Jack Nicklaus had not played a competitive round of golf for two months when he arrived at the Crosby. He was in high spirits after weeks of fishing and lallygagging in Florida and, frankly, he did not expect to win, but he did not anticipate making a beachcombing spectacle of himself, either. He was one under par on Thursday when he came to the famed 16th at Cypress Point. A spooky 222-yard, over-the-ocean hole, it is often played safe by the pros. Nicklaus abhors caution. Before you could shout "Fore!" he had hit his ball down the dizzying cliff at left. Not really at sea yet, because the tide was out, he declined to take an unplayable lie. He opened the face of his sand wedge and swung. Hard. Very hard. The ball shot straight into a truly unplayable lie, and Nicklaus ended up with an unseemly six.
Arnold Palmer, who does things in the grand manner, waited until he was on national television Saturday to do battle with the world's biggest water hazard, the Pacific Ocean. The scene was the long, par-3 17th at Pebble Beach. Palmer hit a three-wood shot over the green and into the pounding surf. He peered at his ball (above) as it rolled in and out with the waves like a beaching grunion, then finally gave up any hope of hitting it. Declaring it unplayable, he dropped it into some more rocks and water, only to be officially told that this spot, too, was part of the course. He now had little choice but to start swinging (below).
Palmer's first effort splashed the ball shoreward, where he was joined by a golden retriever, the kind of best friend he hardly needed (below). Shooing the dog away, he bounced the ball off a rock and back into the ocean again. He then declared another unplayable lie, dropped the ball on some more rocks and began again. Finally, with a battered wedge and a battered spirit, he got safely ashore and finished with a nightmare nine. Nobody could recall such a performance since, well, since Palmer shot a 12 in the 1961 L.A. Open. How did the incidents compare, he was asked? "The 12 was fun," he said. "Today was gruesome."
Golf's ocean-going greats did manage to retain their composure most of the time, or at least regain it. Just after Nicklaus faced his cliff-climbing ordeal, he could hardly hide his amusement (left) as he told Arnie and Winnie Palmer about the sea around us. Palmer had more trouble smiling, but largely because of a bad cold that had bothered him for two weeks, a misery not helped by walking through the Pacific in golf shoes. By Saturday night both Nicklaus and Palmer had played so poorly they had missed the cut, but their first meeting of 1964 was epic, nonetheless.
January 27, 1964
It was smiling Tony Lema who proved on Sunday that a man could play in the Crosby without fear of drowning—except, perhaps, in champagne. The wind howled, the rain fell and small-craft warnings went up, but Lema never panicked. He watched a prime opponent, Al Balding, shoot a horrible 88 and saw his own lead drop from eight strokes to two in mere minutes. Of one missed short putt, he said, "Only my sense of humor saved me. I had to laugh." Met at the clubhouse by reporters waving glasses, Champagne Tony laughed again. The party, he announced, was on him.