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In the past there was the beautiful excitement of waiting for one of Palmer's miracle shots. Now, perhaps because of the hip, perhaps because the putts aren't dropping, perhaps because the concentration is no longer what it once was, disaster is apt to compound disaster. It happened last week toward the end of Palmer's second round. His 69 on the first day had left him only four strokes off the pace, but then he came to a dogleg par-5 that is, as the saying goes, eminently birdieable.
Palmer's drive was a little off line in the short rough to the right. He took out the spoon and went for the green with a vicious whap. The ball took off on a parabolic cross-country flight over a fence and out of bounds into somebody's backyard. Naturally, Arnold dropped another ball and prepared to hit his provisional, but a yell came up the fairway that the first ball was safe. Arnold picked up the provisional and marched off happily toward the green.
The good news turned out to be false. Palmer had to return to the original spot and drop a second provisional. It cost him four strokes, and he had a nine for the hole. Moments later he missed a two-foot putt, and an otherwise good round was ruined. The third day's 68 was some consolation, particularly for the celebrated hip, but Palmer was never again in the running.
Nicklaus' problems are a bit more subtle than Palmer's. Jack freely admits that his only serious goals in golf at this point are the major championships, and he still must win four of them to tie Bobby Jones' alltime record of 13. Yet, Jack asks, "If you play the other tournaments in a sloppy way, how can you expect to play the big tournaments well?"
Nicklaus has been trying. He has pruned off 15 pounds. While not yet an hourglass, he is relatively svelte and hopes to drop another 10 to make 185 before he dares look at another mashed potato. He is not sure what effect it has had on his golf except, perhaps, to make it a little easier to move his hips through the ball.
As Nicklaus sees it, the trouble with his game this year has only been some little flaws in his swing—minor but still enough to cost him a stroke or two a round, which is the difference between 19th and first on the money list.
"My trouble," Jack explained after the tournament, "was on my backswing. I was crossing the center line to the target. That's all right for a hooker, but I hit the ball with a little fade. So it wasn't going where I expected. Gardner Dickinson, who has been nice enough to help me when we're at home, pointed out just a little thing to me on Wednesday afternoon, and it made a big difference. Normally when I address the ball I keep my hands high and my wrist well arched, but I was dropping my hands on the way back. I made the correction on Thursday, and it was the first time all year I haven't had to make a conscious effort not to cross the line on my back-swing. By Friday I was able to repeat the same swing more times than I have all year. If I wanted to fade it I could. If I wanted to hook it I could."
Hoping to salvage something from a disappointing season, Nicklaus now plans to continue through several more events on the fall tour and a few other tournaments before the curtain rings down on the PGA statistics for 1969.
It may not be as easy as it once was. It is no fluke that those people named Ted Hayes Jr. and Bob Menne are up there walking step by step with Beard, Nicklaus and Dave Hill. Jack Tuthill, the PGA tournament director, was talking about it at Vegas one morning while he watched a few dozen of the anonymous new bodies warming up for their rounds. "I don't know," Tuthill mused. "It seems like every week there's a whole bunch of these new kids showing up with great swings and beautiful putting strokes, and next year there'll probably be twice as many more. I don't know what's going to happen."
Nobody can be sure what is going to happen next year, or even next week, but it looks as though Jack Nicklaus will be around with all those anonymous new bodies, at least until he gets the Big Four.