The Grand Slam almost went slumbering with the abalone in Carmel Bay last week, or soaring with the winds above it, or hiding with the wildlife in the forests beside it. But the right man was on call all along and Jack Nicklaus kept a personal rendezvous by winning the prettiest—and in some ways the most important—U.S. Open Championship ever played. On the toughest course there ever was, he beat the best there are, Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino, plus a few of the usual lurkers who would have had to wire their sixth-grade English teachers for a suitable quote had they finished first. He won when he simply had to win, he won spectacularly and he won at Pebble Beach, a golf course which on this particular week was as mind swerving as the serpentine 17-Mile Drive that leads to it.
Pebble Beach, in fact, almost played too great a role. For a while it appeared that the winner wasn't going to be a man, but the course. Pebble—good old monstrous Pebble, Double-Bogey-by-the-Sea-Pebble—won every battle, one-on-one, even with Nicklaus. It was absolutely the ruggedest course of recent years for all four rounds, and the scores that it wrought in the 72nd Open from the very best players in the world more closely resembled those out of the early 1900s, when men used hickory shafts and swung in tweed coats, than anything in this broad-belt era.
Was that George Archer shooting 87 or Horace Rawlins? Was that Frank Beard shooting 85 or Old Tom Morris? Who are those guys? Where are we?
On the last day, Sunday, when a ripping wind produced the ultimate horrors, only Nicklaus could summon the patience and the game to cope with the place. It seemed he had saved his best golf for the final round, when the course and the elements almost eliminated golfing skills in more normal men. And while that closing 74 of his for the funny old total of 290 will not look so dazzling in the record books one day, it should be stated here and now that under the circumstances it was as brilliant as any man ever shot.
Par is what the course and the weather dictate, to borrow from our Scottish ancestors, and the truth of the matter is that par at Pebble Beach on Open Sunday was 76.6. That was the average score of the 20 low finishers in the championship, of the men who were even remotely in contention. And of the actual nine men Nicklaus had to beat, or all of those within five strokes of him after three days, his 74 was the best.
All this came from the player who had already won the Masters and was supposed to win the Open in his quest for a modern Slam, taking the Big Four all in one year. This was step two in what his old Columbus, Ohio pals, who follow him around as faithfully as other Columbus citizens dog the OSU football team, have begun calling the Fan Slam, meaning they get to go to all these places like Augusta, Pebble Beach and now Muirfield in Scotland for the British Open and Detroit for the PGA, and rent all these hotel rooms and houses and buy up all the good beef in town.
Jack, as is his habit these days, got a lot of history on the record at Pebble. It was his third Open title, but more important it was his 13th major championship, tying him with Bobby Jones. Here we go counting them one more time: three U.S. Opens, four Masters, two British Opens, two PGAs and two U.S. Amateurs. In his two championships this year, the Masters and Open, he has led or shared the lead in every round. Nobody ever did that.
Does this then mean that Jack Nicklaus not only is going to accomplish the Slam but do so by leading every single round of all four championships? Well, no achievement seems beyond his grasp. He was immensely ready for Pebble Beach, and even though golf is such a delicate game and the odds of winning are so overpowering against one human being out there, Jack accomplished exactly what he set out to do.
Before Sunday, however, some wondered whether he had not been propped up by fate for a dismal disappointment. He had shared the lead on Thursday with five other players who no longer mattered. He had shared the halfway lead with Kermit Zarley (one of the five) and four new guys. He had emerged with a tiny lead of one stroke by Saturday night but there were a lot of people near him. For glamour, there were Trevino and Palmer, and for nuisance value there were Bruce Crampton and Zarley.
No one actually expected Zarley to win; he never has won much. And pitifully few hoped Crampton would win, for he carries, rightly or wrongly, the reputation of a grump despite his fine style and the money he has won. As one competitor joked about poor Bruce, "He's only done three things wrong in his life. Get born, come to America—and stay."