While people were holding hands across America on Sunday, Hal Sutton and a few of his fellow PGA pros had to join overlapping grips to keep Jack Nicklaus from winning his own garden party at the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, outside Columbus.
The granite-jawed, 28-year-old Sutton, showing just how good he can be when a few putts start falling, shattered the tournament record by nine shots, with rounds of 68-69-66-68-271 on the immaculate Nicklaus-designed Muirfield Village layout to beat runner-up Don Pooley by four strokes. But it was the host himself, displaying all the panache he had shown five weeks earlier at Augusta, who injected adrenaline into the proceedings with six straight birdies on the final nine to pull within three shots of Sutton. That tied the longest string of birdies on the tour this year and was the most exciting thing to hit Columbus since the city's zoo became home two years ago to the world's only twin gorillas, Mosuba and Macombo.
After an indifferent even-par front nine that left him seven shots behind Sutton, Nicklaus sank a 10-foot birdie on the 10th. "I turned to the scorekeeper and told him, 'Keep your pencil sharp,' " the Olden Bear said. "Every time I made birdie, he waved the pencil at me and said, 'It's still sharp.' "
With the memory of his Masters victory still fresh enough to send chills up the spines of golf fans, Nicklaus was relaxed and once again at home in the thick of battle. As he stood over a 30-footer for eagle on the par-5 11th, a worshipful throng watched in silence. He stepped away for no apparent reason, smiled and said, "Awful quiet around here."
It wasn't for long. Nicklaus two-putted for his birdie, then made putts of 12, 17 and 16 feet on the next three holes. His playing partner, Andy Bean, told him, "You're gonna make 'em all." Nicklaus said, "I'm gonna try." Bean said, "Take advantage of it, 'cause the hole doesn't look like a washtub all the time." When a 30-foot eagle putt nearly fell into the tub on the 15th, Nicklaus's gallery responded with rolling thunder.
But this time Jack didn't get any help. An ungracious guest, Sutton birdied 10, 11 and 12. He remembered how a previous Nicklaus run had shaken him into three straight bogeys in the last round of Sutton's tense win in the 1983 PGA at Riviera.
"I let those roars get to me in '83. I'd made up my mind that Jack would probably get hot," said Sutton. "I was going to ignore that. Well, actually, I was going to try to answer whatever he dished out." He accomplished his mission and then some. Sutton's 68 on Sunday was the lowest final round ever by a Memorial winner.
Finally, it was Nicklaus who faltered. He had been playing with his renowned power fade all week, but when he tried to hit a draw with a three-iron on the 204-yard 16th, he blocked it right of the green. A poor chip broke the spell, and Nicklaus ended the round with three bogeys in a row for a 69-277 that left him tied for fifth.
"It felt like I was playing a month ago," said Nicklaus, "but that bogey just took the wind out of my sails."
A run by Pooley, though less dramatic, came closer. He birdied four out of five holes to start the final nine, but his chances evaporated when he failed on a six-foot birdie putt at the 490-yard 15th, which played like a par-4 for much of the field on Sunday. Pooley finished ahead of Mark O'Meara, who closed with 30 on the final nine, and a resurgent Johnny Miller, who got within three with an eagle on 15.
By adding the Memorial to his earlier win at Phoenix, Sutton became the tour's fourth two-time winner for '86 and edged closer to his goals of winning five tournaments in 1986 and ending the year as leading money earner.
And to think Sutton almost didn't make it to Columbus. He spent the early part of the week in Shreveport, working out the details of a divorce from Denee, his wife of eight months. His marital problems may have been a factor in his missing four of eight cuts this spring, and because he wouldn't be able to get to Columbus until later in the week, he considered skipping the tournament. But his mother, Mary Sutton, urged him to play, and Sutton arrived Wednesday night, not having hit a golf ball for three days. His preparation consisted of striking about 125 balls before his round on Thursday morning. But Sutton had been gaining faith in his putter since firming his left wrist and relaxing his right hand on his stroke. Most important, he said that coming to terms with his impending divorce "eased my mind some."
Sutton used his compact swing, the finish of which makes him look like he just lined a single to center, to hit greens like a machine over the first 50 holes. Suddenly on the 15th hole of the third round, he eagled and followed with two birdies to break out of a seven-way tie for the lead. Even though no one ever got closer than three shots again, Sutton maintained his steely glare until he made a 25-footer for par on the 72nd.
It is Sutton's powerful presence as much as his considerable game that has prompted many to pick him as golf's next superstar. But Prince Hal admits those lofty expectations didn't do his game any good, and "I don't even think about that stuff now."
While Sutton was cleaning up at the Memorial—his first-place money was $100,000—Nicklaus was doing the same. Barbara Nicklaus confided that both Jack and caddie Jack Jr. came home from each round with pockets full of litter they had picked off the fairways. The Memorial is Nicklaus's monument to golf, and he would like nothing better than to see the tournament eventually become the fifth major. After barely making the cut at Houston just two weeks ago, he set out to be a most inhospitable playing host at Muirfield Village.
Jack Grout, his golf instructor since boyhood, and teaching pro Phil Rodgers fine-tuned his swing on Wednesday. And Nicklaus's giant-headed putter, which he protects with its own knitted cover, is helping its owner roll back the years. As he worked on his swing on the practice tee at dusk on Saturday (the last pro there, of course), Nicklaus directed a small crowd's attention to 24-year-old Jack Jr., who was hitting balls next to him and who plans to turn pro after this year's U.S. Amateur. "Don't look at me," he said. "Don't look behind you. There's the future. Look to the future." Then he paused before adding, "All I'm looking forward to is 20 more years of golf."
Sutton's victory reflected adjustments in his game as well as in his personal life.
The Bear's six straight birdies thrilled his fans.
On the 17th hole, things were looking up for Pooley, who finished runner-up to Sutton.