For a while there on Sunday it looked like Jack Nicklaus had left the Grand Slam at one of those beach-party movies, the kind where all the girls clamor after the good-looking blond guy in the tricky clothes. That was when young Johnny Miller in the golden hair and Masters-green ensemble was turning the place inside out, ripping up the flag-sticks and sinking a bunker shot, and in general encouraging all of the hot-panted things in the gallery to squeal with an affection they usually reserve for recording artists. The Masters—as well as the game of golf—sure could have used Johnny Miller, but that wasn't where Nicklaus left the Grand Slam. He lost it to a tall Texan named Charlie Coody, who even walks with a drawl, a guy who has two different swings in one motion but makes it work, a guy who lost it before and now deserved it, a Masters winner who admits he's probably lacking in color when he says, "I just play along in living black and while."
Whatever Coody did for four rounds of golf last week in Augusta, it was plenty good enough, especially when it got down to the enormous pressure of Sunday afternoon. Then Coody was at his best. He had been there before on a Sunday afternoon in Augusta. In 1969 he had three holes to play and a one-shot lead, just like Johnny Miller this time. Except Miller became the old Coody who blew it, and Coody became the quiet man who knocked off the Big Four again, as George Archer and Bob Goal by and Gay Brewer and other living black and whites had done in the recent past.
There is a lot to say for a player like Coody who can hang on in these big ones and win. Last Sunday began with Coody tied for first place with Nicklaus after 54 holes, but there was hardly a doubt in anyone's mind that Jack would grind ahead and add the Masters to his earlier victory in the PGA. He would have two legs on the modern Grand Slam of golf, and it would be heigh-ho to Merion in June for the U.S. Open. Then on to Birkdale in July for the British Open, and the man everyone felt had the best chance to accomplish the feat would indeed have done it.
Nicklaus was sure he would do it. "I knew all week I was going to win," he said after seeing the green jacket draped on Charlie Coody's slouchy gunslinger build. "I was in the right frame of mind, really psyched, and I felt I could bring off whatever it took."
He looked the part, striding along the fairways in his patterned shirts with, for once, literally thousands cheering for him. He appeared unbeatable even when he was behind. But—
"My game was erratic all the way," he said. "I'd miss a putt I knew I was going to make. I hit into the water. I three-putted four times on the last day when you can't do that. But until Charles holed his last putt I still thought I'd do it. Big surprise, huh?"
If you can call what Nicklaus did a case of trying too hard for something you want so badly, then what can you call the effort of Charlie Coody? "The rest of us deserve something, too," said Coody, who put together rounds of 66, 73, 70 and 70 for his winning 279. "The top names base got everything. They shouldn't mind letting us poor boys have something now and then."
Coody isn't exactly a poor boy just because he lives in Abilene, Texas and had managed to win but two tournaments on the tour in eight years. He has made good money right along without being noticed too much. He had developed the respect of his fellow pros by being a "nice, quiet guy," although everybody agreed his game was far too conservative. "Charlie's one of our better shotmakers," Frank Beard once said, "but he tries hard not to win."
This wasn't the case at all in the final round. Coody was in the toughest position of all, yet he tried, oh, he tried. During that Sunday round he had to watch Miller, the 23-year-old from San Francisco, catch fire directly in front of him and at the same time worry about Nicklaus directly behind him. When he came to the 15th hole he was tied with Nicklaus but two strokes behind the upstart Miller. It wasn't quite the same as it had been two years earlier when he had the tournament in his grasp—and bogeyed the 16th, and then the 17th and then the 18th. It wasn't like that this time, but it was frantic.
With Nicklaus three-putting the Slam away behind both Coody and Miller, the final drama settled down on the two long shots, and most of it was on the 15th, 16th and 17th holes. First came Miller, who had started Sunday four Strokes back. He played better golf than anybody on the front nine, turning in 33, three under par. With a near classic swing that is going to be heard from for a lot of years a head, the dashing blond with all the sex appeal rammed home a nine-foot birdie at the tough 11th and then exploded from a bunker for another birdie at the hellacious 12th. He missed his birdie at the 13th but rifled another iron in close at the 14th, which is hardly a birdie hole, and dropped that five-footer to go six under on the round and take the lead in the tournament. This drove the hordes mad. Suddenly, they personally had discovered the new Nelson, or Hogan or Nicklaus.