Let's go back to the 10th hole of my final round Sunday afternoon. As millions of television viewers may remember, it looked for a few moments as if I was about to throw the whole U.S. Open into the Pacific Ocean. When I stepped onto the tee I assumed I was still leading, probably by a stroke or two, but I couldn't know for sure because there were not many scoreboards at Pebble Beach. All I knew for certain was that I had turned the front side in even-par 36, which I figured was as good a score as any player had posted, considering the strong winds, the cementlike greens and the mental pressures. Also, Lee Trevino, my playing partner and the man I thought would make the best move at me, had turned in a three-over-par 39. Everything else was a blank. I certainly never even dreamed that I held a four-shot lead which, as it turned out, I did.
On the 10th hole, one of the toughest par 4s in golf, so tough that only one of the top 10 finishers in the Open made even a par there on Sunday, I wanted to land my tee shot on the right side of the fairway because the pin was set on the left side of the green and the long right-to-left route to the green offered the only hazard-free approach. I had not missed a drive to the right all week long, and I had no reason to think I was going to miss this one. But a gust of wind hit me on my backswing and forced me slightly off-balance. The result was a bad slice that landed on a neck of the beach along Carmel Bay. Oh, well, the Pacific Ocean is not out-of-bounds at Pebble Beach. As I walked out onto the cliff overlooking the beach 100 feet below, I thought I would be able to play the ball. Then I saw it. It looked like a fried egg sunny-side up. It was badly plugged, embedded in the wet sand. Sure, I could have played it, but I did not think I could get it back onto level land in one shot. So I did the only sensible thing: took a one-stroke penalty and dropped another ball over my shoulder.
I then walked ahead about 75 yards to where my drives usually landed and calculated the total distance to the pin. It was 221 yards—exactly. A two-iron shot, I thought. "Hit it onto the green. Jack," I said to myself, "take your two putts for a bogey and then run to the next tee." I hit the ball solidly into a crossing wind, and for a fleeting second I thought it was going to end up in the middle of the green. But I didn't have enough club—I needed a one-iron—and the ball disappeared over the cliff, short and to the right of the green. Was I mad? Not really. I figured I was not the only player making mistakes. And you don't get mad at Pebble Beach because it will only hurt you worse. Luckily, my ball was sitting up nicely in the deep rough. I hit a fair shot with my sand wedge and the ball rolled up about 10 feet short of the cup. Then I thought I made a perfect putt. Putts break toward the ocean, right? Well, usually. But this one, to my amazement, broke left at the hole—away from the ocean—and I had my first double bogey of the Open.
So forget it, fast. I made a routine par at the 11th, and now I became really curious for the first time. Was I still leading or had some other player taken over? No matter, I still had to contend with Pebble Beach. I went for my three-iron at the par-3 12th, hit what I thought was a perfect shot: a boring hook into a crosswind. The ball carried the big bunker in front, landed 10 feet short of the pin and, as I watched dejectedly from the tee, bounced crazily on the hard green and skipped over everything, finally rolling down a sharp embankment and stopping in the worst lie imaginable, buried in thick grass.
As I walked onto the green, I sneaked my first look all day at a leader board. When I do look at a board, all I want to know are the scores. The names never interest me. Now I saw that I still led the Open. And by two shots! But here I was staring at a bogey—at least. No way I was going to charge the shot and watch it gallop into the bunker on the far side. As it was, I missed hitting a perfect shot by a matter of inches, the ball stopping in the short rough at the top of the embankment behind the green. Then I pitched the ball from the embankment, and it rolled about eight feet below the cup. I now felt I had to make this putt—or else.
"Look," I said to myself, "you've just made one double bogey and you're not going to make another one." I was not nervous. I worked as hard as I could on the putt. It was easy to read: play the ball about half an inch outside the right edge of the cup. A right-to-left putt. Easier than a left-to-right putt any day. What it all came down to was a matter of making myself feel comfortable over the ball, something I had not been able to do all week. (I discovered the reason for my putting discomfort when I returned home to Palm Beach, Fla. the day after the Open. When I play in a televised tournament I have a friend, Sock-eye Davis, videotape it for me, and later I study the tape in an attempt to find flaws in my game. Well, Monday afternoon I watched the complete 5½ hours of the Open that ABC televised live, and right away I noticed that my right shoulder was much too low as I putted. This meant I was cramped over the ball, that I had to lift my right shoulder in order to take the putter away from the ball. Bad. My shoulders should never move during my putting stroke.)
However, I did get comfortable over the putt on the 12th green, and I tapped the ball ever so gently. There was never a doubt. And here's the kind of man Trevino is. When my ball was halfway to the hole, he shouted, "Get in there!" It did. I had saved my bogey and kept the lead. Looking back, that was the putt that won the Open.
I parred the 13th and the 14th, then birdied the 15th with a 12-foot putt. It was a right-to-left break again, thank you. Although I had not seen a leader board since the 12th green, I figured I must be leading. After hitting my second shot to the 16th green, I knew it because a man yelled out from the gallery, "Don't worry about it, Jack, you're ahead by three." Then, for the first time all week, I felt I did not have to play the course to win. Pars were no longer vital. I figured I could win with a couple of bogeys and one par. And I got the par at 16. But as I walked to the 17th tee a funny feeling hit me.
That morning I had awakened at seven o'clock. I usually sleep very well the night before the last round of a tournament, but not this time. From seven to nine I must have played the 17th and the 18th holes 1,000 times in my mind. As I imagined it, I arrived at the 17th with a four-stroke lead. But there was no way I could make par on the 17th because I knew the USGA would place the pin on the left side of the hump on the green, and I couldn't reach there with an iron. So I decided to take my bogey at 17. The 18th hole, as I tossed and turned in bed, was even worse: I was still leading by two shots, but I had no way to get the ball into the fairway off the tee. I played a driver off the tee, then a three-wood, finally a one-iron—over and over and over again. I hit the ball into the ocean or out-of-bounds every time. At last I jumped out of bed and told my wife Barbara, "I've played the 17th and 18th holes for two hours—and I can't play them. I don't know what I'm going to do if I ever get there today with a three- or four-shot lead, but I don't want to play there again right now."
Oddly enough, I did have a three-stroke lead that afternoon when I reached the 17th. Instead of deciding on a safe shot out to the right, though, I hit one of my best one-irons dead into the wind. I could not see the ball after it cleared the bunker in front, but it struck the pin and stopped only inches away. It was a tap-in for a birdie and it gave me a four-stroke lead going to the final hole. Despite my early-morning fears about the 18th, I hit the fairway easily, played up short and then pitched onto the green.