Guest lists, of course, are always a topic of interest in the Hamptons. At the Whit-akers' tent party, the Nick-lauses shared a table with the Marrs (Dave was accompanied by his wife, Tally) and the Bowdens (author Ken and wife Jean), while at the next table novelist Dan Jenkins and friends celebrated the birthday of his wife, June. At Shinnecock, however, Mr. Nicklaus was given the seat at the card table, so to speak—going off at 2:15 Thursday afternoon. Pairings at the U.S. Open, one is told, are often meant to send a message, and Mr. Nicklaus was sent out this time with a former British Open champion whose control and confidence have vanished (Baker-Finch) and a two-time U.S. Open champion whose eligibility was about to run out (North). Short of placing KICK ME signs on their backs, the innuendo couldn't have been less subtle.
Nicklaus seemed not to notice. After signing his scorecard on Friday, he lingered outside the wood-shingled clubhouse annex to give the handsome Baker-Finch a 15-minute golf lesson; he then approached a throng of journalists with an amiable, "Hi, boys." Most of the ensuing chat centered around how badly he had played, with Nicklaus recounting his mishaps and the writers asking questions in deferential tones. "I was a little more vertical than I like," Nicklaus said, lapsing into golfing jargon. "What I was doing yesterday, I think was correct. I just don't think I knew what my parameters were." He finally shrugged. "It's been this way all year. I shoot one decent round, and the next round is terrible. I don't know which guy's going to show up." Indeed, at the Masters, Nicklaus's opening round of 67 was followed by a 78.
The spectators, judging from their enthusiasm, weren't particular. On Thursday afternoon the grandstand on every hole emptied after Nicklaus's group putted out. Even on Friday, with half a day's golf remaining, his finish had the 18th-hole bleachers rattling, as spectators headed for the stairs after he departed.
For Nicklaus, unfortunately, the weekend was spoiled. The USGA was in no. hurry to see him go, and there was Saturday's centennial parade in Bridgehampton to look forward to—the one marking the 100th anniversary of the village fire department. But Mr. Nicklaus thought he would take his private plane home to North Palm Beach (where the social season has long been over) and then fly up to Maryland on Monday for a practice round at Congressional. Asked if he would watch the rest of the U.S. Open from his hammock, he smiled and said, "I don't watch much golf on television."
Left unresolved was the question of whether he would be invited back. "I would like it not to end with an 81," he told his journalist friends. And if that wasn't enough of a hint, he added that he would "love to play" in a Farewell Open, whether he was still competitive or not. "If I play next year, it would be number 40," he said, as if thinking of it for the first time. "It would be a nice round number."
And with that, Mr. Nicklaus made his apologies and left. The rest of the weekend, though, was hardly dull. The buzz in Amagansett was about a remarkable young croquet prodigy on holiday from Stanford, one Eldrick Woods, who performed amazing feats with mallet and ball while playing one-handed....