In 1962 Gary Player, the best golfer from Africa and a lot of other continents as well, privately promised friends that if he ever won the U.S. Open he would donate the prize money to charity. Last Monday at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis he firmly tapped in a short putt, turned from the hole and walked toward the scorer's tent with the businesslike air of a man about to give away $25,000, for 29-year-old Gary Player had finally won his U.S. Open. It had not only taken him three years to reach his give-away goal and win America's biggest golf championship, it had also taken him an extra day, the second delay being caused not by one of the U.S. golfing greats, but another pesky foreigner, 44-year-old Australian Kel Nagle. A sure winner with only three holes to play on Sunday, Player gave away a three-stroke lead instead of the purse money and finished in a tie with Nagle at 282. On Monday he made no such mistake, winning by three strokes, 71-74. Minutes later he was giving $20,000 to the junior golf program of the USGA, $5,000 to a cancer fund, paying his caddie $2,000 and saying, "I am a foreigner here. The American people have treated me so well I wanted to give something back."
Gary's largess, it turned out, was the last of three shocks that Bellerive and the 1965 U.S. Open dealt to the competitors and to those who follow the game closely. The first came when an essentially simple par-3 hole suddenly arose to be the most treacherous in all the long and humbling history of the Open, and the second came when the very type of golfers who seemed to have the least chance to win turned out to be the ones with the best chance of all.
The explanation for two of these things was apparently the same: the emphasis on strength in U.S. golf has allowed numbers of young touring pros to neglect the careful and testing shots that certain holes, and certain courses, demand. It was a bad week for the close-your-eyes-and-hit boys, and, from the number of golf balls sunk in the muddy bottom of the pond that flanks Bellerive's 6th green, it was a wet week for them, too. It was not just coincidence that after four days and 72 holes of golf at this year's Open, two foreigners found themselves locked in a tie at 282, two strokes over Bellerive's unconquerable par. Gary Player himself had anticipated something of the kind when the tournament was only half over.
Until then, just about everyone had thought that Bellerive, at 7,191 yards the longest course on which an Open Championship has ever been played, would be dominated by strength, by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and all the others who strike the golf ball like a cow boy trying to poleax a steer. "Distance is not so important here as you might think," Gary was explaining on Friday evening after taking a one-stroke lead over Nagle and Mason Rudolph, a very straight-hitting American from Tennessee. "You've got to remember about the rough, about the trouble on a long course like this. If you get in the rough it can hurt.
"The foreign players learn to hit the ball straighter," Gary went on. "In our countries, we have all this rough that you just would not believe, and you have absolutely no chance unless you can hit the ball straight. So we learn to hit it Straight first. Then we learn to hit it a little harder."
By Sunday afternoon, Bellerive had showed it was indeed too tough to be simply attacked and overpowered. The large and silent galleries, shuffling politely from hole to hole, told that story. Seldom was heard the great roar that greets a birdie putt by one of the leaders at a big tournament. The more common sound was the one that follows a double bogey, a groan that rose regularly over the soft sibilants of the wind that played through the leaves of the club's stately sycamores and elms. The groan became the hallmark of this year's U.S. Open.
But the first groans at Bellerive came from some of the players, who were upset by the length of the course. In 1960, to escape the creeping suburbs, Bellerive built its new course on the rolling Missouri farmlands west of St. Louis, and Robert Trent Jones, who designed it, must have gotten as swept up as the members were with all that open space. He used up miles of it.
Its fairways and greens were in splendid shape and the rough was not the impenetrable jungle it had been at some of the previous Open locales, but Bellerive got no good words from the kind of golfers who could not quite drive the ball across the Mississippi at its widest point—Deane Beman, for instance. Twice the U.S. Amateur champion and once the British, Beman must be rated as one of the two or three best amateurs of this generation. He is not, however, a very long hitter as modern golfers go. "This," he said about Bellerive on the day before the tournament began, "is lousy. It just typifies modern golf—long holes and big greens and no subtlety. I guess you would have to call me old-fashioned, but I don't see any merit in a golf course like this. It isn't a test of anything except whether you can hit the ball a mile."
On the other hand, Mike Souchak, who can hit the ball a mile, was inclined to minimize the size of the course. "You fellows put too much emphasis on the big hitters," he said to reporters. "You ought to be looking around for the garbage players. The garbage players win the Open—Venturi, Boros, Casper—guys who can get it up and down in two from around the green." When it comes to assessing golf courses, you can now score Souchak 1 up over Beman.
There is not a better garbage player in golf than Kel Nagle, who has been winning tournaments for the last 16 years, including the 1960 British Open, but has never won in the U.S. On this first day at Bellerive, Nagle came smilingly off the 18th green with a 68, two under par. It was only a little after noontime, so the day was young, and there was plenty of time for Nagle's early lead to evaporate, but when the last player in the big field holed out at 8:30 that night Nagle was still ahead.
It hardly seemed possible that a short hitter like Nagle could outplay all the famed sluggers at Bellerive. On four of the par-4 holes he had to use fairway woods to reach the greens, "and I would have on another hole as well," he said, "if I hadn't driven into the rough."
As if the short-hitting Nagle were not surprise enough, one of the two players trailing him by a stroke was Beman, who makes Nagle look like a muscle man. Of dire necessity and from long experience, Beman is an artist with the fairway woods, and relishes using them. (His wife, Miriam, who has a five-wood, says, "When we play I am always saying, 'Deane, can I hit an iron now, please?' 'No,' he says, 'hit the five-wood.' ") On this day Beman had to play fairway wood shots 13 times in 18 holes. Tied with Beman at 69 was consistent Mason Rudolph.
And where were the 16-inch guns of golf? The men who, as any fool knew, had the only chance on this long, long course? Well, Arnold Palmer finished early with a 76. After him came Jack Nicklaus—who had needed a fairway wood only once—with a 78; Bobby Nichols, the PGA champion, with a 77; and Johnny Pott, a slugger who has lately been on a hot streak, with an 80. Only Player's 70 and the 72s of Tony Lema, Julius Boros, Bruce Devlin and Dan Sikes salvaged the reputation of the tour's leading performers.
There were two reasons for this. First, even though its fairways had been widened by the USGA at the last minute, the real problem of Bellerive was now obviously not its length, but its trouble. Second, the field discovered the 6th hole, and never has a little golf hole made such an unexpected splash. This par-3 is a lovely thing to look at, with the long, narrow green sitting in a small grove of trees and a charming pond cutting deep into its right side. From the back of the tee to the upper reaches of the green is a distance of no more than 200 yards, a shot that a good tournament golfer can make from a sickbed without mussing the sheets. At sunup Thursday it was a longish par-3 of slight distinction, with a tiny cemetery on a ridge overlooking the tee and a first-aid station a few yards away. By sundown Thursday it had been played in 121 strokes over par, 39 balls had been hit into its pond, it had caused trouble without parallel in U.S. Open history, and if the first-aid station looked apt, the cemetery looked more so.
Friday was exit day. Exit Arnold Palmer. Goodby, Ken Venturi. So long, Gary Player. That's right, Gary Player, for this was the day that Player made it really clear that he was making a major move toward retirement. Gary is not very large at 5 feet 7, but his ambitions are Brobdingnagian, and one of them is to become a farmer at an early age, with all of golf's available honors lined up on his mantelpiece.
Nine years ago, when he was only 20, Player set himself six major goals: winning the U.S. Open, the British Open, the Masters and the PGA Championship, playing the U.S. professional tour with the lowest stroke average for an entire year and being the leading U.S. money winner for a year. That done, he figured he could retire to a farm in his native South Africa, raise the eight children he hopes to have (his wife Vivienne bore her fifth a few weeks ago) and contemplate his laurels in a pastoral setting. The U.S. Open Championship was the only one of his goals Gary had not yet achieved as the 1965 Open began.
Not many people thought highly of Gary's chances in this tournament. He had competed only seven times this year. More important, he is not an extremely long hitter. For the past couple of years he has been trying to remedy this one shortcoming—if it can be so regarded—by hoisting weights and following a strict health diet. (The year he won the Masters he formally endorsed raisins. Just the other day he agreed, at the behest of United Fruit, to make bananas "part of his way of life.")
"I have never felt better," he was telling everyone on the eve of the Open. Driving back to his motel after his final practice round, he said to his friend, George Blumberg, "I wish I hadn't hit the ball quite so well today. I don't like to play that well the day before the tournament starts. It worries me."
Blumberg, a South African businessman who spends months each year just following Player around the golf courses of the world, tried to console Gary. "You mustn't think that way, Gary. You're playing just beautifully. Why, those shots you hit today at...."
"I don't want to talk about it, George," Player interrupted. "I don't even want to think about it anymore." Blumberg changed the subject to the marvelous fishing in South Africa, fishing being a sport that Gary has recently and enthusiastically discovered.
Player started the tournament erratically, with three bogeys and a birdie on the first six holes. He was obviously striking the ball superbly, though it seemed as if he might be just a little too charged up to play his best golf. But he settled down on the back nine, scoring three birdies and a bogey to finish just two strokes off Nagle's lead.
It is on the second day, however, that the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed on a good first round at the Open. Arnold Palmer, trying to explain the difference between some of the startlingly low practice rounds at Bellerive—such as his own 67 on Wednesday—and the fact that only three golfers broke par the first day, said, "The tournament has started." On the other hand, some of the good first-round scores that an extra charge of adrenalin will occasionally produce can escalate mysteriously when the grinding middle rounds are in progress.
Player's golf on the second day lacked its previous polish and precision. On the first hole he hit a bad approach shot that cost him a bogey. On 6 he had a long wait on the tee while several groups ahead were struggling in and out of the water. As Gary described it, "A lot of those fellows were hitting their balls in the water, and none of them floated. When it was our turn to play, I guess I was thinking too much about the pond, and I gave the shot a little too much of the old Harley-Davidson [golfese for turning the right hand at impact]. I hit it into the rough on the left side, and then chipped it six feet past. But I sank that one and began to feel I was on my way."
On the 9th hole Player sank an 18-foot downhill putt for a birdie, and then, playing the steadiest of golf through the late afternoon, parred in for his second consecutive 70.
Player's two 70s gave him a one-stroke lead over Nagle and Rudolph. Another stroke behind at 142 was Beman, who at one brief point actually led the tournament. He was playing even better golf than he had on Thursday, although his putter was perceptibly cooler—36 putts as against 29 the day before. Gone were Deane's thoughts about Bellerive's unseemly length. "The course is playing just fine," he said. "I hit some bad shots, of course, but I'm supposed to hit some bad shots because I don't play golf for a living."
Life had not changed for the game's big hitters, however. Palmer's second straight 76 left him two strokes above the cutoff point of 150 for the final 36 holes of play. He was disgusted on Thursday when he hit a ball from the 5th tee into the now-famous water hazard by the 6th green. On Friday he did the same thing, and was doubly disgusted. As he walked up the 18th fairway, certain he had missed the cut, his discouragement showed. "Rev up the engines, it's time to fly home," somebody called from the gallery, and shortly thereafter Arnie did.
It had been the first time Palmer had missed the cut at a golf tournament in a year and a half, and it hurt far more than he would like to admit. This has not been a good year for Palmer, who has only one victory—the Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas—and stands only 20th on the PGA's list of money winners. This brings into question his tournament strategy for 1965. He has cut down on his appearances in order to devote himself more to his business and family. Anyone with Palmer's great pride is likely to have some serious second thoughts about this after playing 36 holes at the Open without a single birdie. His Army stayed with him to the bitter end, but they knew it wasn't the old Arnie, and Arnie knew it even better than they did.
Nicklaus, on the other hand, was able to fight back from his opening-round 78 to a fairly decent 72. It was a long way from his capability, and he was aware of it, but the new Smilin' Jack of golf did his best to pass off his troubles in good humor. After taking a bogey 5 on the first hole Friday, he turned to someone in the gallery and said, "Not a very good way to start, is it?"
The trouble with Nicklaus is basic: his swing isn't working right. During his victory at the Masters, when he played the best tournament of his career, he felt his stance was getting too open. In trying to square up his stance, he has had trouble lining up the ball. That has caused him to make compensations in his swing that he calls "laying it off at the top," and a nasty hook has developed. When he tries to correct the hook he tends to push the ball.
Nicklaus also had problems with the short shots around the greens, and anyone who does not hit these well can never win the Open. In the first two days Nicklaus missed 13 greens, and 12 times he was not able to chip or blast close enough to one putt.
But even when he was eight strokes back and realized he might be farther than that at the end of the day, Nicklaus did not concede the championship to anyone else. "I've come from that far back before," he said. "But let's talk about shooting good rounds after we've shot them."
Then there was ailing Ken Venturi, the defending champion, whose right hand was so sore that he was now shaking hands with his left. He shot 81-79, and missed the cut, of course, but he finished his 36 holes, as he had long insisted he would, and he was proud of it—pleased enough in fact to crack, "Everybody wants me out of town," when his hotel mistakenly gave him his bill early.
Meanwhile, out on the 6th hole it was business as usual—40 balls were hit into the water Friday.
Saturday brought the third straight day of clear, excellent weather, and the golf was as unchanging as the climate. The field was now down to 50, which meant that the highest scorers were only 10 strokes from the leader, but a feeling had begun to settle in that any man with a two-stroke lead was so far in front he could never be caught. At this point the man was Player.
Frank Heard tried to gel close. A frightfully earnest young man from Louisville, Beard wears a pair of those half-glasses like so many dedicated young men who earn a living running computers for American business. His business is golf, and he treats the golf course like an office. This day he shot an even-par 70. Player had a 71 that built his lead from one to two strokes because Kel Nagle, in second place, had a 72. Thus Beard's 70 brought him even with Nagle.
One would have thought Beard would have been delighted with this progress, but not at all. "I don't like to play any course where it's not fun," he surprisingly announced. "I'm hitting four-woods and two-irons and three-irons all the way around."
Gary Player was a good deal more joyful about the day than Beard but, of course, Gary was one step closer to realizing his sixth ambition. As he had on the two previous days, Gary began his round shakily. He three-putted the 3rd green for a bogey and on the 5th hole he was rattled when someone in the gallery yelled, "Get in the trap, get in the trap," after he had played a long fairway-wood shot toward the green. The ball obeyed the spectator's instructions and Gary had another bogey. A short while later Nagle, who was paired with Player, got a birdie to take a momentary lead, only to fall back when he three-putted the next green. Playing meticulously, neither golfer stirred up any excitement until they reached the 12th hole, where Nagle drove deep into the rough on the left. For the first time of any consequence in the tournament, the machinery of the USGA ground into motion.
Nagle's ball was in a washed-out, rutted area. As he examined the unplayable ball with distaste, he was told by several people in the gallery that Ray Floyd had been allowed a free drop there on Friday from a similar lie. Gus Benedict, the USGA president, was refereeing the match and he was not sure, so he suggested that Nagle play two balls. The first one he dropped with the one-stroke penalty for an unplayable lie, and he hit it to the green with a six-iron and two-putted for a bogey 5. Nagle also dropped a second ball from the same position and played it as a free drop. This time he hit it to the green with a strong seven-iron and two-putted for a par 4.
Joe Dey, the executive director of the USGA and the recognized Supreme Court on the Rules of Golf, inspected the small gulch moments later and ruled that the ball with the penalty was the one that should count. So the bogey 5 went up on the scoreboards. As play continued, Dey sought and found the official who had made the ruling on Floyd's ball the day before. When Dey learned that Floyd had indeed been given relief from a similar situation, Dey reversed his decision and Nagle had his par. It was quite a stroke to save.
Talking about the incident later, Nagle admitted that "I couldn't think of anything else for a while. I wouldn't say it upset me, because I was playing so well—hitting most of the fairways and most of the greens. But it's the kind of thing that sticks in your mind."
A couple of holes later the gallery at last got something to roar about. Player hit his drive on the 14th too far to the left. The hole is a dogleg par-4, and there was a tree between Gary's ball and the flagstick. He hit a seven-iron that started some 30 or 40 yards wide to the right and then hooked onto the green. It bounced eagerly toward the hole and stopped three feet short. From there Gary sank the putt for his only birdie of the day. He described the seven-iron as "the best shot I have hit in the tournament so far."
When day was done the contenders were lined up pretty much as they had been before they started to play, with the exception of Beman, whose 76—caused in part by a shot into the water at 6—dropped him back too far to leave him much hope. All of the scoring bore out what might be called the Casper Dictum. Before the round began, someone urged Bill Casper to go out and shoot a 67 and jump up a few places. "A 67?" Bill said with understandable surprise. "You could jump over a lot of bodies with a 70." The character of Bellerive had asserted itself quite clearly. Only a superlative round of golf could break its par, for none of its holes lent themselves to birdies. Only three of 150 players had been under par on Thursday, only two broke par on Friday, one on Saturday and two Sunday. Catching the man ahead of you was like trying to overtake someone on a merry-go-round.
Gary Player had it pretty well figured out when he said, "I'd just like to start out tomorrow with a couple of birdies on the early holes and then see those other fellows try to catch me."
Taking his two-stroke lead into Sunday, Player was not sanguine about those two early birdies he wanted so badly. On Saturday night he sat around his motel and tried to talk about anything but golf. Finally he went down to the dining room, where he worked his way through a dinner of shrimp and milk and ice cream. Sunday morning he put in a call to his wife in Johannesburg, and was told that his four oldest children had been running around with their thumbs tucked into their fists for good luck. This domestic intelligence did not seem to relax him.
For a change, Player started his round steadily. At the end of nine holes he was a comfortable three strokes ahead of Nagle. People were beginning to yawn a bit and say what a pity that Jack and Arnold and Tony were not still in the picture to liven things up. It was the day's last yawn. With Gary and his playing partner, Frank Beard, standing in the middle of the 10th fairway and watching, Nagle sank a 15-foot putt for a birdie on the 10th green. Player got a bogey, cutting his lead to one stroke.
At the 12th hole Player again stood in the fairway and watched Nagle sink a birdie putt on the green up ahead, this one a 30-footer. "It was a monster of a putt," Gary said later. "I really felt that one in my guts." Now they were even. Player reacted differently this time, however. He hit a lovely iron to the green that stopped 15 feet from the hole, and he curled that one in for a birdie of his own to again take the lead.
Both players now began swinging less smoothly, and their putting strokes were leaving them as well. At the 15th Nagle put his second shot—a long fairway wood—into a bunker alongside the green, and it took him four more strokes to get the ball in the hole for a double-bogey six.
"She's gone, I've blown it," Nagle thought to himself.
Player failed to see the debacle, for he had fallen back a bit while saving par with some dicey shots of his own. As he came striding down the 15th fairway the gallery shouted that he had a three-stroke lead. "Some fellow told me I had it sewed up now," Gary reported afterward, "but I told him you couldn't depend on such things."
As if to prove his point, Player buried his tee shot on the next hole into a bunker alongside the green. The best he could do was wedge it out 15 feet past the hole. From there, amazingly, he three-putted.
The next thing Player heard was an enormous cheer from the 17th green that greeted a Nagle birdie there—one that evened the match.
Nagle did not yet know he was all even as he hit his drive on the 18th. It was a poor drive to the left and bounced well into the rough. "Damn," he said to Mason Rudolph, who was playing with him. "Look at that."
A moment later someone told Nagle about Player's misfortune at the 16th, and Nagle said aloud, but as if talking to himself, "Well, I guess that's golf. You never know what's going to happen."
When Player arrived at the 18th tee, he knew that he needed a birdie 3 to win and a 4 to tie. He was very careful with a 28-foot birdie putt and left it inches short. "I didn't want to charge the putt," he explained. "I felt you were better off to go into a playoff than not be in a playoff at all." Monday's events proved he was right, but down in South Africa the children of U.S. Open Champion Gary Player had been forced to walk around a whole extra day with their thumbs in their fists.
LIFE AT THE CEMETERY HOLE
For days the pros had practiced at Bellerive as they prepared for the U.S. Open, yet not once did they suspect that the greatest terror on the course would be the tiny pond lapping at the edge of the relatively routine 6th hole. But when play began some alchemy of tension and circumstance gripped them as they faced the 6th, and what followed was at first startling, and then ludicrous. By Thursday noon, before half the field had hit shots toward the elongated green, with its three traps and its water on the right, a marshal near the hole had run out of paper on which he had been noting lost balls and similar disasters and had begun to make a mark on his belt at each splash. At week's end 82 balls had been hit into the pond by players on the 6th (and 14 more by golfers playing the adjacent 5th hole). The roster of their names was impressive, including the likes of Nicklaus, Lema and Beman. On Friday, Dave Ragan, a tour veteran, hit a tee shot in, then a wedge shot in, and then still another. This time he could see his ball. He took off one shoe and sock, waded in, swung through the muck at it, flew it over the green, bounced it off a tree, chipped on and one-putted for an 8. The two pros playing with him also hit into the water. Minutes later Dean Refram tried to play a ball imbedded at the water's edge and had it sail backward over his shoulder and into the pond, a feat that brought roars of laughter from a gallery that was now considering big-time golf to be high comedy. But pity most poor Bob Panasiuk, an unfortunate Canadian pro who got a 9 by landing his tee shot on the fast green, then putting the ball past the flagstick into the pond. It all added up to the worst performance in the annals of the U.S. Open—and a duffer's delight.
THE 6TH: 195 YARDS, PAR 3
Here is how the toughest hole in Open history, one aptly marked by tombstones, sank the self-esteem of golf's best players.
STROKES OVER PAR