victory in the 62nd National Collegiate golf championship last week may not
have been over the strongest field he has ever played against, but emotionally
and physically it was one of his toughest tournaments. The 21-year-old Ohio
State junior had just spent an exhausting and disappointing week at the
National Open in Detroit, where he finished in a tie for fourth, three shots
back of Champion Gene Littler. When he arrived at the Purdue University golf
course in West Lafayette, Ind. on the eve of the NCAA tournament, his massive
frame drooped with fatigue. He trudged over to a putting green and shook hands
with Houston's defending champion Dick Crawford.
through the Open," Nicklaus told Crawford, "this is going to be like a
Sunday school picnic. Except that I just can't get up for it. The last thing I
want to see for a while is a golf course. I feel, you know, blah."
No one could blame
Nicklaus for feeling the way he did, for it is a difficult malaise of mind and
body to shrug off. And it can prove disastrous in a golf tournament as
vigorously competitive as the NCAA. Last year, for example, a week after his
magnificent second-place finish to Arnold Palmer in the Open at Cherry Hills,
Nicklaus was bumped out in the third round, 4 and 3, by Stanford's Steve
However, it is
well known to the collegians who had to meet Nicklaus head to head in the NCAA
that he is a better golfer than all but a few of the top touring pros. Even so,
he had to overcome a four-hole deficit to win his 36-hole semifinal match from
Michigan State's Gene Hunt, and anything but sub-par golf would have lost him
his final-round victory over his resolute Ohio State teammate, 22-year-old Mike
He tramped through
his 36-hole qualifying round and the early rounds of match play like a serene
polar bear. He emerged as low medalist with a 3 under par qualifying score of
140. He thus joined a distinguished list of NCAA medalists that includes
Palmer, Earl Stewart, Gardner Dickinson, Paul Harney, Johnny Pott, Rex Baxter
and Jacky Cupit. Then, in match play, he crushed a series of undergraduate
nonentities and was never in any kind of difficulty until the semifinals. The
only fear Nicklaus had was Nicklaus himself.
"I try to
concentrate and play hard," he said, "but I just can't. Sometimes on
the first tee I'll take a look at my opponent's first swing and figure there's
no way I can lose to this guy. You can get beaten that way."
This kind of
thinking may have affected Nicklaus in his semifinal against Hunt. Hunt is a
Michigan public links champion, but he was No. 3 and 4 all this year on the
Michigan State golf team. He puts his right hand so far underneath the club
when he takes his grip that you are convinced he will sprain his wrist swinging
it back. But he is a long hitter, and he has a resilient short game. Even
though Nicklaus shot a par 71 in the morning round, he didn't win the match
until the 35th green, 2 and 1.
Nicklaus-Podolski match paired teammates against each other in the final for
the first time since Tom Nieporte defeated Don Johnson in the all- Ohio State
final of 1951. Podolski, whose father runs a punch press for the Columbus Bolt
and Forge Company, is another Michigan public links product. He is an extremely
tough and efficient player but not as good as Nicklaus. Nicklaus birdied two of
the first three holes in the morning round and was 6 under par for the day. He
polished off the match on the 33rd hole, 5 and 3.
triumph was not unexpected, Purdue's in the team race certainly was. The
Boilermakers had finished second to Houston in both 1959 and '60, but this was
supposedly the weakest team Purdue Golf Coach Sam Voinoff had put on the course
in years. It had finished fourth in this year's Big Ten championship, and
Houston, as usual, was loaded.