SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
July 20, 1970
Despite a putting touch that abandoned him at times, Jack Nicklaus hung on to win his second British Open title last week, conquering Doug Sanders in a playoff and St. Andrews' Old Course in a breeze
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July 20, 1970

Virtue In The Valley Of Sin

Despite a putting touch that abandoned him at times, Jack Nicklaus hung on to win his second British Open title last week, conquering Doug Sanders in a playoff and St. Andrews' Old Course in a breeze

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In terms of crusty sophistication, it was almost unbelievable the way the British Open began at St. Andrews. In contrast to the U.S. Open, which has at least a touch of ceremony to it, the British Open begins more like a starter sending off the first twosome of any weekday. Everybody stands around quietly, an old gentleman moves the tee markers back about three feet, an aging steward empties out the trash in the tee box, somebody coughs. Finally, the starter looks at one of the two unknowns and says, "Your honor, I believe." And the game is on.

The first day the field caught the Old Course in a calm, with the greens slowed down by constant watering, and turned it into a shambles. It was a giddy day for Great Britain as all sorts of British subjects wrecked par. Neil Coles, for example, shot a record seven-under 65, largely due to the holing out of some enormous putts, plus a nine-iron for an eagle. But all day the big throngs had been waiting for their hero, Tony Jacklin, the handsome, friendly little man who had won the U.S. Open and who had been made a bookmaking favorite at St. Andrews. The wait was well worth it, for Tony promptly launched into a memorable afternoon of golf, birdieing the first three holes with wedge shots, two-putting for a birdie at the 5th, running an eight-iron off the lip of a bunker at the 7th up to within six feet of the pin for another birdie and then holing out a wedge from 100 yards for an eagle at the 9th. On the 10th he wedged up again to within six feet and dropped this putt. The total at that point showed 29 on the front side, eight under par, with only 13 putts in 10 holes.

But then, after Jacklin had sliced a four-wood into the bushes on the par-5 14th, a sudden rainstorm swept over the course. Actual rivers washed across the greens and, after a hurried conference, officials called a halt to play. While some Americans argued rather heatedly that the whole first round should be scrubbed—that the R and A had made up a " Jacklin rule," or a "British rule," so all those low scores would stand—the fact was that more than two-thirds of the field was in and it was clearly written in the R and A rules (also in the USGA rules, by the way) that a round can be abandoned when a course is deemed unplayable and play can be continued at the point of progress on a subsequent day.

As it turned out, Tony would have been better off playing through the lightning and rivers. For one thing, he had to worry for 12 hours over an unplayable lie in the rough on the 14th, those waist-high shrubs to become known ever after as "Tony's Whins." The lie was 40 yards from the green, just down the hill from Hell Bunker.

There was a lot of joking about how on Thursday morning there might not be a bush there, and Tony would have a clear shot. And about how some British writer would surely have a frontpage story headlined: I GUARDED TONY'S DROP AREA THROUGH THE NIGHT. History would note that Jacklin marked the lie with two tees, and put the ball, a Dunlop 1, in his golf bag and went home. The ball slept well, if Jacklin didn't.

He arrived at 7:15 the next morning, promptly announced that he would take a penalty for an unplayable lie, dropped the ball about 25 yards behind the bushes and played a nice shot onto the green some 12 feet from the hole. When that putt failed to drop, his luck was gone, and he wound up losing the title by the three strokes he had slept on.

Then, for a while, the lead had belonged to Lee Trevino. The second day had seen him move ahead with his second 68, a stroke in front of Jacklin and Nicklaus. Trevino was the only player besides Jacklin the crowd seemed to warm to. He loved it and they loved it. His big moment actually came during Friday's third round. On the first tee Lee was introduced to Prime Minister Edward Heath. Trevino grinned and said, "Ever shake hands with a Mexican?" The R and A building, along with the prime minister, gently swayed with laughter.

Lee probably beat himself on Saturday with a colossal boner, or at least he went a long way toward it. At the 5th hole he laced an iron at the wrong flag on the huge double green, leaving himself about 80 feet from the right one, and he three-putted for a bogey at a time when Nicklaus and Sanders were moving away. The moment he hit the approach shot, he slapped himself in the forehead, like one of the Three Stooges, and said, "I done hit to the wrong stick." Then he said, "And I'm just dumb enough to have done it, too."

From then on the championship alternately belonged to Nicklaus or Sanders. Nicklaus played splendidly enough on Saturday to have won two British Opens and a Pensacola thrown in. It was a day when the wind blew up to 50 mph. As somebody said, they must have sent to Carnoustie for the wind machine. In any case, the Old Course was a violent place, and 73 was like four under.

Nicklaus was striking the ball about as well as anyone ever saw him do it, but he left it on the greens with five three-putts, missing several times from inside eight feet. One of these came on the 18th, where he rolled his drive through the Valley of Sin as if he were going for old Tom Morris' grave across town and then missed a putt coming back.

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