It was then at the 12th hole, a par-3, that Nicklaus demonstrated his relentless courage. He hit what he thought was a perfect three-iron right at the flag. It struck the green 10 feet in front of the hole but simply zoomed past it, and then bore relentlessly down a steep slope and out of sight in thick ground cover.
As Jack walked onto the 12th green, he scowled at P. J. Boatwright Jr., the USGA's executive director who was refereeing, and said, "What'd you do with all the grass?"
Nicklaus was referring to the fact that on top of everything else that makes Pebble Beach so dangerous, the USGA, for the final round, had seen fit to roll and triple-cut the small, wind-dried greens, making them next-to-impossible to hold or putt.
Later Jack would say, "I went to bed Saturday night thinking I had to shoot at least 70 to win. But this morning when I saw the first green and the wind, I knew it would be a tough son of a gun and I'd have to have patience."
Nicklaus found his ball in a dreadful lie on the 12th. He gouged at it, moving it slightly up the hill. He gouged again and sent it eight feet past the cup. That left him with a super character-builder, as they call it, to avoid another double bogey that might destroy his confidence totally. And although he could not know it, he was in danger of losing his lead altogether. At this moment two holes ahead, Palmer was lining up a makeable birdie putt which, combined with a Nicklaus miss on 12, would put Arnold a stroke ahead. As Palmer said later: "It certainly would have given me a more personal interest in the Open."
Indeed, this had been an extraordinary Open for Palmer. He began it with three straight bogeys and a 77, but exploded back into contention on Friday with a magnificent 68, a score nobody bettered in the tournament. A 73 on Saturday kept him two strokes behind Nicklaus.
For a while on Sunday it seemed possible that Palmer might catch his old rival. On the 1st hole, to shouts of "Go Arnie," he hit his approach seven feet from the flag. Thunderous cheers. Then he left the putt short. Short. Thunderous groan. He missed another birdie putt on two, but rolled in a 40-footer on the third, which put him just one stroke back. After that it was a struggle—he made no more birdies and finished with a 76—but then everyone was struggling out there, Nicklaus included, so that if Palmer could just sink his birdie putt on the 14th.... It didn't happen. Palmer missed. And Nicklaus did not miss.
If this single pressure stroke did not wrap up the championship for Nicklaus, then his classic one-iron to the 17th green most certainly did. Here is one of the killer par-3s in the whole world, and here was Nicklaus needing a safe par Nothing more. Just a par.
He stood there for a moment, trying to stare down the wind, Bobby Jones, the Open, the Slam and none other than Bruce Crampton, who was still lurking. And then he hit a shot that made him look like a fighter who didn't want to win on points; he wanted a knockout. He hit the damnedest one-iron in history and nearly made a hole in one as the ball screamed into the gale, cleared the ghastly bunker fronting the green, crashed down right at the flagstick and simply sat there, two inches from the cup—and two championships away from what could be one of the most astounding accomplishments in the annals of game playing. So ended Jack Nicklaus vs. Pebble Beach. Crampton finished second at 293, Palmer third at 294. Trevino and Blancas had 295s.
In addition to the course, there were other hazards at Pebble during Open week. One was a thing called the 17-Mile Drive cocktail party. At various points along the Drive, there were affairs going on in private homes bordering the course. Some of them began at midmorning and when contestants stood over putts that demanded a certain concentration here would come—out of the woods—the cackling, clinking sounds of Bloody Marys being poured into the minds of the peninsula's mindless. One could only assume the parties were being given by tennis or horseback riding fans. They were no fans of golf.