During all this Nicklaus was hanging on behind him, as, indeed, Simons was, too. Simons, a Wake Forest student with a mop of hair and a bewildered expression, a kid who had shot a 65 Saturday despite two bogeys, did not come apart. On the final hole, one stroke behind, he still had a long-shot chance to tie—if he could make a birdie. He gambled and made a double bogey. His closing-round 76 will look to history as if he choked, but it isn't true.
Nor did Trevino choke with the bogey he had at the last hole. He was laughing on the tee, teasing his caddie for forgetting to give him his club. "You choking already?" Lee asked him. The crowd roared. Lee, grinning, said, "You want to give me something to fan this with?" The crowd whooped again.
Lee hit a drive with a bit too much fade, and his three-wood to the green was a bit too much club. His chip back from 70 feet beyond the pin was excellent, but he still needed a seven-footer for a par and the Open. He did not get it, and whether this was because he became momentarily nettled and had to back away from the ball will never be known. As he was addressing this crucial putt a kid fell off his perch near the clubhouse, breaking Trevino's concentration, although Lee refused to blame anybody but himself. He had his 69 for the round and a 280 for the tournament, and he was just glad to be in.
Par golf is colossal golf on Merion's closing holes and those who saw it will long remember the way Nicklaus came down the stretch behind Trevino. At the 15th, 16th and 17th he was confronted with the necessity of sinking difficult putts for pars on the icy-slick greens. Making any of them in a round of pleasure golf would have been impressive. Now, in the pressure of the U.S. Open, Jack made all three. Each time that he bent over to concentrate, those watching could see the Open escaping him. It had to. But the putts dropped, each of them, even the seven-footer at the 17th, when he knew Trevino had finished with a bogey. The putt broke like a winding mountain road, but it dropped—and Nicklaus was tied for the lead. The one that didn't drop was a birdie putt at the final hole. There it was, the most perfect calendar picture of all: Nicklaus at Merion sinking a 14-foot birdie for a 279 and the Open. But it slid left, Merion's par held up and golf had another playoff for the ages.
Before the competition began on Thursday the players had practiced only on a soft golf course, one dampened by rain. It played easily. They realized the course would toughen as the weather cleared, but they still believed one or two and maybe three or four players would shoot in the low 270s. Yet Merion was Merion, not a place to cast insults at, so they strained to be kind.
"It's really a fun golf course," said one. "It must be a real pleasure for the members to play." And then, privately, nearly all of them would whisper to a friend, "273." In other words, two under the Open record, the one shared by Nicklaus and Trevino.
When the tournament finally got under way, beneath the huge old trees by Merion's lovely veranda, the players seemed to have it figured right. The first man out of the trees, a guy named Ralph W. Johnston, from nowhere, had the audacity to make seven birdies during his round. By noon there were six or eight players under par, their scores marked in red on the leader boards that rose out of the rough.
"Six by noon, 12 by sundown," said a grizzled journalist, quoting an old Open rule of thumb. "Merion is in trouble." The usual tour troupe was whacking at the course. Labron Harris was three under. Bob Goalby went by him early, four under. Then came Larry Hinson, five under. By now the scoreboard glittered with red numbers. It wasn't until late in the afternoon that things began to change. The course fought back, not to turn into a monster but simply to be the fair, wonderfully prepared course that it was. Hinson had had the best chance to humiliate Merion. After 13 holes he was five under par and aiming at 65 or better, but it was through him that the field found out something about Merion. What it sometimes gives up so easily, it can quickly take away. In a tour of the rough and bunkers of the last five holes Hinson lost six strokes to par. He wound up with an ordinary 71 and was never a factor again. Harris did finish with 67 but on Friday he soared to 77 and more or less disappeared.
Friday was the day Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer put on their vaudeville acts in the press tent. Palmer had holed a nine-iron from the rough for an eagle deuce on the first hole and had moved into contention with his 68, but neither eagle nor round stirred as much interest as his criticism of Nicklaus' slow play.
Nicklaus struggled to a 72 on the second day and was twice warned about taking so much time to get through his round. Palmer commented on the pace, implying that it was inexcusable. "They should have told him to move up," he said. Nicklaus had some remarks to make about the pin placements. "They were ridiculous," he said. On which holes? "One through 18," he said. He accused the USGA of trying to hide the pins so as to protect the integrity of Merion, which he said was unnecessary.