You've hit two shots on television now in crucial situations, both of them with a one-iron. There was the shot to the 17th at Pebble in the '72 Open on the last day when you thought you had to have it. It got in there about three inches from the cup. And there was the one-iron to the 15th on Sunday at Augusta. Since you're a better golfer these days, do we dismiss the one at Pebble into a 40-mile wind as just good luck, the kind of thing that Bruce Crampton always expects to happen to him?
"That was a bad swing. I must have been choking. I couldn't believe the results. The shot at Augusta might have been the best golf shot I've ever hit. It had to carry more than 240 yards. You don't win a tournament on one shot, but there was quite a bit riding on that one. The shot was so pure—and I knew it the instant I hit it—I wouldn't have been surprised if it had gone in the hole. I honestly don't mean it to sound like bragging but when you do something like that, under the pressure of a win-or-lose situation—and, as I say, Augusta represented a comeback for me—it's pretty satisfying. It's that kind of moment that makes you think, by golly, I can still play this game."
You've said before, privately, that major championships are easier to win, to an extent, than the normal tour event. Want to make that clear for the world out there?
"They're played on tougher courses, which eliminates a lot of people. If you look at them from the viewpoint that you have a smaller field in the Masters and British Open, then by sheer numbers they should be easier. What I'm talking about is attitude. A major championship is a battle of nerves, among other things. What I mean is there aren't that many players in the field of a major championship who can actually visualize themselves winning. They're defeated from the start. Therefore, those of us who think we can win have fewer people to beat. Anybody can win, of course, if everything falls together, and some real long shots have won, as the history books tell you. In a regular tour tournament, you tee off 144 guys and at least 100 of them aren't afraid to win. But in the four major championships, which are sort of the four Super Bowls we play every year, there probably aren't more than 25 players who deep down think they have a chance unless they happen to get hot. And there may not be more than six or eight who actually expect to win."
You've said that just being involved in something like the last round of the Masters, when you and Weiskopf and Miller were all living up to your advance notices, was the most fun you've ever had in golf. Exhilarating might have been a better word. Fun? Would it have been as much fun if you'd lost?
"Naturally, it was more exciting to win. More rewarding. All that. But, darn it, it was fun. It was fun to be a part of that. I hope Johnny and Tom feel that way. Any one of us could have won because there's always an element of luck in golf no matter how well you play. Had I lost, I still would have felt privileged to have been a part of something that people would call one of the greatest tournaments ever played. It was fun to be out there in the middle of all that. That's what you work at to become in this game. Someone who can be involved in that kind of drama and competition. You know, I lost the British Open at Muir-field in 1972 when there was all of this Grand Slam talk and it was very disappointing. But being a part of that tournament was one of the two or three biggest thrills in my life. In the last round when I got to five under through 10 holes and was in the lead, playing just ahead of Trevino and Tony Jacklin, I experienced something that's never happened to me before or since. The 11th hole was completely encircled with people and they were all cheering me on, all the way to the green. And even though I was a long way from winning or losing I found myself walking down that fairway with tears in my eyes. Well, I lost the tournament by a shot, but I wouldn't take anything for the experience."
Did the thought ever occur to you, back then, that you were possibly too young to win the Slam? That it would be coming too early in the old career?
"It's funny. I did think that. In a strange way, I didn't want to do it. I thought, what'll I do then? I'm too young to retire. I would have gone ahead and done it, of course, if it hadn't been for Trevino and a few other people."
Yeah, uh, it's probably a good rule to take a Slam wherever you can find one. Would you be tempted to quit now, if you could win at Medinah, Carnoustie and Firestone?
"Those are three awfully big ifs. If I have to answer that, I would say that I would certainly gear down. It wouldn't be quitting exactly. I think I would play maybe eight or nine tournaments a year, including the Big Four. I would still want to win major championships."