This is the
underpinning of all tournament golf: We believe the scores. After Annika
Sorenstam plays her opening round at the Samsung World Championship this week,
the AP will report that the defending champion shot some two-digit score. No
headline will say, sorenstam claims to shoot 68. She'll turn in a score, and
we'll trust it.
"That's right," says Jack Nicklaus, about to tell a vintage (1974)
story that he has never before told in public. "Without that, it all falls
Nicklaus understood the rules at a young age. In 1953, pudgy 13-year-old Jackie
Nicklaus of Columbus, Ohio, was playing in his first national championship, the
U.S. Junior at Southern Hills. "I got to the 1st tee maybe 30 seconds
before my tee time," he says. His opponent was there, ready to go. Joe Dey,
the USGA's executive director, was on the tee too. Dey was a man with a rule
book in one blazer pocket and a Bible in the other. Nicklaus remembers him
saying, "Young man, had you arrived here a half-minute later, you'd be
walking to the 2nd tee 1 down." That's the match-play penalty for showing
up late--automatic loss of hole. In stroke play the penalty is
disqualification. Sure, it's harsh. Life is harsh. Young Jackie was all ears
with Mr. Dey.
Nicklaus went on
to play high-level amateur golf through the 1950s and on the Tour through the
'60s, '70s, '80s and '90s. He was never late for a tee time. Not once. Every
time out, thousands of times all told, he counted his clubs on the 1st tee and
his strokes in the scorer's tent. His golf manners were famously pensive and
laborious--Angie, find a rules guy, he'd tell his caddie, Angelo Argea--but he
was always sure about what he was doing, and his career was unblemished by a
single rules fracas.
Yet one incident
has been on his mind for 32 years now. During the fourth round of the 1974
British Open at Royal Lytham, Nicklaus was in the hunt, trying to catch his
friend Gary Player. On the 15th hole, a long par-4, Nicklaus's approach
finished in a pot bunker 80 yards short of the green. Nicklaus tried to blast
out, but the ball caught the wall of the bunker, ricocheted off it, went over
Nicklaus's head and back into the trap. During his follow-through, his clubhead
smashed into the wall of the bunker "and a whole lot of crap went
flying," Nicklaus says--pieces of turf, sand, small rocks. Nicklaus lowered
his head to keep the debris out of his eyes and something hit him on the back
of his shoulder.
There was a rules
official walking with the group--Dey, on the scene again, less than 10 feet
"Did the ball
hit me?" Nicklaus asked. Dey, the first commissioner of the modern PGA
Tour, was one of Nicklaus's mentors.
said, "the ball went over you. It never touched you."
butchered the hole. In the scorer's tent, before signing his card, he turned to
Dey and asked again, "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely," Dey replied.
for a 71 and finished third, five shots behind Player's winning score.