The real Troon never stood up and identified itself but the real Tom Weiskopf (see cover) finally did. That was the story of the British Open, played last week among the trains and planes and rains of Scotland's west coast. Weiskopf started winning his first major championship on opening day, and he kept right on winning it with the kind of golf that he has always been capable of. Which is to say a game that combines furious power and artful finesse coming from a swing that looks better in human form than any artist can re-create in books and magazines with those arrows and dotted lines and shaded areas. Swing like this. Oh, yeah? Swing like Tom Weiskopf. That's what you do.
When the British Open was played at Troon 11 years ago, and Arnold Palmer won it with the best golf of his life, everybody departed saying that Palmer was a god and Troon was a beast. Palmer had shot an Open record 276, beating runner-up Kel Nagle by six strokes and everybody else by an astonishing 13. Everyone figured that this year, too, the wind would howl and the heather and whins would leap up and scatter the field, which included the strongest American entry ever. The champion would be the fellow who merely remained on his feet.
No such thing occurred. The wind never really blew; in fact, it stopped. There was no true rough, the kind you normally have to slash a sand wedge out of or turn yourself in to the medics, and because of the slosh Troon's greens held all kinds of shots, including Weiskopf's gorgeous irons that sometimes whistled and sometimes, as they say, bored a hole in the mist.
What remained was not for Weiskopf to prove he could shoot the remarkable 68-67-71-70—276 that tied Palmer's record, but rather to prove that he could hang in there and not beat himself in a major championship. He had never won one, although he had come close at the Masters twice, 1969 and 1972, and again last month in the U.S. Open at Oakmont, and for six years he had been hearing about the tremendous "potential" he possessed. Making it even tougher was the fact that he was destined to lead all the way and was paired the last two rounds with Johnny Miller, who had won at Oakmont with that wraithlike 63 and certainly seemed to be in a similar mood. Topping it off, Weiskopf did not like Troon and he couldn't figure out what he ought to do about it. So he did what he usually does with his crashing honesty; he told the press he did not like Troon.
July 22, 1973
"That's O.K.," a friend told him. "Ben Hogan never liked a golf course, either."
"Then what do I do?" asked Tom. "Just go out and kill it, right?" He laughed and went out and killed it.
Weiskopf looked like anything but his old unsteady self in the last round when he simply played along superbly, never in any real trouble, to win by three easy strokes over Miller and England's Neil Coles. He looked instead like the player he has become—enormously confident, cool, self-assured, without the temper he has displayed so often in the past. When he needed a birdie, he got it. When he needed a good shot, he hit it. When he needed a putt, he made it. In fact, using a putter that had once belonged to, of all people, Johnny Miller, he did not three-putt throughout the tournament.
"It was the best I've ever played, even though I still don't like the course and can't figure it out," Weiskopf said. "Two guys really gave me some confidence. Tony Jacklin called me and said, 'Lad, if you can keep your concentration and play your game, the greatest championship in golf will be yours.' Later I saw Nicklaus, and Jack said, 'Whatever you do, don't play Miller. Play the course.' And that's what I did, concentrate and play the course."
It had been in the third round on Friday that Weiskopf did play Miller—and may have won the championship. They staged a frenzied exhibition with Miller acting as if he was back at Oakmont and Weiskopf looking as if he was trying to shoot 80. It was almost the whole tournament right there.
Weiskopf had begun with a three-stroke lead, but by the 6th hole they were tied, with Miller two under and Weiskopf one over for the day. Then at the 7th they each birdied, and at the 8th they each birdied, and it looked like machine golf with these two tall, sweet-swinging young men ripping out the flagsticks. It was at the 8th that Weiskopf revealed the sort of courage he has. When Miller shot first and put the ball four feet from the cup, Weiskopf put it three feet 11 inches from the cup. And when Miller holed his putt, Weiskopf stepped up and holed his. It was as if Weiskopf had said, "Well, if it's going to get tough, I'd better get tough with it." In any case, it was evidence of his guts.
But more evidence came on the 9th, where he just may have won this British Open with, of all things, a double bogey. Why? Because in the passion of the moment it was a very cool, strategically sound double bogey. The drive Weiskopf hit on the 9th tee looked like one of the BOAC flights rising up out of the dunes from nearby Prestwick and soaring over the course. It sounded like the little train rummaging along the rock wall by the 11th hole. Where it went was nowhere near Troon, however. It went, crazily, 100 yards off-line to the left. When Weiskopf located the ball, it was in a little village called Unplayable. He was in the whins up to his waist, lucky even to have found the ball. Under the rules he could either drop it within two club lengths of the spot or retreat backward as far as he wished for the drop. Since two club lengths would have left him still waist deep, he walked back 125 yards, taking what he later described as one of the longest drops in history. He was now back by the 8th green where he could not see the 9th green some 250 yards away but could hit a one-iron to it. And he lay three. He blistered the one-iron and almost got it there, pitched onto the green and two-putted for perhaps the happiest six of his life. "You don't play golf and fall in love with many sixes, but I love that one," he said.
From there on in, head-to-head, Weiskopf toughened up and played two-under golf, rescuing pars from four bunkers to regain the lead by a stroke. It was Miller who faded, bogeying two of the last four holes. "In many ways, a round like that gives you the most satisfaction in golf," Weiskopf said. "Johnny was playing great and I was fighting for my life and I held on. I just kept telling myself I could do it."
The next afternoon, having finally rewarded himself with a major title, Weiskopf took pleasure in rewarding the press as well. He sent a case of champagne to the writers' tent and said he would never again be as excited as he was in this hour. "Your first major championship is the hardest," he said. "And for me to win mine here, well, I'm a sentimental guy whether anybody knows it or not, and you just can't imagine what this means." The champagne celebration moved over to the nearby Marine Hotel, where he and Nicklaus wound up singing songs with Scottish fans.
It is almost certain that this British Open will not be Weiskopf's last major title. He is the hottest thing in golf right now, considering that this performance follows three victories on the U.S. tour since early May. He has won four times in his last seven tournaments and finished second and third in two others. That is slightly overwhelming, and what it means is that golf has another new idol, something the sport can use.
Troon has several famous golf holes, such as the 11th, where Palmer practically won the 1962 British Open by playing the narrow, Railway par-5 in four under; the 7th, a par-4 that can be driven from the tee and has the nickname of Tel-el-Kebir, derived from a battle where the British whipped up on a bunch of Turhan Beys; and of course the 8th or Postage Stamp, as it has long been called. The 8th is a 126-yard par-3 that can play as long as a driver if the wind is howling straight at you. The green, tiny as can be, hangs on a ledge fastened to a high grassy dune on the left. Deep bunkers guard it on the other sides. Postage Stamp may have earned another name now: Sarazen.
For all else that happened on Wednesday's opening day, nothing quite as sensational or sentimental matched the deed of Gene Sarazen on this notable hole. At the age of 71 and still wearing plus fours, Sarazen had come to Troon where he had tried to qualify for his first British Open exactly 50 years ago. No one thought very much about it, except that Sarazen's presence gave the tournament an aura of nostalgia, the way the oldtimers do at the Masters. When Sarazen got to the 8th hole, however, and the BBC television cameras were on him because they had nothing better to show at the moment, he did something that won't soon be forgotten. He slapped a five-iron at Postage Stamp. The ball fluttered in the breeze—the only breezy day of the tournament—and lit on the green. It rolled directly into the cup for a hole in one. Fifty years later a hole in one. Indeed.
Sarazen was thereafter greeted with thunderous applause at every green he reached, and he played on to a 79, not bad for a fellow his age. It was, to put it in some perspective, a stroke better that day than the 80 of one of the tournament favorites, Peter Oosterhuis. For all of his golf, it was Sarazen's second hole in one in competition. Two things then ensued. He got a wire of congratulations from Howard Hughes—from London, not Ibiza—and he quickly presented his five-iron to the R&A for its relic room. But Sarazen was not through. The following day at Postage Stamp he holed out again, not for a one, but for a two. His tee shot had found a front bunker, the same bunker from which Palmer would make a seven, and Sarazen lifted out a sand shot that rolled into the cup for a deuce. Thus Sarazen had played Postage Stamp twice, scored a total of three and had never taken a putt.
A lot of fascinating sidelights come out of every major championship, and Sarazen's was just one. Another of perhaps equal interest was what in blazes happened to Jack Nicklaus, and what has been happening to Jack Nicklaus in major tournaments all year? Nicklaus is supposed to be winning them instead of playing his way out of them before the final round ever gets underway. As the 1973 season got started, Nicklaus appeared to be ready to take a run at the Grand Slam again. He won the Crosby and New Orleans going into Augusta, but a second-round 77 blew him out of the Masters. He won the Tournament of Champions and Atlanta going into the U.S. Open, but a third-round 74 on an easy day at Oakmont took him out of that one. Then he came to Troon, still searching for that 14th major title which would thrust him ahead of Bobby Jones as the alltime winner of big ones. He scored well enough the first two days with 69-70, but he did not look as if he was swinging well. He kept finishing low and to the left instead of high and nicely, and he was not putting particularly well. On the third day it all caught up with him as again he shot one of those ugly rounds, a 76, that removed him from the competition. "A disease ran through my whole bag," Jack said.
Trying to analyze Nicklaus this year, the press seized instantly on the possibility that he has become a walking corporation, just as Palmer had, and that business concerns were occupying more of his time than he would care to admit.
"Nonsense," says Put Pierman, his closest business associate. "He thrives on it. It's part of his relaxation."
In Saturday's final round, a very relaxed Nicklaus produced another of those brilliant scores that come close but not quite close enough to snatch away any silver trophy. The awful, almost give-up 76 in the third round had put him nine strokes behind Weiskopf, with five other players in between. This was too much ground to make up. Essentially the same thing happened to him in last year's British Open at Muirfield, at Augusta this year and also at Oakmont. At Muirfield, struggling to keep the Grand Slam alive, and struggling also for old No. 14, he fired a 66, but he would have needed a 64. At Augusta he closed with a 66 but could not catch Tommy Aaron. He was slightly more tame at Oakmont with a mere 68, but he was hardly a threat with Miller shooting his 63. Now he was at Troon, blazing away with a course-record 65. It was wonderful, but only good enough to move him up to fourth, four strokes back.
When Jack could have used the old magic the most, he did not have it. In other words, when he went to the 16th hole eight under par—a hole he could reach in two and possibly eagle, or at least birdie—he hit a wild wood shot into the weeds and settled for par. He followed that with a bogey at the 17th after a wild iron. His closing birdie at the 18th was only show biz. "It's easy to shoot 65," Jack smiled, "when you know you can't win."
With Nicklaus' failures in major championships this year will undoubtedly come the talk of a new wave taking over the game, a group of beautiful stylists on the order of Weiskopf and Miller and Lanny Wadkins and, for that matter, Ben Crenshaw, when this impressive amateur joins the professionals sometime soon. They all swing the club like the instructional articles tell you to; they hit it out there 80 miles, and now both Miller and Weiskopf have proved they know how to capture the big ones.
It is true that golf went through an era when everybody seemed to gouge the ball as much as swing at it. Call it the Arnold Palmer Era. Nicklaus is more a power golfer than a pretty hitter. And Lee Trevino looks as if he slaps at the ball half the time and shovels it the other half. In other words, these three could never be mistaken as Ben Hogans, Byron Nelsons and Sam Sneads of another age.
Are we entering a classicist's age again, being led into it by Miller and Weiskopf? Time and a few more major championships will tell. Miller is only 26, Weiskopf only 30. With their golf swings, nothing is beyond their grasp. When Weiskopf has to use an iron to lay up in front of a burn 280 yards away, you know that Nicklaus has some company out there.
How badly does the new breed want it? That is the final question, of course. And maybe Tom Weiskopf has the answer. "How bad do I want it?" he pondered, meaning the so-called mantle of greatness that comes to so few. "Well, all I can say is, it's one down and 13 to go."