By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis....
Next week in Hiawatha country, by the shores of Lake Hazeltine and the wigwam of former USGA President Tot Heffelfinger, the world's best professional and amateur golfers tee off in the 70th U.S. Open championship. The 7,151-yard Haze/tine National Golf Club near Minneapolis on which they play includes several beautiful and well-framed holes like the par-3 4th (right) as well as a series of doglegged monsters that are sure to make Hazeltine a legend in its own time. The photographs on the next three pages, and the analysis of the course by Jack Nicklaus which follows them, give some idea of the kind of trouble that awaits the golfers at the Open.
Minnesota's rolling countryside and lush vegetation are shown to advantage in these views of Hazeltine's back nine (left and above) and of the handsome clubhouse overlooking the 9th and 18th fairways. At left are portions of three holes—the green of No. 16 in the background, the 17th tee just below it and the 10th green at the bottom. Lake Hazeltine, which fringes the northern boundary of the course, makes these among the most picturesque holes of the 1970 Open, No. 17 (above) is a tricky par-4 that requires an accurate tee shot to open up the green.
Blind Man's Buff at Hazeltine
Everyplace I go these days I keep hearing the same things. Jack Nicklaus is bored with golf. Jack Nicklaus has lost his desire to win. Jack Nicklaus would rather fish than play. Jack Nicklaus is over-the-sand-trap, finished, all putted out at the age of 30. Rumors and more rumors. Bored? The only thing I'm bored with are the rumors.
Maybe the one way for me to stop all that gibberish would be to win the U.S. Open championship next week at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., on the outskirts of Minneapolis. It has been three long years since I last won a major championship (the 1967 Open at Baltusrol), and I am sick of hearing and reading that Nicklaus is now 0 for 11 in the four major tournaments.
Unfortunately, Hazeltine will be as difficult as any golf course I have ever played in an Open. It is extremely long at 7,151 yards, par 72, the second-longest Open course ever selected by the USGA. And, for once, the long hitters will be at a distinct disadvantage because 10 of the 14 driving holes are doglegs that demand short, precise drives to Position A. There is no Position B at Hazeltine.
Long hitters who decide to gamble on the doglegs will ultimately discover the rough. This year the USGA has been uncharacteristically charitable. The Hazeltine rough will not be typical of past U.S. Opens. In other words, it will not be up to the golfer's waist—only to his knees. Of course, it still will be thick and wiry, and, as usual, there will be plenty of it.
Considering the hit-short-or-else ultimatum off most of the tees, you would expect a great premium on precise iron play. Not so. The greens at Hazeltine are enormous, averaging more than 40 yards each in length, and even the worst iron players should be able to land their approach shots somewhere on or near the putting surface. As a result, the real advantage is with the superior putter, and the chronic three-putters will have fits.
So, the 1970 U.S. Open will be a putting contest. And I know there are plenty of short drivers and average iron players out there on the tour who can putt you to death. The bent-grass greens will be fast and slick, but they will be very true. There will be more three-putt greens than usual because of the size of the putting areas. But no one will be able to complain about the conditon of the greens. They will be perfect.
Naturally, Hazeltine also has more than enough sand traps (101 in all), water hazards (a lake here, a creek there) and trees (elm, oak, maple, birch and butternut) to keep the players honest. But what distinguishes Hazeltine from the 13 other Open courses I have played is none of these things.
What really sets it apart is a factor I call lack of definition. Let me explain. On most golf courses a player has a pretty definite sense of where he's going, even if he can't see the pin from the tee. At Hazeltine the topography on the majority of the holes does not establish a frame for the golfer. I think golf holes should define themselves visually off the tee. In other words, the player should have a clear idea of where he is heading—by sight and not memory, a map or dead reckoning. The topography—a set of sand traps, a cluster of trees, a lake—should provide the player with a frame of the hole so that he can play it in his mind before he hits his tee shot. This is not possible on most of the holes at Hazeltine.
When I played the course for the first time recently I frequently felt lost. Stepping onto several tees, I did not have a clue as to which direction the hole might be. I thought then that many players will need tour guides as well as caddies in this Open. On 11 of the 14 driving holes here a player standing on the tee cannot see the area where his tee shot will land. On 11 of those 14 holes he cannot see the green from the tee. This would not be such a problem if the fairway sand traps and other topographical markers were visible off the tee. But at Hazeltine everything is blind. Most of the fairway traps are not on top of mounds; they are over the mounds, hidden from the view of players on the tee.
As you might imagine, local landmarks will be a great navigational aid at Hazeltine. Instead of playing their drives at some visual marker on the hole, the golfers will be forced instead to aim their tee shots at things like barns or water towers. For instance, when you drive off the 1st hole, a dogleg left, you aim for a barn about half a mile off in the distance. On the 9th hole, also a dogleg left, you hit your drive in the direction of a water tower. Then on the 18th you aim for the left chimney on Tot Heffelfinger's roof. The right chimney probably leads to Winnipeg.
This "lack of definition" will not be confined strictly to tee shots. The greens on nine of the 14 driving holes are elevated above the level of the fairway. Consequently, the flagsticks will be barely visible to the players standing over their approach shots, and most golfers will have to walk to the edge of the greens to determine the exact pin placement. All this takes time, of course. I expect that it will take some players almost six hours to play Hazeltine every day.
Like Houston Champions, where we played the Open in 1969, Hazeltine is a relatively new course, opened for play in 1962. The Minnesota Golf Classic, a regular stop on the golf tour, was played there in 1967. Lou Graham won it with a score of 286, two under par—an unusually high total for a tour championship. The front nine there played an aggregate of 801 shots over par, while the back nine played a bit easier—only 684 over par. Weather conditions during Classic week in 1967 were perfect, too. Since then they have toughened the course—planting trees on four of the holes, thereby narrowing 10 of the fairways.
Next week the trick in the Open will be to get through the first 13 holes close to par. Three of the last five holes offer interesting birdie possibilities to the player chasing the lead. They also offer instant disaster. As I explain in the box (below), the key holes at Hazeltine will be the 16th and the 17th. First of all, though, you must get there alive.
The trouble at Hazeltine stares at you right on the 1st tee. This is the first of the 10 doglegs, most of which turn between 50° and 75° near the landing area. A driver, a two-or a three-iron through the wind to a raised green, two putts—and you start with a four. I would gladly take four fours if I didn't have to play this hole. The 2nd is another dogleg left but easier than the first because the wind is behind you. The 3rd is a 585-yard par-5 into the wind—not a promising birdie hole. The 4th is a good par-3, about a four-iron shot.
I don't like the 5th hole, a dogleg right, since I will have to lay up off the tee with a one-iron, then hit a six-or seven-iron to the green. The 6th is dangerous, but also one of the best holes on the course, with woods turning the dogleg to the left and water to the left of the green. The 7th is another par-5, a dogleg right with a lake in front of the green. I probably will not know the best way to play this hole until the tournament is over. There may not be a best way. The 8th is an excellent par-3, a four-iron over water with a left-to-right wind. The 9th is a dogleg left, but you must hit your drive at a water tower.
An even-par 36 will be very acceptable on the front nine.
The 10th doglegs left, with the green at the bottom of a hill and on the edge of Lake Hazeltine. I'll hit a three-wood off the tee for position, then a seven-or an eight-iron down to the green. The second shot here at 10 is the prettiest shot on the golf course. The 11th hole is another par-5—590 yards of double dogleg, two woods through the wind and a pitch into it.
I like the 12th hole, a challenging par-4 with an elevated green that slopes away, and also the 13th, another good par-3 requiring about a six-iron. Hazeltine's par-3s all are superior holes. Stepping onto the 14th tee, the players enter a new world. The 14th instantly becomes the best hole on the course. Why? It has definition. You do not have to stand on the tee and hit the ball blind. You can find something off the tee—trees and sand—with which to identify. The hole is only 355 yards, but the driving area is very tight (also very visible, for a change). This one has good birdie possibilities.
The 15th is another par-5, with a dogleg tee. The tee itself is 135 yards long, and bends right. With a tailing wind, many players will get close enough to the green with their second shots to make a fine run at a birdie. The tournament will hinge on the 16th and the 17th. Finally, at 18, the long hitter gets a break. Although he cannot see where he is hitting, he can stand up and power the ball on this par-4 hole. The big hitters will clear the traps that sit up on the left, where the hole doglegs, and they should have about a four-iron to the green. The shorter hitters will be using woods to reach the green in two. I hope they don't decide to work on Tot Heffelfinger's roof during Open week.
That is Hazeltine. Is it a fair course? We all must tee it up, so it's fair. A thinking man's course? I believe this is one Open course you might not be able to outthink.
Can good golf beat it? I'm not sure. Most of the time you will not know if you will be rewarded for a good drive or a good iron shot to the green. Usually the man who makes the best shots wins the Open. This may not be true at Hazeltine. The hot putter should win.
One thing Hazeltine will not do is place a premium on the total game. There will be little emphasis on chipping, for instance. I think an Open course should demand precision play with all 14 clubs in the bag.
Next year the Open will be played at Merion, outside Philadelphia. Merion is an old-style course, the type I learned the game on and the type of course I prefer to play. It is a course like Oakmont and Baltusrol, where I won my Opens (and like Oak Hill and Olympic, where I didn't).
The U.S. Open is the most important championship I play every year, and it's the one I want to win most. I'd like to shoot about 284—four under par. I don't think anyone will score better than that.
What are my chances? No one can say for sure, but don't count me out for lack of desire. I play to win. I always have. I always will.
Nichlaus on Nos. 16 and 17: the Hinge that Can Swing the Open
U.S. Open golf courses usually present at least one stretch of critical holes where the championship is decided. The 1970 Open at Hazltine will be no exception. It will be won—or lost—somewhere between the tee of the par-3, 214-yard 16th hole and the green of the par-4, 344-yard 17th. Players must make their pars at 16 in order to feel safe in going for birdies at the 17th, a dogleg right that is the shortest but trickiest par-4 on the course. Players who make a bogey—or worse—at the 16th will be pressing on the 17th tee. And the 17th is a miniature dragon that likes to swallow desperate golfers.
Stepping onto the 16th tee, the players probably will not be thinking too seriously about their impending problems. Instead, I suspect that most of them will be in a positive frame of mind after having played the 14th and 15th holes. Now, though, the abyss yawns.
The 16th will be played with a crosswind sweeping from left to right into Lake Hazeltine, which borders the hole but will not be a hazard factor in the Open. The tee is about level with the green, but there is a deep gully between them. A trap on the front right edge of the green will catch everything in that direction; trees and a few traps will penalize shots that stray left. The tee shot must carry the putting surface, which is one of the longest on the course. I will play a long iron—a two or a three—and try to work the ball from the left side toward the middle of the green. Many players will play a three-or a four-wood into this green. This is the type of hole that preys heavily on a golfer's mind as he stands over his ball on the tee. Indeed, many players will be thinking so intently about hitting a ball 214 yards to a target on top of a hill that they will outthink themselves and hit a poor shot.
The 17th poses completely different problems. It is not a driving hole. Instead, the great majority of players will hit a long iron into the wind off the tee. Where will they hit it? Anyplace in the fairway, thank you. Standing on the tee, you can see the trees that guard the right rough and spell trouble. You do not want to hit your ball to the right. The trick off the tee will be to hit your ball somewhere around the base of the mound out about 200 yards on the left. There are trees atop this mound, and balls hit into the hill—though they should roll down and land in the fairway—would be positioned so that the golfer would be standing below the level of his ball. A well-placed tee shot—and only a well-placed one—will leave about a nine-iron to the green. There are three traps around the green, including two that guard the front, and there is water below the green on the right and left. This water runs alongside the right of the landing area, too. The green at 17 offers unlimited pin-placement possibilities, and it has more hills than San Francisco. There will be more three putts here than at any other green. The trick will be to keep your ball below the hole with your approach for an uphill putt. Good luck.