the tall trees that abound in the golfing paradise of Pinehurst itself. It was built by the Diamondhead Corporation, which owns Pinehurst now, and Diamondhead is principally Bill Maurer. No one in golf really likes the idea that a company interested in selling land and condominiums built and established the Hall of Fame, but there didn't happen to be one until Bill Maurer did it.
As he said last week, "Everybody else had a shot at doing it for 600 years and nobody did. If somebody else wants to build another one, fine. But I like the score I'm in the clubhouse with."
That meant Maurer liked the building, the fact that all the Hogans and Nicklauses showed up, and that the President of the United States was on hand to help with the dedication and enshrinements. Indeed, it will not harm the credibility of the Hall of Fame that the sports enthusiast from Washington, D.C. arrived smoking a pipe in a motorcade, turned down Gerald R. Ford Boulevard, sat on the platform next to Ben Hogan, spoke, and then went out and played nine holes.
While the gallery consisted mostly of Secret Service personnel, Ford stepped up on the first tee and outdrove Palmer and Player, which might have been an indication that they were destined to miss the cut in the real tournament that would follow. The President played the first three holes with Palmer, Player, Nicklaus and PGA Commissioner Deane Beman. He played the next three with Nelson, Sarazen, Berg and Congressman Earl Ruth. Then he played the last three with Snead, Pinehurst President Don Collett and North Carolina Governor Jim Holshouser. Hogan galleried. For the record, Ford shot a 48, despite his good tee shot and a closing par.
The President did not spend much time browsing through the Hall of Fame because there isn't much to see there now except some nice portraits by Anthony Wills, some dreadful plaques by Medallic Art and a huge sculpture of Bobby Jones by Clemente Spampinato, which depicts Jones finishing low and slightly off balance, leaning forward—which he never did—and staring at the floor as if he had just topped the shot.
The nicest thing about all of the festivities was the responses of the inductees. They ranged from deeply emotional and appreciative to humorous, and there was no question that the participants enjoyed being thrust into each other's company. Gene Sarazen's remarks were best.
"I feel lonely up here," he said, reflecting on the absence of Jones, Hagen, Ouimet. "All of my colleagues are gone. They're waiting on the tee in another Hall of Fame, expecting me to complete the foursome. But I keep telling them, 'You better go ahead and start, boys. I'll catch you on the back nine.' "
Privately, Hogan said to Nicklaus, who has only won 14 major championships, "Jack, if you'd get off your duff, you'd spread-eagle the whole world."
It might have been more appropriate if Hogan had been speaking to Miller. Also, it might have been more apt if Miller had hit that shot to the 16th hole in the playoff with a mashie niblick or something from the display cases in the Hall of Fame.
But in a way, Miller agreed with Ben Hogan.
"I need to be motivated," Miller said. "I'm glad Jack is around."
Hogan and the President share a confidence, Palmer and Nicklaus a giggle as the newest sporting monument is off and bubbling.