At first Oakland Hills was simply another of Donald Ross' many designs, and not among his more distinguished. In the 1924 U.S. Open it produced a relatively unknown champion, Cyril Walker, primarily because Bobby Jones played the 10th hole in seven over par to lose by three strokes. In the 1937 Open, Ralph Guldahl established a 72-hole record of 281. At this point Oakland Hills' championship qualities were seriously being questioned. But then came the 1951 Open and what Robert Trent Jones calls the birth of modern golf architecture—and the "monster."
When Trent Jones redesigned Oakland Hills for the '51 Open, it was said that he forgot only two things: fairways and greens. Oakland Hills that year had the narrowest fairways, the highest rough and the most severely placed bunkers of any course ever. The architect said he had invented "double target" golf to test the ever-improving abilities of the game's great players. When Ben Hogan won that Open by firing a final-round 67 for a 287—15 strokes higher than the scores posted by Graham and Crenshaw—Oakland Hills gained its reputation as a monster. Hogan supposedly said, "I finally brought the monster to its knees," although no one who was there that day can recall Ben using the word monster.
Afterward there was so much talk about the "Indian file" fairways and the bomb-crater bunkers that Oakland Hills was again tampered with—made easier for two subsequent majors, the 1961 Open that Gene Littler won and the 1972 PGA that went to Gary Player. Their winning totals echoed Guldahl's 281, but the layout was still thought to be a "monster," such creatures being courses refusing to yield a number below par.
It was with all of this in mind last week that Oakland Hills' members took to moaning over the low scores that a "slow and softened" course yielded. After Tom Watson shot 66 the first day, Alan Tapie shot 65 the second day and Caldwell 66 the third day; after 15 sub-par rounds on Thursday, 18 on Friday and 18 on Saturday; after it was obvious that the winner and a few other chaps were going to break 280 on this hallowed Hogan-land, the greens superintendent, Ted Woehrle, was thinking about wearing a disguise.
He had said after two rounds, "My biggest problem now is the red numbers on the board. The members are angry."
Pre-tournament rains did nothing to speed the course up, but neither did the sprinkler system. It is possible that Oakland Hills would have been more difficult if the watering system had broken back in June. The fairways were lush because of the sprinklers, and there was no rough despite the rain, a paradox. Fairways are supposed to be "down" and greens are supposed to be like lightning for major championships, but at Oakland Hills neither was the case. Thus, tee shots did not skitter into trouble, and even four-wood shots held on the greens.
"We aren't seeing the true character of Oakland Hills," said Crenshaw. "But it's still a great place. I can't stand on the 10th tee without thinking about the double bogeys Jones made there and the birdie Hogan made."
Despite the easy conditions, the PGA still had plenty of glamour. Watson gave it luster on opening day, and when Crenshaw became the 36-hole leader there was certainly no reason for disappointment. Other fine players were hanging in there: Jerry Pate, Hubert Green, Graham Marsh—and David Graham. Weakened or not, venerable old Oakland Hills was going to produce a fitting champion to go along with the Hogans, Players and Littlers who had won in the past.
There was only one problem. Rex Caldwell. With his swaggering and his waggish remarks, he was a hero only in the press tent. He declared himself the greatest putter in the game. He wallowed in his gun-slinging role as an unknown upstart. On Saturday night he even predicted that he would, in fact, win the tournament.
The mysteries of putting had been solved by him in only one week. He had changed his swing to keep himself from falling backward so far on his follow-through. He had shaved off his mustache to make himself look more like a golfer.