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Oscars for three stars
Jack Nicklaus
January 06, 1975
For most dollars, titles and class, 1974 awards go to Johnny Miller, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer, while the author awaits the new season
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January 06, 1975

Oscars For Three Stars

For most dollars, titles and class, 1974 awards go to Johnny Miller, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer, while the author awaits the new season

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It's a strange starting point for a backward look at 1974, but the golfer I admired most last year was Arnold Palmer. I don't suppose he has ever done as poorly—no wins and only $36,293 in earnings—in his life, but he set a marvelous example of sportsmanship.

Some of our young "stars" on the tour could learn a lot from Arnold's deportment. Here is a man who has been such an outstanding golfer that a lot of people seem to think he invented the game, and now he often is struggling to make the cut. Does he start beating his clubs on the ground or hockey-sticking his putts or walking out of tournaments? No. He just goes on working and keeping the anguish to himself, and smiling when it hurts the most. I admire that. He is a true pro. I think Arnold has handled himself beautifully.

I think you will see Palmer in the winner's circle again this year. He certainly isn't too old—in fact, he looks in as good shape as he has ever been. What I think has happened to Arnold is that he is relying too heavily on his putting. Ten years ago he was the greatest putter the world has ever seen, but now he putts no better than the rest of us do. Therefore, he is under tremendous pressure on the greens, which in turn eventually affects his long game.

It is a vicious circle that is easy to get into: when you don't hole the long putts, it puts pressure on the rest of your game as you try to hit the ball closer to the pin. That often makes you miss more fairways and greens, which increases the pressure on your putting.... But I think a man with Arnold's talent and desire is going to find a way out sooner or later.

Johnny Miller's outstanding year—eight victories and more than a third of a million dollars in prize money—did not surprise me. Miller's swing is the soundest on the tour. In fact, I'd try to teach his technique to a youngster starting out to play golf: a powerful setup with the ball close in, upright arc, hands high and well under the club at the top, strong leg and hip action, a big, high finish. Undoubtedly one reason I like Johnny's technique so much is that it's basically the way I try to play.

When he is right, Miller knocks his irons closer to the hole more often than anyone on the tour. Last year he capitalized on that with some fantastic putting spells—five, six, seven one-putts in a row. That's inspired putting, the kind of thing Palmer used to do, and still expects to do. I've had my magic moments, too, but generally my good years have come from what you might call consistently adequate putting rather than flashes of brilliance. I'll take Miller-type flashes anytime.

Actually, I don't think Johnny impressed himself nearly so much last year as he impressed the sports world. Eight victories is certainly good for the bank balance, but what I bet is on his mind as he looks back—and forward—is his major championship record. After the kind of year Johnny had, it's easy to have a letdown the next season (which is what I think happened to Tom Weiskopf in 1974). But it is my guess that not finishing in the top 10 last year in the Masters, the U.S. Open and the PGA will prevent this happening to Miller. Those and the British Open are the titles that endure, that put your name in lights. Miller wants them, and I think he'll come out in 1975 as hungry as ever. One thing on his side is that he did not start to reach physical maturity until his mid-20s, and now at 27 he is just attaining his full strength. Another asset is his capacity to concentrate, his ability to barricade himself within himself. I'll be surprised if he doesn't win several major championships within the next few years.

Still another of Miller's strengths is his knowledge of his own golf swing. Here is the factor behind the disappointing 1974 showings of Ben Crenshaw and Lanny Wadkins. Both have great natural talent, flair, energy and desire, but as yet neither understands his own swing well enough to be his own teacher. I was lucky in this respect. Back in my mid-teens Bobby Jones told me that the true cause of his lean years was his need to run back to his teacher every time something went wrong with his game. "I was a pretty fair player all those years I had someone to depend on," said Jones, "but I became a really good player only after I'd worked the golf swing out for myself and could correct my mistakes without outside help."

Until I spoke to Jones I had always tended to ask my teacher, Jack Grout, "Why?" whenever he told me to do something, and Jack as part of his teaching system had always been careful to explain the "why" along with the "what." My talk with Jones intensified that approach, with the result that by the time I turned professional at 21 I knew enough about the swing's basic cause and effect factors, and their relationship to my own style of play, to be able to take my game apart and put it together again inside my head.

It seems to me that Crenshaw, Wadkins and some of the other youngsters on the tour still have to perform that learning chore. If and when they do they'll be awfully tough.

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