Finally, it was suggested by cynics at Hazeltine last week that with something as important as the U.S. Open Championship at stake, along with $200,000 in pin money, it shouldn't make any difference if the pros are asked to play through a motel hallway full of vending machines. It ought to be their pleasure.
Hazeltine was certainly Jacklin's pleasure. What a nice steady show, that 71-70-70-70—281. Two eight one, huh? Before the tournament began Lee Trevino predicted, "If anybody shoots 281 on this course, the Pope is a possum." Well, when Jacklin's 25-foot birdie on the 72nd green leaped into the cup for 281, maybe something curious happened at the Vatican.
What happened at Hazeltine, among other things, was a full-out race to the record books to see when anybody last won the U.S. Open by so many shots. It turned out to be the biggest winning margin since Jim Barnes captured the event by nine back in 1921. There had been a Ralph Guldahl win by six strokes at Cherry Hills in 1938 and a Ben Hogan victory by six in 1953 at Oakmont, but nothing else close.
The only explanation for the brutal beating that Jacklin gave both the field and the course was that he was, as competitors sometimes are, charmed—charmed all week. He played well, granted. But so did Hill and a handful of others. What Jacklin did that the others did not do was refuse to be intimidated by the course. And when he invented the shots he needed for Hazeltine, they came off, because he expected them to, on the one hand, and because it was Tony Jacklin's time, on the other.
For example, on the day of the high, swirling wind, with almost half of the field going for 80 and above—a day which found Palmer, Player and Nicklaus shooting 79, 80 and 81, respectively—Jacklin rapped home a couple of 40-foot putts and holed a bunker shot. He was the only player to equal or better par that day as the Americans went around cursing Robert Trent Jones as if he had also designed the wind.
"Three hundred will win here," said Larry Ziegler, "and it'll bring Sam Parks back out."
But Jacklin had a slightly different view. "Most Americans don't know how to play well in the wind," he said much later. "They are not conditioned to it. I might hit any club at all from 160 yards on in—even a two-iron. I practice that sort of thing all the time." What the American tends to do is look at his yardage card, see 160, hit his usual soaring six-iron and then wonder why his ball got blown across 40 acres of feed grain.
There was little for the Americans to do but laugh about their black Thursday at the Open. At one point Jacklin was four under par on the leader boards while everyone else was trying to stand up in the gale. He closed that day with a bogey and double bogey on the 16th and 17th or he probably would have won by a lot more. At that, he held a two-stroke lead.
The real proof that he was charmed, however, came on Friday. When he reached the 17th hole, where he had taken the double bogey the day before, he found himself deep in the trees—in serious trouble. The 17th was a hostile little hole, a crooked par-4 that called for a tee shot with an iron, or anything you could hit straight to slide the ball between the trees and leave yourself a clear short-iron approach to a green bordered by ponds on both sides. A couple of the pros called the hole Farmer Jones' practical joke, and everyone agreed that you could take anything from birdie to double bogey on it. Well, Tony had the double bogey out of the way, so now it was time for something else.
Deep in those trees, smart money would have chipped out safely and played for a sure bogey and a possible par. It seemed an especially wise thing for an Open leader to do. But Jacklin took out a five-iron, closed the face to keep the shot under the tree limbs and gave a little spank while the crowd wondered if the Englishman had gone mad (see cover). The ball hopped and skipped and went along, rolling up perfectly into the alley between the ponds, and then onto the green and finally seven feet from the cup. And Tony made the putt. Thus, at the end of 36 holes, Jacklin led by three.