All week long there were these wonderfully crazy scenes out there on this evil thing called Oakland Hills in Michigan, mostly of the world's best golfers being made to look like steam fitters wandering through the countryside searching for their kids or their picnic baskets. There were glimpses of Jack Nicklaus hollering at his shots, of Lee Trevino trying to laugh the course to death and using a six-wood, of Arnold Palmer growling at the swerving greens. Finally, there was the funniest and yet the most dramatic scene of all. It came in the dark, misty gloom of Sunday after it had seemed that nobody—really, nobody—wanted to win the PGA championship, the last of the year's major tournaments. It came at the 16th hole, the most evil of the 18 evil holes at Oakland Hills, a 408-yard par-4 dogleg to a narrow green, lake in front, bunkers behind. There, Gary Player sent a ball flying out of the rough and soaring over some willows at either a flagstick, the beckoning lake, the bunker or oblivion. As the ball hung up there in the air, Player broke into a dead run to his left for a better view of where it might be headed. So did the thousands behind him. Everybody ran. And ran. For a hilarious instant, it looked as if Player had stolen somebody's wallet and the mob was in pursuit. What they all discovered when they rounded the trees, however, was that Player had run right into the championship.
Until that moment, it had looked very much as if the man in contention who could bogey the fewest holes would wind up being the winner. It had also looked like there might be a 10-way tie and the world's most congested playoff. Tough courses can do this. At one point during the afternoon there were 10 players only one stroke apart and, throughout most of the final round there were stages when two, three, four and five men were sharing the lead.
Inevitably it was up to the last man on the golf course. Gary Player, to hit the one shot that would make the difference, a shot that would bring a merciful end to the PGA and reestablish Player among the giants of the game. What Player did, when he precisely had to, was slug a nine-iron exactly 150 yards—150 blind yards—to within three feet of the cup for one of the most precious birdies ever.
"It was either going to be a three or in the lake," Player was to say later.
It was the time for that kind of gamble. In all of the confusion of the final round at Oakland Hills, everything had settled down to what Player, who had been the 54-hole leader, would do. Everyone else had collapsed on the closing holes. All those Jim Jamiesons, Ray Floyds, Billy Caspers, Gay Brewers, Tommy Aarons and Jerry Heards, all the guys who had drifted in and out of contention.
The scene was this: Player had just bogeyed two holes in a row and now had driven wildly into the right rough of the 16th, and he knew as he dwelt on the shot that he clung to a one-stroke lead on whichever of those Jamiesons or Aarons could reach the big white clubhouse without suffering the loss of life or limb.
"I was really demoralized." Player said. "I'd worked hard, as I always do, for this major championship, and I felt that it was mine to win and here I was this close, but it was slipping away."
He knew the distance of the shot, those 150 yards, but all Player could see as he bent over and peeked through the willows was a spectator's folding chair in the crowd behind the green. He fussed around and peeked some more and discovered that the chair gave him some kind of a line to the flag.
"I didn't want to hit a nine-iron 150 yards, but I had to get up over those trees," he explained. "Fortunately, I had a decent lie in the rough. I told myself that I was going for everything."
The shot was absolutely perfect, even if Gary didn't get to see it land and bite on the green, being as how he was out there running across the fairway. It was the shot that enabled Player to cover Oakland Hills' last three treacherous holes in one under par on a day when just about everybody else played them in one, two and even three over, as Jim Jamieson did. The shot also helped Player to a final 72 to go with his earlier rounds of 71, 71 and Saturday's 67 for a 281, and the ultimate two-stroke victory over Jamieson and Aaron.