The 1965 Masters was the occasion on which Jack Nicklaus broke the tournament record by three shots with a 271—but it was more than that. It also marked the point at which he publicly began to smile and pout and display visible proof that he was more than a golfing machine, to show that he cared whether he knocked an approach shot into a pond or into the cup. Not that Nicklaus became any Red Skelton, but he did set a personal tournament record for cheery smiles and facial contortions, and the galleries reacted to him as never before. They learned, at last, that he is a rather ebullient young man. As a golfer, Nicklaus has always been at ease on Augusta's wide fairways. Now, after seven tournaments there, he has learned to enjoy himself before its big crowds.
Yet it would seem that next week Nicklaus will need whatever additional edge he can get. In the first place, he appears to have prepared for this Masters as if it were a weekend member-guest affair. Prior to his recent three-week swing through Florida, his only tournament of the winter was the Bing Crosby pro-am in January, and that was more of a party with friends than a competitive effort. He finished the Crosby by hooking two shots into the Pacific Ocean on the 18th hole and started the Doral Open in Miami six weeks later by hitting his first tee shot into a lake. Between these two splashing performances he attended a PGA school in San Antonio and spent most of a month in South Africa, where he went fishing and played a series of exhibitions with Gary Player.
If what happened in the veld is any portent, this could be a hard year for Jack. Player beat him by 14 strokes in their six matches, he was attacked by a swarm of bees and he cracked the head of the driver he had used since he joined the pro tour in 1962. Nicklaus estimates that he hit more than 15,000 shots in competition with his old driver and another 45,000 in practice. As the Masters drew near, the MacGregor company, whose clubs Nicklaus uses in the U.S., was having a hard time producing a replacement with the same loft and feel as the one he had become so attached to. Nicklaus also has changed putters. He is trying a Slazenger-Nicklaus model that, in truth, looks just like Palmer's.
But do not be deceived by his troubles, or his public nonchalance. In 1964 Nicklaus finished second at Augusta and felt so depressed that he played poorly, for him, all summer. Last year he won by nine and was so elated that he didn't settle down until August. He is now trying to guard against either reaction with his seemingly casual approach to the Masters. He will be ready. He will go to Augusta for intensive practice a week before the tournament, just as he did last year. His iron game is already "pretty decent," and he says he is "chipping very well, which is unusual for me." His driving is still a problem, but how much of a difficulty can it be? He sprayed tee shots all over the course at the Citrus Open two weeks ago and still finished second. Can he become the first man to win the Masters twice in a row? Listen to an expert, who says, "You'd make a lot of money backing Nicklaus, if you could find anyone to bet against you." Who is the expert? Gary Player.
Watching Arnold Palmer play golf has always been dramatic and still is, but the scene of the drama has shifted. His shots from the tees and fairways are as authoritative and spectacular as ever, but they are nothing to the struggle that takes place once he reaches the greens. There the full repertoire of his competitive moods is currently on display: the determined, grouchy, aggravated how-can-this-keep-happening-to-me? and the warm, Arnold's-in-his-heaven aura that comes when a putt goes in. The question is which of the two Palmers will the Masters see the most of next week—the one in the two pictures on the opposite page, whose birdie putt on 18 rimmed the cup on the first day at Augusta last year, or the one above, who had just started the second day by sinking an 18-footer for a birdie.
This has been a good winter for Palmer, which is a marked change from a year ago. "Yeah, I guess I've been playing a little better." he will admit, almost reluctantly, before getting to the subject that really consumes him. "And I've been holing some long putts. But I'm missing way too many short ones. If you don't make at least 75%, of the four-to six-footers you are not going to win many tournaments. I'm lucky if I make half of them." Palmer is now trying to take the putter blade back a very short distance and then push it solidly through the ball and at the hole. He can do it on the practice green, but, he says, "I just can't seem to do it out on the course. I get over the ball, and for some reason I keep thinking that I'm going to pull the putt off to the left." It is just possible that Palmer has become, is now, and forever will remain a bad short putter—and will be a winner in spite of it.
One thing Palmer seems to have straightened out, at last, is his work-vs.-play conflict. He vowed at the beginning of the 1966 season not to let his vast array of business commitments interfere with his competitive ones. He would give each activity its own time. The plan has worked brilliantly. In his first six tournaments he finished first, second, third, second, 34th and fourth. He is getting to tournament sites early, is much more relaxed and is concentrating well. The only time he mixed business and competition was at Phoenix, and that is where he finished 34th.
As he comes into next week's Masters, Palmer fairly reeks of the sweet smell of success. Nicklaus may have his game in shape, but Palmer has had his in shape all winter. He is sharp, and his driving looks like something programmed at Cape Kennedy. His attitude is mightily self-assured, and why not? He always wins the Masters in the even-numbered years—1958, 1960, 1962, 1964. A final plus is that Palmer is even more at home at Augusta National than his chief rival, Nicklaus. The galleries may be warming to Jack after a long cool spell, but Augusta is where Arnie's Army first marched.