For a while there on Sunday it looked like Jack Nicklaus had left the Grand Slam at one of those beach-party movies, the kind where all the girls clamor after the good-looking blond guy in the tricky clothes. That was when young Johnny Miller in the golden hair and Masters-green ensemble was turning the place inside out, ripping up the flag-sticks and sinking a bunker shot, and in general encouraging all of the hot-panted things in the gallery to squeal with an affection they usually reserve for recording artists. The Masters—as well as the game of golf—sure could have used Johnny Miller, but that wasn't where Nicklaus left the Grand Slam. He lost it to a tall Texan named Charlie Coody, who even walks with a drawl, a guy who has two different swings in one motion but makes it work, a guy who lost it before and now deserved it, a Masters winner who admits he's probably lacking in color when he says, "I just play along in living black and while."
Whatever Coody did for four rounds of golf last week in Augusta, it was plenty good enough, especially when it got down to the enormous pressure of Sunday afternoon. Then Coody was at his best. He had been there before on a Sunday afternoon in Augusta. In 1969 he had three holes to play and a one-shot lead, just like Johnny Miller this time. Except Miller became the old Coody who blew it, and Coody became the quiet man who knocked off the Big Four again, as George Archer and Bob Goal by and Gay Brewer and other living black and whites had done in the recent past.
There is a lot to say for a player like Coody who can hang on in these big ones and win. Last Sunday began with Coody tied for first place with Nicklaus after 54 holes, but there was hardly a doubt in anyone's mind that Jack would grind ahead and add the Masters to his earlier victory in the PGA. He would have two legs on the modern Grand Slam of golf, and it would be heigh-ho to Merion in June for the U.S. Open. Then on to Birkdale in July for the British Open, and the man everyone felt had the best chance to accomplish the feat would indeed have done it.
Nicklaus was sure he would do it. "I knew all week I was going to win," he said after seeing the green jacket draped on Charlie Coody's slouchy gunslinger build. "I was in the right frame of mind, really psyched, and I felt I could bring off whatever it took."
April 19, 1971
He looked the part, striding along the fairways in his patterned shirts with, for once, literally thousands cheering for him. He appeared unbeatable even when he was behind. But—
"My game was erratic all the way," he said. "I'd miss a putt I knew I was going to make. I hit into the water. I three-putted four times on the last day when you can't do that. But until Charles holed his last putt I still thought I'd do it. Big surprise, huh?"
If you can call what Nicklaus did a case of trying too hard for something you want so badly, then what can you call the effort of Charlie Coody? "The rest of us deserve something, too," said Coody, who put together rounds of 66, 73, 70 and 70 for his winning 279. "The top names base got everything. They shouldn't mind letting us poor boys have something now and then."
Coody isn't exactly a poor boy just because he lives in Abilene, Texas and had managed to win but two tournaments on the tour in eight years. He has made good money right along without being noticed too much. He had developed the respect of his fellow pros by being a "nice, quiet guy," although everybody agreed his game was far too conservative. "Charlie's one of our better shotmakers," Frank Beard once said, "but he tries hard not to win."
This wasn't the case at all in the final round. Coody was in the toughest position of all, yet he tried, oh, he tried. During that Sunday round he had to watch Miller, the 23-year-old from San Francisco, catch fire directly in front of him and at the same time worry about Nicklaus directly behind him. When he came to the 15th hole he was tied with Nicklaus but two strokes behind the upstart Miller. It wasn't quite the same as it had been two years earlier when he had the tournament in his grasp—and bogeyed the 16th, and then the 17th and then the 18th. It wasn't like that this time, but it was frantic.
With Nicklaus three-putting the Slam away behind both Coody and Miller, the final drama settled down on the two long shots, and most of it was on the 15th, 16th and 17th holes. First came Miller, who had started Sunday four Strokes back. He played better golf than anybody on the front nine, turning in 33, three under par. With a near classic swing that is going to be heard from for a lot of years a head, the dashing blond with all the sex appeal rammed home a nine-foot birdie at the tough 11th and then exploded from a bunker for another birdie at the hellacious 12th. He missed his birdie at the 13th but rifled another iron in close at the 14th, which is hardly a birdie hole, and dropped that five-footer to go six under on the round and take the lead in the tournament. This drove the hordes mad. Suddenly, they personally had discovered the new Nelson, or Hogan or Nicklaus.
"That was the first I thought about winning," Miller said later. "I had just been trying to make birdies. It was like a practice round."
Then it happened. Reality, they call it. He drove nicety off the 15th tee and was faced with the decision of whether to take a three-wood and try to hit across the pond. "Go for it," came the usual shouts from the crowd, by now larger than the one with Nicklaus.
"I was standing there with the spoon in my hand, and I actually thought about how the green coat would look on me," Miller said. "Finally I told myself to just hit it decent and I could get over." Which he did. Get over. Except he was in the bunker. And this bunker shot didn't go in the cup, nor did the five-foot putt that followed.
For a fleeting moment, that par instead of a birdie did not seem too important because Miller still held a two-stroke lead. Had he managed to par the last three holes, there would have been a playoff between long shots on Mon-day. But a combination of Miller bogeys at 16 and 18 and Coody birdies at 15 and 16 turned things around. Miller lost his tournament at the 16th, the same place Coody had lost his—and it was the hole where Coody a few minutes later would regain the lead he had held after opening day and had shared with Nicklaus again after 54 holes. Miller lost it with his tee shot, a six-iron that wouldn't turn left and miss the sand.
Tournaments are lost because of such things, but they are also won by good shots, and Billy Charles Coody had some good ones left. "I certainly don't want to classify myself as a charger," Coody said, "but I had to go over the pond on 15 if I want to birdie the hole, and I got to try to get close to the pin on 16 for the same reason." He caught a good spoon at the 15th, cleared both the water and the bunker and then chipped to within seven feet for his birdie while Miller, still wearing the green coat, was hitting his shot into the sand on 16. Coody holed his birdie, and Miller missed that vital par with a putt that looked in but did a right angle inside the rim of the cup and rolled out. They were thus tied, one stroke ahead of the Grand Slam, who was teeing off on 15.
Coody followed with the best six-iron of his life at the 16th and sank a 15-foot putt for his second pressure birdie in the heat of the moment. A clutch chip shot for a gimme par at the 17th protected the lead for him, and Charlie felt that stroke was as important as anything else. It took him to the 18th needing only a bogey to win, for Miller further collapsed with another bogey on that last hole—although his 68 was the day's low and the round that provided the gallery with most of its howls.
"That's quite a stroll up the last fair-wax when you're on the green in two," Coody said. "I could have gestured a little more, but if I ever get in the habit of trying to be somebody I'm not, I may forget how to play golf. Since golf is my only livelihood, I've got to do it my way."
Coody said it was the same with his golf swing, a technique that starts out good at the address and on the backswing but finishes with the club about waist-high, making him appear to have hit a baseball. "It's two swings in one, I guess, but it's all I've got," he said.
The weather for all four days was more gorgeous than almost any Masters veteran could remember, but the splendid playing conditions did not result in record scores. The fairways were inconsistent for iron play, and the putting surface on the par-3 12th, the most dangerous hole on the course, was thin and hard. Shot after shot landed on the 12th green and then bounded on into a bunker or into the weeds. Bogeys and double bogeys were commonplace. On Saturday, only nine players in the field of 44 that had survived the halfway cut managed to hold the green. One of them was Nicklaus, of course, who almost made an ace there and did get the birdie that launched him on the five-birdies-in-six-holes streak that enabled him to catch Coody and tie for the 54-hole lead. But this was the hole that knocked Gars Player out of the tournament. Player made double-bogey 5s there on each of the first two rounds.
The 12th is part of Amen Corner, the bend of the course that actually begins with the par-4 10th hole and concludes with the par-5 13th. It is the place where the Masters has been won and lost over and over again. Amen Corner was where Coody grabbed the first-round lead, shooting two under through the stretch. on the way to his opening 66. But Player and Palmer went two over there, and Casper and Nicklaus one over, Jack by trying to slam a one-iron onto the 13th green. He went into the creek and suffered one of the three penalty shots he strapped on himself during the tournament. Three penalty shots, and he lost to Coody by two strokes.
"We were all trying too hard." Player said, meaning the Big Four. "Nobody has any idea what pressure there is. You wait months for a Masters or an Open, and then when it comes you feel every single shot is the one that'll win it or lose it for you. You find yourself making mistakes you wouldn't ordinarily make, and also doing things well that you might not otherwise do. You're so charged up it's a constant fight. It's the magnitude of the mistakes that kills you."
Nicklaus was the only member of the Big Four who was a driving force, and Coody said he felt sorry about Jack and the Slam. "I know how bad he wanted this tournament, probably worse than any that he's won," said Coody. "I think it would be great for golf if Jack could win the Slam one of these days. He's the only one who could, I think."
Then he added, "I got to say, however, that I'm happy he can't win it this year."
Yep, old black and white was very happy in green.