It was every golfer's romantic image of what the game is all about, and what it rarely ever is. It was so purely heavenly that all of those millionaires up there in the forest and all of those artists down there on the rocks will be more intolerable than ever about the glories of the place they inhabit, this place called the Monterey Peninsula, set in oils, watercolors, Dutch doors, postcards and money. Carmel-by-the-Sea and Pebble Beach-by-the-Nicklaus. It was Riviera West, in double-knit and cleat.
What happened was professional tournament golf got all dressed up last week in its finest weather, at its prettiest place, and then, to top everything off, thrust most of its appealing stars into the forefront of an event that has all the glamour it can usually handle, anyhow, what with movie stars roaming all over the place. Quite suddenly and surprisingly, the Bing Crosby National Pro-Amateur was the PGA tour at its absolute dazzling best.
It was unlike anything the Crosby tournament had ever produced before, which was fog, rain, cold and an occasional string of pars for the winner. This was show biz. It was Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin and Lee Trevino and the young hero Johnny Miller firing colossal golf on some of the world's most renowned courses under skies that stubbornly remained cloudless and blue from the postcard 16th at Cypress Point to the cliffs of Big Sur.
And if the week seemed pretty much of a fantasy with all the exotic scores on the rugged terrain of Pebble Beach, Cypress Point and Spyglass Hill, it ended quite properly with still another dramatic element—a sudden-death playoff between Nicklaus and Miller. Although darkness was mildly threatening to turn the tournament into a breakfast event, Nicklaus managed to stay in the same old rut he had been in for weeks.
When Jack finally had to have it, he went out to the 15th green and sank himself a 25-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole to win his fifth tournament out of his last six tries, his second Crosby and his third championship on the lovely peninsula, having captured a U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach back in 1961.
So let's see, now. When we last left Nicklaus it was 1971 and he had just taken two big tournaments down in Australia with some startling scores, following that up with a win in the World Cup in Palm Beach. He then slipped to a horrendous third-place tie in the Heritage at Hilton Head Island, but he won the Disney World at Orlando, which gave him a money-winning record of $244,490 for the year. Terrible finish. Right?
Now it was 1972. The Crosby is always Nicklaus' first tournament of the year, so he said he arrived on the peninsula more inquisitive about his game than anything else. Would he still be playing well? He didn't know. As it turned out, he played satisfactorily—for him—from tee to green all the way on all the courses with the lone exception of a poor nine holes—a 40—at Spyglass on the second day.
"It was the only nine holes I didn't get to practice on," Jack said later. Wouldn't that figure?
Nicklaus had opened the tournament with a crushing 66 at Cypress Point, taking a three-stroke lead on the field. That was the coolest and windiest day of the week, although it was clear and enchanting and nothing like those notorious Crosbys of other years. There was wind, but hardly a gale. Still, Nicklaus was fortunate to be on Cypress that day, Cypress being the easiest of the three courses. Johnny Miller, the San Franciscan, was at Cypress, too, but he shot a 75 and found himself a whopping nine shots back of Nicklaus. The fact did not bother him much. At that point he was worrying mostly about making the cut.
The second day was when things changed. Nicklaus began his round on the back nine at Spyglass in the early morning, and it was at the 15th hole (his 6th) that he made a major contribution to the thrilling race that developed. There he spun a shot off the green and back into the water for a double bogey, and he followed that up with another bogey by three-putting. He was on his way to a 74 while Miller was firing a four-under 68 on the same course and picking up six strokes. Jacklin, meanwhile, playing better golf than anyone had seen him do lately and wearing knickers like some modern-day Harry Vardon, was holding steady with his second straight 70 and moving into a tie with Nicklaus. Trevino, who would ultimately win the pro-am part of the show with his amateur partner, Don Schwab, a nine-handicap advertising executive from Los Angeles ("My thief," Trevino called him), was also lurking close after rounds of 69 and 74. The big names were up front, granting that Johnny Miller is becoming a big name.