Years from now when the occasion is recalled, there will likely be four or five million people who will claim they were in the elegant Ohio woods near Columbus with Jack Nicklaus, some friends of his and all of those Japanese film makers in electric carts the day they shot Birdies on the Orient Express, or whatever Jack decides to title it. Indeed, last Friday was no ordinary day in the history of professional golf. It was a day when Nicklaus invited three chums named Lee Trevino, Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller to join him in a carefree little 18-hole round for $1,000 a pop, complete with greenies and carryovers—a cat game, as it is known outside the councilroom of the USGA—and all that the foursome did was put on a show for the ages. The festivities were recorded in sight and sound for U.S. and global viewing. Unless lunatics get involved in the editing, the result just might be one of the landmark contributions to the sport. As the high priest of cat games, Lee Trevino said, "We might have been out there to have fun, but, man, we hauled off and played jam up and jelly tight."
There is nothing, really, to compare it with. It was not a tournament. It was not an exhibition. And it was not hard-core gambling, which means that Deane Be-man, the PGA commissioner, can raise up from the wash basin and stop gagging. If anything, it began as a device for Nicklaus to promote his new course and club, Muirfield Village, and the Memorial Tournament he will sponsor there on the tour late next spring. It became, however, a happening.
Getting Nicklaus, Trevino, Weiskopf and Miller together for a round of golf was intriguing in itself. Putting them on a course that is already a work of art provided something more. To have the, day turn out to be the kind that inspires songs and poems about leaves and things did not hurt. Nor did the nearly six continuous hours of Trevino's humor. But, finally, on top of everything else, to have those particular superstars provide the type of golf they did was almost too heavy.
In Japan they will probably show every single shot that all four players hit and air every remark that was recorded through the magic of the small, wireless, radio frequency mikes Jack and the others wore. They do that sort of thing in Japan—a show runs forever. But anyone who is not planning to move to Osaka will also get at least two hours' worth. CBS-TV was a co-producer of sorts, and you should check your local listings next Jan. 3. So much for their promo.
Here is what happened in the golf game, insofar as the scoring was concerned. Miller birdied the 2nd hole. Miller and Trevino birdied the 3rd hole. Trevino and Nicklaus birdied the 4th hole. Weiskopf birdied the 5th hole. Weiskopf birdied the 6th hole. Nicklaus and Miller birdied the 7th hole. Nicklaus birdied the 9th hole. Miller birdied the 11th hole. Weiskopf birdied the 12th hole. Nicklaus eagled the 15th hole. Nicklaus birdied the 16th hole. And Weiskopf birdied the 17th hole.
As a foursome, the immortals were 13 under par on a course that can take its place on any list of Pine Valleys and Pebble Beaches you want to draw up. It must have seemed all the more amazing to the 5,000 spectators that the heroes could shoot this kind of golf with wires running up inside their shirts, and while waiting for 20 cameras to be moved by the Orient Express—about 10 electric carts manned by assorted versions of Cecil B. DeShingu-san.
The game they played worked like this: low score on a hole got $1,000. It was two tie, all tie. And there were those carryovers. Thus, when the 1st hole was halved with pars, the 2nd hole was worth $2,000 to Miller when he rolled in a 30-foot putt for a birdie.
Miller had rapped the putt too firmly but it struck the pin and went in.
Up on the green Nicklaus said, "I'm afraid I'll have to deduct the cost of a new flagstick, John. You cracked that one."
One of the best holes at Muirfield Village is the 3rd, a dangerous and scenic par-4 lined with trees, with a green guarded by a creek, a deep bunker and overhanging limbs. Trevino and Miller both hit glorious irons into the green. Lee putted first and curled it in. Nicklaus and Weiskopf then began to help Miller line up the putt that would halve the hole if he could sink it.