All week long the one-liners dropped like bogeys out there in the Minnesota farm country, so it was welcome to the Henny Youngman Open, folks. Let's rent an electric reaper and play a fast 18. Stuff like that. Are the greens mowed and is the automatic milking machine working? Even the locker room has a dogleg. I'd withdraw but I don't know how to get back to town. And a lot of talk about cows and corn. This was going on at the Hazeltine National Golf Club because the pros had staggered onto a layout that made them look like they should be taking lessons from their assistants back home. All except one, of course, the Englishman who whipped it into the shape of a mealy pudding. Even with the mad dog chasing him, Tony Jacklin won it so easily it seemed as if he alone were playing in the U.S. Open while Dave Hill and everybody else was putting up jams and jellies on Route 101 near Shakopee.
There is a theory that you have to like a golf course, just a little bit, in order to play it decently. If that was so about Hazeltine, then there could be no surprise in Jacklin's shocking seven-stroke victory. The way the course tossed and turned on slightly hilly terrain while displaying some enormous bald spots, and the way the wind lashed at it and the skies chilled it a couple of times, Jacklin had a reason to feel perfectly at home, somewhere back in Britain or Scotland. He said he felt at home, and he certainly played as if he were—at home, all by himself.
Among the rewarding things about Jacklin winning is that he now has achieved, at the tender age of 25, the status of a true star in the game. He has added the U.S. Open title to the British Open he won last summer. That means he has two major championships to his credit, and there aren't many active players on the tour who have accomplished as much. Only Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Billy Casper and Julius Boros, as a matter of fact. The rest are Al Geiberger or somebody, or they have been laid to rest in the record books.
Everybody was laid to rest at Hazeltine by Jacklin, who shot four consecutive sub-par rounds on a course the American pros said was unplayable, unprintable and would better serve mankind as the site of a Marlboro commercial. What Tony shot was 71 on a day when the wind blew 40 mph, 70 on a beautifully calm day, 70 on a day of gloom and chill and then a final 70 on a gloriously pleasant Sunday. That added up to 281, seven under par—and seven shots ahead of the mad dog, Dave Hill, who was more vocal than anyone about Hazeltine and drew an absurd fine of $150 for some of his public comments.
Just what was all the yelling about? Well, the design of the Hazeltine course was not to the liking of any American pro, but no course is these days that bears a trace of the unusual or the difficult. The touring pros have been making it increasingly plain in recent years that they object to any track with a tree, a pond or a par-5 that can't be reached with a drive and a swizzle stick.
One of the holes that made everybody the maddest at Hazeltine was the 1st, a long par-4 that bent around a bunker. The landing area for the tee shot disappeared gently from view below a portrait of a weathered barn perched atop a cornfield. Very funny, the pros said. It's like teeing up and hitting at International Falls. But, considering the locale of the tournament, what better opening vista than a cornfield and a barn? A course should reflect its surroundings. The Open had come to the Midwest, right? Well, here was a golf hole that said welcome to the Midwest. All golf courses don't look like Augusta National, and they shouldn't.
The more naive players in the field, people like the two young Texas amateurs, Ben Crenshaw and John Mahaffey, were bewildered by all of the fussing. Mahaffey said yes, there were blind shots and hidden fairways, but didn't one tend to discover where they were after a practice round or so? "They say the greens don't hold iron shots," said the 18-year-old Crenshaw, "but they hold mine. Maybe I don't hit them right." So much for the irreverence of youth.
One thing this most controversial of Open courses in years did do was take away the edge of the big hitters. There were four par-5s, but each was as reachable in two as downtown Minneapolis, 25 miles away. So those automatic birdies that the slugger is so accustomed to were not to be had unless the big man could also feather, float, finesse, clip, punch or pray a little iron close to the hole. This vanishing talent was in short supply at Hazeltine. Bob Lunn was the only long hitter among the leaders. The low rounds of the tournament, 67s, were shot by a couple of lightweights who might have been blown away by the wind, Bob Charles and Randy Wolff.
If famed—and now blistering around the ears—golf Architect Robert Trent Jones had designed such an unfair course, how come there were 38 sub-par rounds in this Open? Venerable golf followers wondered what might have happened if the protesters had ever seen Oakland Hills back in 1951. Jones and the USGA combined for a memorable job on that one—the number of rounds below par was exactly two.
None of which is to argue that Hazeltine ranks among America's premier courses. It will never be in the category of Merion, next year's Open site, or Pebble Beach, which has the Open in '72. It is no Pine Valley or Seminole or lots of those places that make splendid calendar pictures in the offices of insurance executives. But it is better than two courses the Open has been played on in the past seven years—Bellerive and Congressional—and it has its memorable holes, especially those with water. The 10th was fashioned after 11 at Augusta, the 7th after the 16th at Firestone and the 6th after the 14th at Champions, all famous holes. And then there is the 17th which is, well, the 17th at Hazeltine.