As the reigning British Open and PGA champion, Nick Price is being inundated with questions about whether he can complete a quasi Grand Slam by winning next week's Masters and the U.S. Open in June. Though the four major victories would not fall in the same calendar year and thus qualify as a bona fide slam, such an achievement, in the words of Jack Nicklaus, "would be pretty special."
Perhaps trying to minimize the pressure, Price insisted last week that he was focusing on winning a first Masters title rather than a slam. "I want one thing," Price said at The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra, Fla. "I want a green jacket."
The last golfer to win two consecutive majors was Tom Watson, who took the U.S. and British opens in 1982. Going for his third straight Grand Slam title, Watson finished ninth in the PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa. Only one professional, Ben Hogan, has won three straight majors. In 1953 he won the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open, but he couldn't make it home from England in time to play the PGA.
While Price owns the course record of 63 at Augusta, he has never been able to string together four solid Masters rounds. He has always blamed that failure on his putting. This year Price will play the Masters with the soft aluminum-faced Fat Lady Swings putter he has used since last year's PGA, and it should help him control his hard two-piece Bridgestone ball on Augusta's slick greens.
"The last couple of weeks I've been putting well," Price said at the TPC, where he finished 37th. "The fact that there's so much emphasis on the short game [at Augusta] makes it harder for me. However, I think I am better prepared this year than I ever have been."
Price will also go to Augusta with some peace of mind because last week he finally ended a lengthy bidding process by signing an equipment contract with the little-known Atrigon Golf, Inc., of Camarillo, Calif. The world's No. 1-ranked player will receive $2.5 million a year for 10 years, 10% of the company, 1% of its international revenues and total control over redesign of the clubs. It may be the best equipment deal of all time because Price is under no obligation to use the Atrigons until he is comfortable with them. At the TPC he used an Atrigon bag with his old Ram irons inside.
"I had a lot of money thrown at me, but I tried to do what was best for Nick Price," Price said. "Some companies put time restraints on me, wanting to have the clubs in my bag by March 31. I'll feel enough pressure with a gradual change, let alone a radical change."
Nine years have passed since John Mahaffey won the 1986 TPC. His free ride is almost over.