SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
August 14, 1978
It was a long time coming and no one deserved it more than John Mahaffey, who put his troubles behind him and won the PGA Championship in sudden death
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August 14, 1978

Jumping For Joy

It was a long time coming and no one deserved it more than John Mahaffey, who put his troubles behind him and won the PGA Championship in sudden death

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Miller's final-round 63 in 1973, although partly aided by rain-dampened greens, severely bruised the egos of Oakmont's members, and for this PGA, Oakmont was determined to present a golf course which would be more akin to the Oakmont of Sam Parks' day, when his winning total was an alarming 299 and everyone else slid off the greens and down a hill toward the Allegheny River.

Early in the week it seemed that Oakmont had what it wanted, greens so speedy and dangerous that Nicklaus, among others, said that on some of them there wasn't even a place to set a cup. Or as Lee Trevino said, "The only way you can stop a ball around here is to call a policeman."

The next thing that happened, though, was the last thing Oakmont lovers wanted. Rain. Thursday's storm, which suspended play for nearly two hours off and on, swamped the course, and the result was, as in Miller's Open, an uncharacteristic Oakmont for the 60th annual championship of the PGA.

From the outset, players were able to throw their iron shots at the flags like darts, and while the greens remained reasonably "quick," as the pros like to say, their speed could be described as perfect rather than horrible or frustrating. In short, the conditions were ideal for good scoring if the competitor was on his game.

Rather curiously, one fellow in particular was nowhere near his peak—Nicklaus. Here was Jack, flushed with the success of winning the British Open and at Philadelphia in successive weeks before resting up a week for Oakmont. Here was Nicklaus, back on a course where in 1962 he had taken the U.S. Open in a playoff with Arnold Palmer, his first major title as a professional. Here was Nicklaus with a chance to add one more record to his list—a fifth PGA trophy would tie him with Walter Hagen.

But on Thursday morning it was only someone who looked like Nicklaus who teed off. On No. 1 he pulled his drive into an Oakmont ditch, had to chip out, and made a bogey. On the 2nd hole he pulled another tee shot so badly that he managed to turn some trees into an obstacle. He had to hit a shot lefthanded in the hope of escaping worse trouble, and he wound up with a double bogey.

From there, Jack thrashed around to a 79, one of the worst rounds he had ever had in a major championship.

"Sometimes you just can't get it going," Nicklaus said. "I could have shot a 79 almost anywhere today."

Barbara Nicklaus said it better. "He even walked sloppy."

Nicklaus insured that he wouldn't survive the 36-hole cut by making three double bogeys on the back nine Friday and shooting a 74, which left him at 153, five strokes too many. Thus, for only the fourth time in his professional career, Nicklaus had missed a cut in a major. Trivia collectors may want to know the others: the '63 Open at Brookline, the '67 Masters and the '68 PGA at Pecan Valley in San Antonio.

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