Poa annua and poa Jack. It was that kind of a week down in ol' Augusta. Poa annua, honey, been gone for so long, galavantin' around the countryside. Get in that kitchen and fix up those biscuits. Get off those greens you done made slicker 'n Sam Snead's head, and you stop botherin' Jack Nicklaus. And Jack, you come in this house. Land sakes if you're not out there acting like you never been here before. Out there playin' against yourself and the record book and Bobby Jones and all that nonsense instead of just settlin' down and winnin' this old Masters Tournament by 25 or 30 strokes like you supposed to do. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Jack Nicklaus. And Poa annua, you just shut up and get in there with the pans.
That's how it was. Poa annua and Jack Nicklaus in the Masters all week long. Poa annua is that weed grass that comes around every four or five years to infest Augusta and turn the Masters greens blotchy. It makes the greens uneven, bumpy, fast, unpredictable, unreadable and it sends the scores soaring higher than Nicklaus' career. And who is Jack Nicklaus? Well, he's more than ever the greatest golfer of our time; for after beating everybody else, last week he proved that he can even beat himself. He must be the toughest opponent he's ever faced.
Think of it this way. Jack Nicklaus won the Masters this time by three strokes in a manner that would do honor to all the crippled and wounded of highway intersections everywhere. But the thing is, Jack was supposed to win the Masters more than he was ever supposed to win it before. And, believe it or not, that makes it harder. Everybody sits around and talks about how the pros really get uptight over all the money they play for, but that is a myth that can be filed away with people who claim they see a goal scored in ice hockey.
A golfer playing against the record book, his aspirations, immortality, eternity, the Grand Slam, his own private ambitions, and even his own embarrassment is a man who has chosen a pretty strong lineup of opponents. Jack Nicklaus was such a person last week, and that is the only thing that made the Masters as close as it was.
That's what made Nicklaus come limping down the stretch over those last few holes, trying to play it cozy, trying not to let the Masters slip away to some guy who didn't want it in the first place. He went to the 11th hole of the last round with a five-stroke lead on the pack, which included somebody named Jim Jamieson, and he was supposed to get you excited? You've got to be drunker than most everybody under the umbrellas on the veranda.
Nicklaus was only worried about fate, a weird fate that would keep him from winning his fourth Masters, the 12th major championship of his life, moving him up ahead of Walter Hagen and now only one back of Bobby Jones. It would also put him another step closer to being, beyond any logical argument, the greatest golfer who ever lived, overlapped, interlocked or putting on Poa annua.
Fate tried hard, of course. It grabbed hold of Jack and made him three-putt the 11th hole for a bogey, three-putt the 13th for a par, three-putt the 14th for another bogey and, the third day in a row, play the 15th hole like a guy trying to move the hot dog to the hand with the binoculars in it. The 15th is a par-5 hole that Nicklaus could go back out to right now and with nothing but a driver and four-iron—forget the putter, he'll kick the ball—play four balls and make three fours and a three.
Put him in the Masters, though, and throw all that immortality up against him, plus the fact that he's going to be so humiliated if he doesn't win, and he'll go out there and make a seven on Friday, a five on Saturday, and on Sunday he'll make a six, always hitting some kind of second shot that threatens to bounce clear to the parking lot.
The fact is that the Augusta National course with its ruined greens played so difficult last week—the most difficult since 1966, when Nicklaus last won—that Jack could lead the field all the way after an opening 68 and afford the luxury of going 36 holes on Saturday and Sunday in three over par.
If Nicklaus' winning total of 286—only two under par—was not proof enough of the sad greens, how about the fact that only three other players broke 290, and one of them was Jamieson? His main claims to fame are that he comes from Illinois, across the river from Jack Fleck, and that he works with a set of clubs that includes a couple of Pings, three Spaldings, three Power-Bilts, a Hagen, a Hogan, three Golfcrafts and a putter he bought in a department store in Orlando.