About the only time the issue even comes up is when the new Masters champion is trying on his green jacket. "Well," pipes the same guy who always had his hand raised in the fifth grade, "now we know the only player who has a chance for the Grand Slam." The conversation will then turn to more plausible possibilities, like whether Sam Snead will ever win that darn U.S. Open.
Hey, this isn't tennis. There's hardly anything in sports more farfetched than one player's winning the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA in one season. Think about it. As good as they are, does Ian Woosnam, Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer, José María Olazábal or Ben Crenshaw (the five most recent Masters winners before this year) possess the necessary combination of ability and temperament to pull off the modern version of the Impregnable Quadrilateral? The fact is, the Masters is the only major each of them has ever won. At the height of their powers Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson all took their best shots at the Grand Slam, and all fell well short. It ain't gonna happen.
But this year there is, at least, a glimmer of hope. When Nick Faldo won the Masters, it not only gave him six majors for his career, but it also reestablished him as the player who had earned the right to even consider golf's impossible dream. From 1987 through 1992, when Faldo was either winning or in contention in practically every major, he often spoke of the Grand Slam as "the ultimate goal." But when he lost his edge over the succeeding three years, he seemed to be more hubris than Hogan. Then this April, Faldo mercilessly ran down Greg Norman with a flawless final-round 67 at Augusta to become once again king of the hill in the game's greatest events.
"I suppose I'm more capable of doing it than I was before," a cautious Faldo says of the Slam. "I'm more seasoned, and Augusta proved the nerve is still there, which was a relief. But it's a hell of a task. I would think the attention alone would be overwhelming. The real challenge would be to keep the blinkers on and approach all four one at a time."
Faldo's next step is the U.S. Open, which begins June 13 at Oakland Hills. It's a course Faldo has never seen, but that doesn't seem to bother him. "U.S. Open courses are simple, aren't they?" he says. "Hit it in the fairway and put it on the green. No tricks. Just honest, very demanding golf." It's a recipe for the brand of golf Faldo plays best. Perhaps the oddest thing about Faldo's major victories is that neither a U.S. Open nor a PGA—the two championships that most emphasize straight driving and accurate iron play—is among them. The Open, with its demand on the most challenging part of golf, long-iron approach shots, particularly plays to Faldo's strengths.
Faldo has certainly been close at the Open. Indifferent putting kept him from winning at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., in 1988, when he was beaten in a playoff by Curtis Strange. In 1990, at Medinah, outside Chicago, he came within a lipped-out 12-footer on the 72nd green of getting into a playoff with Mike Donald and eventual winner Hale Irwin. Two years later Faldo was fourth at Pebble Beach, where his chances were hurt when, in the second round, his approach shot stayed in a tree on the par-5 14th hole.
Because the U.S. Open is the championship that the 38-year-old Englishman covets more than any other and because of his proven ability to peak when it matters most, we have made Faldo our pick at Oakland Hills. The pursuit of a Grand Slam further sweetens the pot, a factor that we believe will incite Faldo to greater heights rather than weigh him down. "I think Nick is like Jack Nicklaus in that he has just the right blend of patience, aggressiveness and intelligence for the majors," says David Leadbetter, Faldo's longtime swing coach. "When he's in command of his swing, it's an awesome package. If he wins at Oakland Hills, he's got a great shot at the Grand Slam. He'll think he can do anything."
In an age when there are more players who can win tournaments than ever before, winning the modern Grand Slam would surpass Bobby Jones's 1930 original (U.S. Open, British Open, British Amateur and U.S. Amateur) and would be exceeded in stature only by Byron Nelson's 11 straight victories in 1945 and Nicklaus's record 18 professional major championships. One reason the modern Slam has been so elusive is that so few of the greats have had a shot at it. Never mind that the Masters, which began in 1934, didn't receive major status until the 1950s or that few Americans played in the British Open until the '60s. Actually, it was impossible to play in both the British Open and the PGA until the 1960s because their dates either overlapped or were too close together. The closest anyone has come to winning the modern Grand Slam was Ben Hogan in 1953 when he won the Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open but did not enter the PGA the following week because he was returning from Europe by boat.
The modern Slam was really invented in 1960 by Palmer on his plane ride to St. Andrews for his first British Open. Palmer, who had already won the Masters and U.S. Open that year, told a sportswriter, the late Bob Drum, that if he won at St. Andrews, a victory at the PGA would give him an accomplishment the equal of Jones's. Drum wrote it, and golf's mission impossible was born. Palmer came within a stroke of winning that British Open, finishing second to Kel Nagle, and again came close to the Slam in 1962. After winning the Masters, Palmer missed an eight-foot putt on the 71st green at the U.S. Open at Oakmont and a 10-footer on the final hole. He lost the playoff with Nicklaus the next day. Palmer went on to win the British Open at Troon. "Arnold is still kind of wistful about both those years, especially 1962," says Doc Giffin, Palmer's spokesman. "He would have loved to have gone to the PGA with a chance to win all four." Of course, Palmer has never won the PGA.
The other great assaults on the Slam have been by Nicklaus. In 1971 he tied for second at the Masters, was second at the U.S. Open, tied for fifth at the British and won the PGA, the lowest cumulative finish in the majors. The next year the Bear won the Masters and the U.S. Open and came to the British Open at Muirfield—where he had won in 1966—full of confidence. But Nicklaus developed a stiff neck while sleeping and in the first three rounds was forced to restrain his swing. He finally felt better on Sunday, took the lead briefly on the back nine but bogeyed the par-3 16th and eventually lost by one to Lee Trevino. Nicklaus had one more run in 1975. After winning the Masters, he was a stroke behind at Medinah with three holes to go but bogeyed in and tied for seventh. He finished a stroke out of a playoff at the British Open and won the PGA.