The thing about a lot of touring golf pros is this: if you give one of them enough time for his putter to heat up, he can turn even the most classic of championships into another Pensacola Open. Gay Brewer Jr., a guy in his mid-30s developing a paunch, a man with a loopy swing who has been strolling along on the PGA tour for 10 years achieving no more of an identity than, oh, Julius Finsteraaron, did exactly this in winning the 1967 Masters.
For three of its four days, under absolutely glorious Dixie skies, the Masters vibrated with excitement. There was something for everybody. Jack Nicklaus, the defending champion, played like Barbara Nicklaus and missed the 36-hole cut. Arnold Palmer made enough meek charges to please his Army, or at least hold their ever-so-eager attention. For the sentimental, Ben Hogan played a historic nine holes, hitting the ball the way it ought to be hit. And during all of this, a pair of youngsters, Bert Yancey and Tony Jacklin—golfers, not songwriters—stormed the premises with enough frenetic action to give hope that everybody under 30 hasn't grown long hair and lain down in the street. But then came Brewer with that putter, and the Masters took on its newest look since the Battle of Hastings, or however long ago it was that Palmer and Nicklaus started winning it annually.
Brewer won the Masters over the last six holes on the final day, Sunday, when his blessed mallethead putter led him out of a jungle of contenders that included Bobby Nichols, Julius Boros and Yancey.
He won by suddenly scoring three birdies in a row at the 13th, 14th and 15th holes and then refusing to give up a one-stroke lead under the most testing pressure possible, coming in with a final round 67 and a 72-hole total of 280, eight strokes under par.
For a while Brewer's putter was the only thing keeping him on the scoreboard at all. He ended the day with 10 one-putt greens, and all but one of them was of such a length that they had to be paced, studied and sweated into the cup. There were no gimmes.
Brewer, of course, is the same fellow who came to the last green of the Masters a year ago with a one-stroke lead and there, attempting to play too cautiously, three-putted for a bogey 5. This threw him into a tie with Nicklaus and Tommy Jacobs, and in the playoff he was never a contender, shooting a 78. Which meant Sunday's victory was especially rewarding.
"I may not have looked very nervous out there," Brewer said afterwards, "but, man, I was shakin'. The first time I really thought about last year was when I was walkin' up the 17th fairway. I gave myself a little lecture or, you might say, a pep talk. Sorry, but I don't think you could print what I was sayin'."
Brewer, who grew up in Kentucky and now lives in Dallas, took the lead at the 13th hole when he smashed a four-wood onto the green in two and two-putted for a birdie.
"But it was still up there for a lot of folks to take until the 14th," said Brewer. "That was really the putt that got me so juiced up I started chokin'."
Brewer and Nichols, his playing companion, each jammed medium-iron shots into the 14th green for good putts at birdies, and each one, Brewer first from 20 feet, then Nichols from 15, rapped his ball into the hole. "I figured that eliminated everybody but Bobby, and I could see him," said Gay.
Both Brewer and Nichols hit over the dangerous pond at the par-5 15th in two, and if there was a moment when it might have occurred to Nichols that he could pull into a tie, it was here. The tall, quiet former PGA champion was on the green and Brewer was over, confronted with a difficult chip shot. Nichols got his birdie and Brewer chipped poorly, leaving himself a 10-footer to protect his lead.
He rammed it right in and walked away in his lime shirt, looking as if he knew he would sink it all along. That wasn't how he felt, though. "When a boy handed me a cup of water on the 16th tee I could hardly hold it," said Gay. "I didn't know whether I was holdin' the putter or it was holdin' me."
Finally they came to the 18th hole. There he hit a safe drive with a three-wood, avoiding any chance of careening into the two new bunkers on the left side of the fairway, and he made certain that his approach with a six-iron would be on the front edge of the green, leaving him an uphill putt.
"Last year all I thought I had to do was hit my approach anywhere on the green. So I left myself a terrible 40-footer, and three-putted. Experience means somethin' here, man. I talked to myself real good out there and did just what I wanted to." His shot was perfect, roughly 16 feet below the hole. And this time Gay Brewer got the victory that he thoroughly deserved as he putted the ball up for a laugher.
For Arnold Palmer, the man who was fully expected to win, it was a peculiarly dull Masters, even though he wound up finishing fourth. Playing not quite sharply enough to get the ball close to the pins, he was six strokes behind the first-day leader, Bert Yancey, six strokes behind Yancey again the second day and five strokes behind Yancey, Boros and Nichols, who were tied for the lead at the end of 54 holes. On each of these days he hit into the creek that guards the 13th green, turning a good birdie hole into a bogey and two pars.
The nearest Palmer came to a charge—as all of the people who let him dry-clean their clothes like to call it—was in the third round when he seemed headed for a 68, or something even better, going to the 17th green. He three-putted from 20 feet for a bogey and then bunkered his drive at the 18th—the new traps were made for the likes of Palmer and Nicklaus—and bogeyed again, winding up with 70. Briefly on Sunday he seemed to have a chance, but a short eagle putt refused to curl in for him at the 15th, a shot that might have affected everything, even Brewer's putting stroke.
With Palmer and Nicklaus so far off the pace in the first two rounds, the Masters was refreshingly given over to people such as Yancey and a little Englishman named Tony Jacklin, both of whom were there for the first time. Yancey played stylishly all the way, getting the occasional lift of a 60-foot putt dashing into the cup. And Jacklin made pars from behind practically every pine in Georgia, at least until the last day, when he began to think about where he was. For one fleeting minute late Friday he was even the tournament leader.
Still, Yancey's 284 for a third-place finish behind Brewer's 280 and Nichols' 281 was one of the best rookie performances ever at the Augusta National, and Jacklin's tie for 16th will long be remarked upon by the British press.
As unexpected as some of Yancey's or Jacklin's success was, it could not rival the surprise afforded by Jack Nicklaus. Jack had not seemed in his best form coming into the tournament. He had won the Crosby back in January, and nothing more. But the Augusta National course has a habit of bringing out the finest in the top players, especially someone like Nicklaus who can make the best use of the room that the wide fairways of the Masters allow. Regardless of what had come before, it was felt that Nicklaus' youth and power would overcome any other deficiencies. He was the second favorite with oddsmakers at 6 to 1. Palmer, who had been playing beautifully for months, was 4 to l.
Nicklaus began missing the cut on the first hole of the first round when he hit a high, howling hook into the trees. For the next 35 holes he offered his followers a vast assortment of other funny shots. There was a veering five-iron into the pond at the 11th, a low, drawn three-iron into the azaleas at the 13th, a duck hook off the tee at the 14th. On the way to his Friday 79 he missed the first four greens; in fact, he missed the par-3 4th by 70 yards to the left with a four-iron.
All in all, it was the worst golf Nicklaus had ever played in a major championship, even sloppier than at Brook-line when he missed the cut in the U.S. Open in 1963. Curiously, he has now missed the cut as the defending champion in the two most important tournaments in the game.
Nicklaus is a sportsman, however, and he did not show the disgust that he must have felt. Wandering around the course the next two days in the green blazer of a Masters champion, Jack smiled and greeted friends and tried to explain his game. "When you do everything as I did, you have no one to blame but yourself. I'd make a mistake, press to make up for it and do something worse. The mistakes multiplied. Well, I've had a little luck here, so maybe a little bad luck won't hurt me. There's always next year."
A gloomier explanation for Nicklaus' failure came from Jack Grout, long the teaching pro at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, who has been working with him since he was 9 years old.
"Jack is not the player that he was in 1960, 1961 and 1962," said Grout, relaxing after a sumptuous pheasant dinner at the house that Charlie Nicklaus, Jack's father, rents every year in Augusta. "In those days no one was able to swing a club with such great balance. But he lost it playing against two guys who have no balance at all. [Palmer and Player, obviously.] He used to be able to get back on his right foot and then move forward onto his left perfectly every time. Now he doesn't shift on the downswing. He tries making adjustments in the middle of the swing. He needs to take 90 days off and work and work.
"But he only half listens," Grout added. "All he says is, 'I'm laying it off at the top.' "
When Nicklaus wasn't laying it off at the top, he was laying it off on the Augusta course. It's funny about the touring professionals. They play a lot of supermarket parking lots most of the winter, and then they invariably come to Augusta and criticize the condition of the course. The Augusta National is by far the best-conditioned course they will have seen, but they begin picking at it like a housewife at a washrag sale. As the Masters got under way last week, there were some remarkable words ventilated about the course's effect on scoring, and some even more remarkable theories as to why certain golfers were doing well and others were doing poorly.
Nicklaus talked of squirty lies, nappy lies, floaty lies, fuzzy lies. This was in reference to the length of the fairway grass. It was too long, the golfers said. The ball was sitting up so that a seven-iron carried 170 yards instead of 140 yards. It flew, in other words.
The unschooled eye could not determine this. The Augusta fairways looked like green grass, strangely enough, and far better manicured than, say, the Rockefeller estate up in Westchester. Ben Hogan said the course was in perfect condition even before he shot his 66, and Hogan was playing in his 25th Masters. Moreover, he insinuated that it was playing the same for everyone, so what did it matter? And, finally, in the wisdom of his graying years, he added that there were mostly pros in the field who are supposed to know how to hit all of the shots, so did it really make a damn if a man discovered a bunker sitting in the middle of a green? Hogan, of course, was right, and it was Hogan who gave the 1967 Masters more to remember than even Gay Brewer, for Ben, too, sank putts.
There is no way that Ben Hogan's wonderful putting through 54 holes could be explained. He still had trouble taking the putter back; age shreds a man's nerves. But there he was, rapping in 15 birdies—more than anyone else in the field—through three rounds. It was easily more birdies than Hogan had made in a major championship in 14 years, or since the 1953 Masters when he shot a 274, then the tournament record.
Over and over he would adjust his stance on the greens. He would line up, get set, then readjust. The throngs, who stood and applauded as he strode onto every green, agonized with him, but there was nothing that either they or he could do.
"I'd love to take the club back quicker, but I can't," he said later.
Hogan has never had trouble taking the other clubs back—and bringing them through with as much perfection as any golfer who ever lived. One of pro golf's clichés is that Ben will still reach more greens in regulation than anyone else in the field. He usually does.
His third-round 66, with a record-tying 30 on the back nine, was one of the epic moments in Masters history. Here was a 54-year-old man for one more fleeting interlude showing them all how it ought to be done, and doing it for pride. As he said, "If the Masters offered no money at all, I would be here, trying just as hard."
There was something magnificently nostalgic about it. After all, Hogan was still wearing the old-fashioned white billed cap and the trousers with high pleats and cuffs. When he finessed his irons into the greens, each one wired to the flagpoles as if held on track by radar, it was time turned back. It was the young Hogan, a Hogan at Oakland Hills, at Merion, at Carnoustie. They like to build monuments at Augusta. The one to mark this aging hero's back nine on Saturday could be a bronzed walkway over the entire nine holes, from the 10th to the 18th.
It was at the 10th, after an ordinary 36 on the front nine, that Hogan hit a driver into the bottomland of the left fairway and put a seven-iron within six feet of the hole. Hogan always puts seven-irons within six feet of the cup, but this time he sank the putt. At the 11th, another par-4 that goes over a hill and down to a dangerous green hard by a pond, Ben laid a six-iron within one foot of the pin. One foot. Like golfers used to do it. And he made that one. Now came the 12th, that deadly little par-3 over Rae's Creek where club selection is a calculus problem. Hogan rammed a six-iron right in there, about 12 feet away, and by the time he squeezed that putt in there was hardly anyone among the 30,000 spectators who did not know that William Ben Hogan, a club manufacturer from Fort Worth, had just gone birdie, birdie, birdie through the toughest stretch of holes at Augusta.
Still, Hogan had only struggled back to even par for the tournament. On the 13th, a par-5 around a bend to the left, backdropped with so many azaleas and dogwood it looks like a card section in a football stadium, Hogan stared at the lie—not floaty, not fuzzy, just a slight sidehiller—for a long time. Would he lay up, as he usually does, or would he go for the green in two? He took out a four-wood, and the great mass of people along the upper bank of the fairway exploded into applause and shouts of encouragement. Then he cracked it superbly into the green, pin high, no more than 15 feet from the hole. The eagle putt stopped short, but the next one was easy—even for Ben—and for the first time he was under par and on the leader boards.
After a par at the 14th there was a similar moment of suspense on the par-5 15th as Hogan again studied the shot and went back to his four-wood for another uncharacteristic gamble. And again he put the ball on the green, safely over water, for a try at an eagle, this time from 20 feet. His putt just curved around the right side of the cup, with Hogan crouching and leaning in an effort to guide it, but it was another two-putt birdie. He then parred the 16th and 17th, and drove perfectly off the 18th tee. His five-iron into the last green, as splendidly struck as all of the other shots, stopped 15 feet above the cup. And as he marched up the fairway and onto the green, it was a moment to be remembered for as long as men chase little pellets across pastures. Thousands stood and clapped. The sun beamed down. Ben Hogan held the bill of his old-fashioned white cap and gently nodded. Then he proceeded to drop one last putt for all of those damp-eyed souls. He was in with his 66.
For his age and the importance of the event, it was a tearer-upper. The tournament could have ended perfectly right there, and perhaps for thousands who appreciate the true elegance of shotmaking it did just that.
But for those who appreciate the benefits of a $20,000 prize and a first major championship, it ended a day later with Gay Brewer, who comes from another time and place.