All in all, it was the worst golf Nicklaus had ever played in a major championship, even sloppier than at Brook-line when he missed the cut in the U.S. Open in 1963. Curiously, he has now missed the cut as the defending champion in the two most important tournaments in the game.
Nicklaus is a sportsman, however, and he did not show the disgust that he must have felt. Wandering around the course the next two days in the green blazer of a Masters champion, Jack smiled and greeted friends and tried to explain his game. "When you do everything as I did, you have no one to blame but yourself. I'd make a mistake, press to make up for it and do something worse. The mistakes multiplied. Well, I've had a little luck here, so maybe a little bad luck won't hurt me. There's always next year."
A gloomier explanation for Nicklaus' failure came from Jack Grout, long the teaching pro at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, who has been working with him since he was 9 years old.
"Jack is not the player that he was in 1960, 1961 and 1962," said Grout, relaxing after a sumptuous pheasant dinner at the house that Charlie Nicklaus, Jack's father, rents every year in Augusta. "In those days no one was able to swing a club with such great balance. But he lost it playing against two guys who have no balance at all. [Palmer and Player, obviously.] He used to be able to get back on his right foot and then move forward onto his left perfectly every time. Now he doesn't shift on the downswing. He tries making adjustments in the middle of the swing. He needs to take 90 days off and work and work.
"But he only half listens," Grout added. "All he says is, 'I'm laying it off at the top.' "
When Nicklaus wasn't laying it off at the top, he was laying it off on the Augusta course. It's funny about the touring professionals. They play a lot of supermarket parking lots most of the winter, and then they invariably come to Augusta and criticize the condition of the course. The Augusta National is by far the best-conditioned course they will have seen, but they begin picking at it like a housewife at a washrag sale. As the Masters got under way last week, there were some remarkable words ventilated about the course's effect on scoring, and some even more remarkable theories as to why certain golfers were doing well and others were doing poorly.
Nicklaus talked of squirty lies, nappy lies, floaty lies, fuzzy lies. This was in reference to the length of the fairway grass. It was too long, the golfers said. The ball was sitting up so that a seven-iron carried 170 yards instead of 140 yards. It flew, in other words.
The unschooled eye could not determine this. The Augusta fairways looked like green grass, strangely enough, and far better manicured than, say, the Rockefeller estate up in Westchester. Ben Hogan said the course was in perfect condition even before he shot his 66, and Hogan was playing in his 25th Masters. Moreover, he insinuated that it was playing the same for everyone, so what did it matter? And, finally, in the wisdom of his graying years, he added that there were mostly pros in the field who are supposed to know how to hit all of the shots, so did it really make a damn if a man discovered a bunker sitting in the middle of a green? Hogan, of course, was right, and it was Hogan who gave the 1967 Masters more to remember than even Gay Brewer, for Ben, too, sank putts.
There is no way that Ben Hogan's wonderful putting through 54 holes could be explained. He still had trouble taking the putter back; age shreds a man's nerves. But there he was, rapping in 15 birdies—more than anyone else in the field—through three rounds. It was easily more birdies than Hogan had made in a major championship in 14 years, or since the 1953 Masters when he shot a 274, then the tournament record.
Over and over he would adjust his stance on the greens. He would line up, get set, then readjust. The throngs, who stood and applauded as he strode onto every green, agonized with him, but there was nothing that either they or he could do.