There it was in the dream of every Sunday hacker who ever waited for a starting time on a public course with the dew crawling up his trousers. A shank, a fat four-iron, a couple of sprayed tee shots into the trees and dirt; even a forgetful flirtation with a disastrous two-stroke penalty. This was Tom Weiskopf coming home against Jack Nicklaus—and himself—and somehow surviving to win the richest golf purse of the year. Amid the exotic surroundings of another Florida condominium community last week, Weiskopf, in some magical fashion, turned all of the bad news into $52,000 and everybody but Nicklaus said for the seven millionth time how sweet it was.
This was a new tournament called the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic. It began with the celebrity status that one would expect from the very name given to it, like all of those Glen Campbells and Bing Crosbys and Bob Hopes and Andy Williamses and Dean Martins on the professional tour, and then it lay quietly for a day or two, as many events do. But on Sunday it exploded with the excitement and drama of the occasional spectacular that breaks the routine of the seemingly endless tour.
Over the final nine holes it became a man-to-man conflict involving two of the longest hitters in golf, Weiskopf and Nicklaus, but their minds were in different places. Nicklaus, the favorite, knew he would win because he always gears his game to reach a Sunday peak; Tom Weiskopf only hoped he might win because, after all, he had the task of beating Nicklaus.
"I'm not afraid of Jack," Tom had said without much conviction after moving into a tie for the lead on Saturday. "If you play better than Jack does, you can beat him."
The peculiar thing was, Weiskopf did not play spectacularly well, especially on the closing holes when he was fighting himself and all the pressure. But more than one tournament has been decided by how a golf ball behaves on a green after it has been rapped by a putter. When it came right down to it, Jack Nicklaus had a putt prove it could roll on thin air, and Weiskopf saw one of his own putts bounce straight up and back down into the hole.
The Nicklaus putt was for a birdie and it missed on the final green. The ball, mysteriously, rolled right over the cup. "I could see the cup on both sides of the ball," said Nicklaus in disbelief. Weiskopf's putt was for a birdie, too, but on the 17th hole. It was a 30-footer that looked as if it might be heading for Miami Beach until it struck the back of the cup and went skyward before plopping down into darkness, igniting Weiskopf's jubilation. It was enough to give him a one-stroke win at 278.
Earlier, Nicklaus had missed a simple two-footer for a par on the 16th hole, another stroke that kept him out of first place. But things worked against him all week long. He could look back and see six three-putt greens, two balls out of bounds and a couple of disastrous double bogeys on the first two holes of the tournament on Thursday. It just was not his week to win, no matter how hard Tom Weiskopf worked to help him out.
As the tournament unfolded there at the last, after Weiskopf had eagled the 15th hole with one of his eight one-putt greens of his final-round 68, the winner seemed to try every conceivable way to lose. He hit a terrible four-iron on the 16th, but dropped an eight-foot putt for a par. And he finished with a bogey 5 on the last hole after shakily driving into the rough of perhaps another condominium unit. In between he even tried, unwittingly, to lose the whole thing by penalty.
That was at the 17th, following an awful drive. Weiskopf was in ground under repair and entitled to a free drop before playing his approach. To the absolute horror of tour commissioner Joe Dey and PGA tournament director Jack Tuthill, who know the Rules of Golf like they know their phone numbers, Weiskopf strolled all the way up to the 17th green, traipsing through a bunker—then raking it as he left.
Under the Rules of Golf, this constitutes improving your situation on the hole. Had Weiskopf then hit his approach shot into the same bunker, he would have faced an automatic two-stroke penalty—and he would have thrown away the difference between the $52,000 first-prize money and the $29,640 for second.