Poa annua and poa Jack. It was that kind of a week down in ol' Augusta. Poa annua, honey, been gone for so long, galavantin' around the countryside. Get in that kitchen and fix up those biscuits. Get off those greens you done made slicker 'n Sam Snead's head, and you stop botherin' Jack Nicklaus. And Jack, you come in this house. Land sakes if you're not out there acting like you never been here before. Out there playin' against yourself and the record book and Bobby Jones and all that nonsense instead of just settlin' down and winnin' this old Masters Tournament by 25 or 30 strokes like you supposed to do. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Jack Nicklaus. And Poa annua, you just shut up and get in there with the pans.
That's how it was. Poa annua and Jack Nicklaus in the Masters all week long. Poa annua is that weed grass that comes around every four or five years to infest Augusta and turn the Masters greens blotchy. It makes the greens uneven, bumpy, fast, unpredictable, unreadable and it sends the scores soaring higher than Nicklaus' career. And who is Jack Nicklaus? Well, he's more than ever the greatest golfer of our time; for after beating everybody else, last week he proved that he can even beat himself. He must be the toughest opponent he's ever faced.
Think of it this way. Jack Nicklaus won the Masters this time by three strokes in a manner that would do honor to all the crippled and wounded of highway intersections everywhere. But the thing is, Jack was supposed to win the Masters more than he was ever supposed to win it before. And, believe it or not, that makes it harder. Everybody sits around and talks about how the pros really get uptight over all the money they play for, but that is a myth that can be filed away with people who claim they see a goal scored in ice hockey.
A golfer playing against the record book, his aspirations, immortality, eternity, the Grand Slam, his own private ambitions, and even his own embarrassment is a man who has chosen a pretty strong lineup of opponents. Jack Nicklaus was such a person last week, and that is the only thing that made the Masters as close as it was.
April 17, 1972
That's what made Nicklaus come limping down the stretch over those last few holes, trying to play it cozy, trying not to let the Masters slip away to some guy who didn't want it in the first place. He went to the 11th hole of the last round with a five-stroke lead on the pack, which included somebody named Jim Jamieson, and he was supposed to get you excited? You've got to be drunker than most everybody under the umbrellas on the veranda.
Nicklaus was only worried about fate, a weird fate that would keep him from winning his fourth Masters, the 12th major championship of his life, moving him up ahead of Walter Hagen and now only one back of Bobby Jones. It would also put him another step closer to being, beyond any logical argument, the greatest golfer who ever lived, overlapped, interlocked or putting on Poa annua.
Fate tried hard, of course. It grabbed hold of Jack and made him three-putt the 11th hole for a bogey, three-putt the 13th for a par, three-putt the 14th for another bogey and, the third day in a row, play the 15th hole like a guy trying to move the hot dog to the hand with the binoculars in it. The 15th is a par-5 hole that Nicklaus could go back out to right now and with nothing but a driver and four-iron—forget the putter, he'll kick the ball—play four balls and make three fours and a three.
Put him in the Masters, though, and throw all that immortality up against him, plus the fact that he's going to be so humiliated if he doesn't win, and he'll go out there and make a seven on Friday, a five on Saturday, and on Sunday he'll make a six, always hitting some kind of second shot that threatens to bounce clear to the parking lot.
The fact is that the Augusta National course with its ruined greens played so difficult last week—the most difficult since 1966, when Nicklaus last won—that Jack could lead the field all the way after an opening 68 and afford the luxury of going 36 holes on Saturday and Sunday in three over par.
If Nicklaus' winning total of 286—only two under par—was not proof enough of the sad greens, how about the fact that only three other players broke 290, and one of them was Jamieson? His main claims to fame are that he comes from Illinois, across the river from Jack Fleck, and that he works with a set of clubs that includes a couple of Pings, three Spaldings, three Power-Bilts, a Hagen, a Hogan, three Golfcrafts and a putter he bought in a department store in Orlando.
It was an old-fashioned Masters, actually, including as it did the Poa annua, some wind, some chilly weather, a low round by Sam Snead, a hole in one by Charles Coody on Billy Joe Patton's 6th hole, the high scores, a variety of double bogeys and a few triple bogeys.
Constantly the big leader boards argued with one's intellect, especially on the first day, the most exciting of all: Snead, a 59-year-old man with a putting style that looks as if he's bending over to tie his shoe, had a 69. Then Coody with his hole in one at the 6th to put him four under par. So on the next hole he takes four shots—in the same bunker. Finally, Nicklaus, looking like the player he is. His eagle 3 at the 15th took command.
From this point on the only question that remained was whether Nicklaus would whip himself. Slowly, the Poa annua would take everybody out of it, forcing three-putt greens, making recovery chips and pitches next to impossible. Nicklaus succeeded because just enough of his game held together to conquer his mind.
His driving was good, but his irons were unsettling, and his recovery shots were pretty awful. What kept him on top was his attitude, his ability to smile at his own mistakes, his refusal to become demoralized by the Poa annua and the short putts he missed.
"Trying to play safe is the worst thing in the world," Nicklaus said. "I don't think I would have looked so bad there at the last if I'd been forced to throw the ball at the hole. When you start playing safe...."
Jack admitted he had become a bit testy over the constant badgering he got about the Grand Slam, and the fact that his legs were never working right on his iron shots.
"You come here to savor the Masters," he said. "It stands alone. I don't think about winning the Masters as part of the Slam. You want to win the Masters because of what it means to the game; what Bob Jones meant."
He never truthfully worked out the problem with the legs. There was wind and when there's wind you don't use the legs as much; you swing more stiffly, occasionally eliminating the full follow-through. Each night Jack practiced until almost dark, testing.
"I've played better here and didn't win, but the course changes and the field changes," he said.
One change in this year's field was that it included Lee Trevino, who became a part of the proceedings even though he played golf like one of the aging members on the tour. He had not been to Augusta in two years and he had said a lot of things about the place. Clifford Roberts, chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, cooled him, delightfully. After his third round, Trevino went to the press building and did his usual comic routine, but as he was leaving Roberts approached. Trevino stopped for a radio interview. Roberts stood by. It seemed obvious that he was waiting for Lee, and it seemed obvious that Lee was taking his own sweet time.
Roberts finally left, wandering up the hill to the clubhouse. Lee started up the same hill and as he passed Roberts' office, Cliff stepped outside. Whether he noticed Roberts or not, Trevino kept walking. But a club member on Trevino's left hollered to him, pointing at Roberts. The two shook hands and Cliff said, "Have you got a half minute?"
"I got to do a TV thing," said Trevino.
There was an awkward pause and eventually the TV man said, "I'll wait."
Whereupon Roberts put his arm around Trevino and they walked into Roberts' office. They stayed there about 25 minutes and came out together. They walked up the driveway and into the main entrance to the clubhouse and into the Trophy Room where they stood and chatted about Bobby Jones' old clubs in the glassed-in case.
"He only hit two shots with the sand wedge," said Cliff, talking about Jones.
"I guess he played in a lot of rocks," said Trevino.
They chatted on and on, amid laughter and in a perfectly friendly atmosphere. And Trevino said he would definitely return to the Masters.
Roberts said, "I was decidedly charmed by that fellow. One of the nicest things about this week is that we've got our relationship straightened out."
And Trevino said, "I really enjoyed that. He's a nice man."
The attention paid to Trevino just went to prove how times have changed. Somehow it seemed that Augusta's alltime favorite, Arnold Palmer, was not fawned over as in the past. The crowds were his, of course, but Palmer had a ruling go against him, something that might not have happened for a long time. It occurred on the second day and it not only cost him a stroke but catapulted him into such a bad frame of mind it probably cost him the triple bogey that took him out of contention.
At the 9th hole on Friday Palmer had his second shot come to rest in a depression caused by a chair seat by the green. He thought he deserved a free lift. He played his ball and made a bogey 5. He next played a provisional ball and made a par. He then went to the back nine, the incident under review.
What angered him was that he knew, or believed he knew, that the chair had been occupied by a tournament official. If so, he reasoned, it was no different from a TV tower or something you can freely drop away from. The full rules committee said no, and this news was delivered on the 12th tee, before Palmer was about to play the most dangerous hole on the course, that marvelous par-3 over Rae's Creek. Palmer promptly hit an eight-iron into the front bunker, hit the bunker shot over the green, slashed back across the green into the front bunker again, blasted out and missed a three-foot putt for a triple-bogey 6. He snarled all the way—about the ruling, the bunker, the greens, all the ships at sea and the eight years since he last won a Masters.
Meanwhile, Nicklaus was left to join Palmer as the only other four-time Masters winner. And in so doing Jack established himself as a man who has now taken the tournament in just about every conceivable way. He took it coming down the stretch by a stroke. That was when he first won it, nine years ago, over Tony Lema. He won it by shooting records, a 64 and a 271 and by nine strokes. That was in 1965. He won in a playoff, and back to back, in 1966. And now he has won it clumsily, with a 68-71-73-74, frightened only of destiny and that old honey child, Poa annua.
And, of course, frightened by himself. The toughest opponent he has ever had to face.