SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
August 01, 1966
Easy-moving Al Geiberger, who does everything the orthodox way, shoots par golf to win a PGA Championship that was otherwise distinguished by some of the strangest doings in the history of the event
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August 01, 1966

A Happy Stroll For Golf's Smiling Gei

Easy-moving Al Geiberger, who does everything the orthodox way, shoots par golf to win a PGA Championship that was otherwise distinguished by some of the strangest doings in the history of the event

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Part of it, as always, was created by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, who were the big noises of the tournament, but in an unusual way. Every time you looked up, it seemed, you saw one or the other in his private airplane heading back to Latrobe, Pa. or Columbus, Ohio, from where they were commuting to the first tee. Palmer's Jet Commander whined above the course repeatedly, and on Friday afternoon Ken Venturi was bent over a putt on the 14th hole when Jack roared over in his Aero Commander, carting the family home for dinner. Ken paused, looked up and said, "Thanks a lot, Jack." (How much the pros fly became a subject of deeper and sadder concern the night the PGA ended with the news that Tony Lema and his wife Betty had been killed when their chartered plane crashed near Lansing, Ill.—on a golf course.)

Palmer's 1966 PGA was simple—he played like a retired millionaire until the last day when a 68 pulled him into a tie for sixth place. Nicklaus was more baffling. He was supposed to be fresh after winning the British Open at Muir-field and pumped up with confidence because his length would overshadow everyone on the long Firestone course. Instead he looked tired and disinterested, and he played through the first round like a PGA sectional champion who had never been out of Utah. He hit seven trees, the last seven trees left at Firestone, and wandered into five bunkers. He only found five fairways off the tees in the 18 holes, and yet he managed to salvage a 75.

"It might have been the best 75 I ever shot," said Jack, who was smiling as always. A bad round bothers Nicklaus less than any golfer in history, because he knows tomorrow he may shoot 57, or something like that. "I can't remember playing worse," Jack said, carrying his son Jackie over his shoulder through the clubhouse and heading for the airport. By Saturday afternoon he could remember a time when he played worse. That day he hit only three fairways, shot another 75 and blew himself out of the tournament for keeps.

From the beginning Nicklaus never had his mind on what he was doing. He explained later that he stood on the first tee Thursday, set himself up to hit his usual fade down the fairway and at the top of his backswing suddenly said to himself, "Let's try to draw one out there."

He drew it all right. If he had hooked one that wildly at Muirfield, half of Scotland would still be searching for it. Nicklaus then went about the business of driving terribly for the next three rounds. Only on Sunday did he have a good round off the tees, and that was because he finally wised up and changed drivers.

"I'd been using the same driver I did at Muirfield with the small British ball. So I changed to a club that was better for the big ball. Three days late, I changed," he said. "And confidentially," Jack added, "there was another reason why I didn't play very good. I swung like a hacker."

Meanwhile, Sam Snead was shooting scores that fluttered the hearts of every geriatric case in the country and exhibiting absolutely the strangest putting stance pro golf has ever seen. It made you wonder if the sun had gotten through the straw hat and baked Sam's pate. Early in the week, practicing, he was observed spreading his legs, gripping the putter down at the bottom of the shaft and stroking the ball between his legs, croquet-style. Funny old Sam, cutting up again and trying to get a bet, they said.

Snead did not putt that way in the tournament proper until after the 10th hole Saturday, when his nerves really rocked him and he accidentally tapped a putt twice, costing himself a penalty stroke. Thereafter, for the next eight holes and for all of Sunday, Snead crouched like a preying cat on every putt of less than 10 or 12 feet.

Old pro golfers have spent their dying years searching for ways to stop palsy over short putts, and Snead may have found it. "You see," drawled Sam, "when you get down there close to it, that old ball can't move on you like it does for us nervous old men."

Wouldn't it be better to stand back away from it so it wouldn't bite you, he was asked.

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