The man should apologize. He really should. In a world with real problems, not the least of which is picking a new cast for Saturday Night Live, it's just not right that some chunky character with a squeaky voice and questionable taste in trousers should tie up our attention for 30 or 40 years.
Take winning the Tradition. On Sunday, Jack Nicklaus did it for the third time, and not even a late-afternoon weather system sweeping out of Arizona's Sonora mountains could blow away the sense of d�j� vu. Didn't it leave you blinking? Didn't it seem as if he and Isao Aoki played the 18th hole over and over again—like, three times? And didn't you get the feeling you were watching a sagebrush version of the 1980 U.S. Open at Baltusrol, where the Japanese pro who does wheelies with his putter finished a close second to—yeah, you know who?
Talk about redundancy: Nicklaus designed and built the golf course that the Tradition is played on—the Cochise course at Desert Mountain—and he built the Renegade and Geronimo courses right next door and the course at Desert Highlands just down the road. So while you can't say he actually owns the cactus country north of Scottsdale, you can say that no lizard walks there without a license from Golden Bear International.
After the 50-and-over set played four tournament rounds in the desert last week, survivors such as Jim Colbert and Raymond Floyd acted as if they had pursued a mirage—victory—across Cochise and had grasped only sand. And there were the inevitable questions:
?Is the Tradition considered one of the Senior PGA Tour's four major championships because it is a major? Or is it a major only because Nicklaus wins it? Of his eight Senior tour victories, seven are so-called majors. Of course, Nicklaus doesn't often play in the "minors."
?Does our man fly his corporate jet to Desert Mountain every spring for the first-place money ($150,000 this year), to check progress on his new golf courses (Apache is under construction, with a fifth course—Pocohontas?—on the drawing board), or to take golf lessons from teaching pro Jim Flick? (Last week's lesson plan: "Let the arms go soft, and let it flow.")
?Did white-maned Jim Ferree know whom he was playing with in Sunday's final threesome? The 63-year-old phenom, whose lone PGA Tour victory had come in 1958 and who hadn't won on the Senior tour in four years, shot 67 on Sunday to finish with a total of 277. That left him one shot behind Nicklaus and Aoki and just short in his bid to become the tour's oldest winner ever.
Nicklaus, who turned 55 in January, tried to provide answers. But after almost 40 years of winning, you have to wonder if he realizes how practiced his responses sound. On Sunday evening, having just dispatched Aoki on the 3rd hole of sudden death, he played it humble, saying, "I don't remember the swing I came here with because it wasn't any good." Any old-timer would recall that Nicklaus, at age 40, had sounded pretty much the same theme after holding off Aoki at Baltusrol. "I had sort of been wondering when the wheels were going to come off," Nicklaus had said then, "because that's what had been happening to me for a year and a half or so."
The truth is, Nicklaus is not quite the shotmaker he used to be. He doesn't drive the ball as far as Ferree or Aoki do, he fiddles with his swing a lot, and he spends too much time strapped to a chair in his Gulfstream. His competitive edge, though, seems not to have dulled. After three rounds at Desert Mountain, the great man poor-mouthed his ball-striking and suggested that luck accounted for his sharing the lead with Aoki at seven-under-par 209. In reality it was Nicklaus's renewed confidence on the greens that kept him going. "I can't recall ever, ever having a better week of putting," he said when it was over. "There were only two putts I didn't hit exactly where I wanted to."
Aoki, just in from a snow-shortened win at the American Express Grandslam in Chiba, Japan, is, of course, no stooge with a putter. His average of 1.67 putts per round is the best on the Senior tour. Paradoxically, though, it was a no-putt hole that put him a stroke ahead of Nicklaus on Sunday, if only for a few moments. In a scene reminiscent of his memorable hole-out from the 18th fairway that beat Jack Renner in the 1983 Hawaiian Open, Aoki sank a 76-yard pitch shot over water for eagle on the par-5 15th hole. But Nicklaus immediately responded by making a short putt for birdie, reestablishing the tie.