With that flying right elbow on his backswing and those small hands that force him to use the unorthodox interlocking grip and all of that time he takes standing over his putts, the chances are that Jack Nicklaus probably will never win 30 major championships. It has to catch up with him sooner or later, any golfing expert can see that.
Yeah, sure. Jack won his 19th major—six more than Bobby Jones or anyone else, ever—last week by turning the PGA Championship at the Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. into a hunting expedition in which you were supposed to find the rest of the field. But you could see that because of Nicklaus' age, which is 40, his desire and the mechanics of his game were deteriorating at the finish.
He made a bogey on the next-to-last hole and won his fifth PGA by only seven strokes, not eight. Oak Hill was definitely the beginning of the end because the course had been made tougher to prevent anyone from shooting an embarrassing 275, five under par, as Lee Trevino had back in 1968 when he won the U.S. Open. And on this tree-infested, rough-gnarled, water-patrolled layout, which had been carefully, even evilly, doctored, the best Jack could do was fire rounds of 70, 69, 66 and 69 for a total of 274.
Strangely, at the beginning of the week Nicklaus probably would have settled for a 274 for three rounds, not four. Like most golfers in their 40s, Nicklaus had lost his putting stroke somewhere, probably on the basketball court alongside his home at Lost Tree Village in Florida. He said he had used some 40 putts in one exhibition round with Tom Watson at Lake Tahoe, meaning he had suffered at least four three-putt greens—a year's supply in the good old days.
Nicklaus' putting was in such a sad state that he was even thinking of abandoning the old George Low flange-model putter that he had used in winning 17 of his 18 previous major championships. In 1967 Nicklaus won the U.S. Open at Baltusrol with his so-called White Fang putter, a center-shafted gold Bulls Eye that his wife, Barbara, kept dipping in white paint. But White Fang's luster wore off, and Nicklaus abandoned it after the '68 Open at Oak Hill. Two weeks ago, Nicklaus sent out to a number of golf shops for a handful of different putters and took many of them north; he tried one model, a Ping A-Blade similar to the putter preferred by Watson, for three straight practice rounds at Muirfield Village in his native Columbus, but that didn't seem to be the answer, either. Earlier he had even removed White Fang from the trophy case at Muirfield and put it in his bag—just in case he felt the urge. But back it went—unused.
Then, on Monday night, following Jack Nicklaus Day in Columbus, Nicklaus was on the putting green at Muirfield with his son, Jackie, a two-handicapper who starts college at North Carolina this fall. Jack couldn't hole anything, as usual, and was growing more exasperated by the minute. But Jackie came to the rescue, telling his father that his stance looked peculiar and that he was quitting on the stroke after impact and pulling his putter to the left.
Ah, thanks, son, and here's your allowance. Jack not only took Jackie's advice, he suddenly started to hole everything—and never stopped. In his four rounds at Oak Hill, Nicklaus, using his trusty Low flange, had only 117 putts, including just 27 on Friday and 28 on Saturday, and every time he "needed" a putt he made it.
And so the major championships keep piling up for this most remarkable of athletes. In case you've been marooned on an atoll for the last 20 years, Nicklaus now has won five Masters, four U.S. Opens, three British Opens and two U.S. Amateurs in addition to those five PGAs.
By adding this PGA to the U.S. Open he tore out of the New Jersey woods at Baltusrol in June, Jack became only the third man in history to take those two titles in the same year. Gene Sarazen did it in 1922 and Ben Hogan did it in 1948. Good company. Last week's victory in the city that produced Walter Hagen also marked the fifth time in his career that Jack claimed two majors in the same year, and it enabled him to tie Hagen in the category of Most PGA Championships Won. The world's largest bookshelf may be needed one of these days to store all the records that belong to Nicklaus.
The amusing thing about the 62nd PGA is that it came down to a contest between Nicklaus and the architects who had changed Oak Hill, and had done it much to the displeasure of just about every competitor in the field except Jack. These gentlemen were George Fazio, the old pro, and his nephew Tom.