He is a known Communist. He kidnapped the Lindbergh baby. He attacked Pearl Harbor. He peddles dope and he—what? Oh, sorry. We were all just sitting around out here in Akron trying to think up something new to say about Jack Nicklaus.
It is getting rather difficult, for last week Nicklaus did that thing again. He won another major golf championship, which is like saying the sun always sets in the West. This time it was the National PGA at the Firestone Country Club. The PGA is a tournament Jack tends to win a lot, and Firestone has contributed its part to keeping him solvent over the years, thank you.
This PGA has already been billed as Sweet Sixteen, which means that it is Nicklaus' 16th major title, and, quickly now, before everyone nods off, let's total them up one more time for posterity. It's four PGAs, five Masters, three U.S. Opens, two British Opens and those two U.S. Amateurs he won way back before he started amassing twice as many majors as Arnold Palmer or any of his contemporaries.
The final round of this PGA had a chance to be suspenseful only if Nicklaus played poorly. On Saturday he had taken command with a 67. He had a four-stroke lead over Bruce Crampton, and the only other competitors with a chance were Hale Irwin and Tom Weiskopf, but they each needed to shoot so low they were out bets. Everything really hinged on Jack's occasional flair for getting lazy, or going daft, as he had in June at the U.S. Open at Medinah.
For about 30 minutes on Sunday it looked as if Jack might accommodate everyone. He drove poorly and bogeyed the 1st hole. He salvaged a birdie at the easy 2nd only by dropping a 12-foot putt. He found himself forced to use his trusty pitching wedge at the 3rd and almost hit it in the water, taking another bogey. Thus, he was one over par and sliding backward as his pursuers licked their chops.
But Nicklaus brought an immediate halt to his slide as he began to play very solid golf. When he ran off a stretch of pars, it became evident that only some birdie shooting on the part of Crampton and the others would provide a dramatic ending. Nothing like this occurred. In fact, it was Jack himself who rapped in the birdies, at the 11th and 15th holes, so he could finish with a laugher of a double bogey on the final hole and still beat Crampton by two strokes.
In winning for the sixth time at Firestone (he has taken the World Series there four times and the American Golf Classic once) and in adding $45,000 to the near-$330,000 he had won in Akron previously, thus bringing him up to second place behind Raymond Firestone in local earnings, Jack calmly and not so calmly shot rounds of 70, 68, 67 and 71 for a total of 276. The most fascinating statistic involved poor Crampton, who finished second in a major championship for the fourth time in his career, and each time Nicklaus was the winner.
Much will be said about how close Nicklaus came to the Grand Slam in 1975. He won the Masters and the PGA, and he lost the U.S. and British Opens by a total of only three strokes, but maybe it can be argued that he did not actually come so close. His play at Medinah was deplorable all the way, and he was never emotionally involved in the championship. The fact that the field backed up far enough to give him a chance to win on the last day caught him by surprise, and perhaps this is why he couldn't deliver the shots he needed when the opportunity presented itself. In Jack's mind he had already lost the tournament. To a lesser degree the same thing happened at Carnoustie.
The mere suggestion annoys him, but it may well be true that Jack's indifferent performances at Medinah and Carnoustie can be traced to some of the difficulties he has had in getting his new Columbus golf course and real-estate development and next year's tournament on a smooth path and getting much of his high finance under firmer control. Earlier in the year he put golf ahead of business to remind Johnny Miller who the boss was. When he returned to business, his golf suffered. Well, it sagged, shall we say.
But that is one of the amazing things about him. Just let him hear it whispered that he's 35, after all, and he can't go on making those shots and those putts forever, and look how he kind of fell apart at Medinah and Carnoustie—and then here comes Nicklaus again.