For five years now, since the day he turned professional at 21, Jack Nicklaus has been one of our resident golf experts. He has prepared his series of instructional tips, written articles for us, and now for the third time has made a special pre-tournament trip to a U.S. Open course to assess it for our readers (page 59). On each of these occasions his visit has been something of an event in itself, attracting press coverage, radio and TV interviews, a gallery and its own distinctive problems.
This year was no exception. It was arranged for Nicklaus to play Baltusrol Golf Club on Tuesday, May 23, only to have Jack suddenly confronted with what every male country-club member in America finds when he gets a yen to play golf on a Tuesday—it was ladies' day. Could Nicklaus tee off before the ladies? He could not, since the women were also starting on the 10th tee. Could he tee off among them? Yes, if he wanted to play at their pace. Hmmm. Then, happily, it became possible at the last minute to shift the ladies' tournament to the Upper Course at Baltusrol, leaving the Open course to Jack.
As is his habit, Nicklaus came to Baltusrol prepared. He likes to bring to his stories the same calculation and deliberation that he does to his own game. An aspiring golf architect, he may know more than any touring pro about the subtle qualities of courses (while playing Bellerive for us in 1965 he noticed that the fairway grass had always been mowed in the same elliptical pattern, which meant a ball would roll farther if hit down the side of the fairway where the grass had been trained to grow toward the hole), and he stores up the information he gathers.
The night before he went to Baltusrol he attended a party in Greenwich Village being given for Associate Editor Gwilym S. Brown, with whom he has collaborated since becoming an SI contributor. Brown, who was to tour Baltusrol with Jack before leaving to become our correspondent in London, asked Nicklaus if he remembered anything about the course, since he had not played it in three years. Jack reached into his pocket, pulled out a battered scorecard and began reading: "First hole, 205 yards from second bunker on left to front of...." Then while playing the course the next day, he looked up, pointed to where a lone tree stood and asked: "Shouldn't there be two trees there?" and sent Brown over to look for a stump.
The results of Jack's careful efforts, we feel, have been stories that give SI readers unusually sound pre-tournament insights into U.S. Open courses. Of Brookline in 1963, Nicklaus said: "It will favor a straight, if not inordinately long, driver who can work his approach shots into the little greens," a perfect description of winner Julius Boros. And in 1965 he observed that Bellerive was a long course of a type that would place "a wonderful driver" like Gary Player among those with the best chance. And that was Gary's year to win.
What about 1967? Nicklaus isn't offering any names, but Brown is willing to present a thought. "Jack had no great fondness for Brookline, and he missed the cut there," says Brown. "Nor did he honestly care for Bellerive—'I get very little joy out of having to kill the ball on every hole'—and he was never in contention after a double-bogey on the first hole there. But I think Jack really likes Baltusrol."
Sounds interesting to me. We haven't had one of our writers win the Open since 1962.