These are the words Jack Nicklaus privately left to history: "Book the hunt." Put them in there with all those giant steps for mankind and praise the Lord and pass the song charts and the Gettysburg recital and all that stuff. All those memorable sayings that squirm their way into we the people of the country clubs, in order to form a more perfect player. Jack got old No. 14 last week at Canterbury and officially became the greatest golfer who ever lived or died, and now we have to deal with it in terms of history.
It was the night before the final round of the 1973 PGA Championship in Cleveland, the last of golfs big four titles. The emotional end of the season. The Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open had come and gone, and Jack Nicklaus had not won any of them. And he only needed one more big one to make it 14 major championships in a glittering career.
One more, the 14th, would move him ahead of Bobby Jones on the alltime list. As has so often been said, they can play all the Pensacolas and Tucsons and Piccadilly World Match Plays they want to, but in golf the major championships are the ones that really matter. To history, ego, prestige, endorsements—whatever. And the PGA at Canterbury was Nicklaus' last chance until another Augusta to overcome a barrier, perhaps mental, he had been confronting for months. The ghost of Jones.
Now he was with his Columbus pals and business associates on Saturday night, as he usually is, discussing the day's play and tomorrow's prospects. After starting slowly, he had blazed into a one-stroke lead through 54 holes in search of his third PGA Championship and old No. 14. There were 18 more holes to play on Sunday and there were a lot of players at Canterbury who could beat him.
Somebody mentioned what an odd year it had been, with Tommy Aaron and Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf all winning their first major titles in Augusta and Oakmont and Troon, with Jack coming close but not quite. It could happen again, couldn't it? Mason Rudolph and Don Iverson and Bruce Crampton and Denny Lyons were all lurking, and despite the fact that Jack was playing superbly, Canterbury was not really his kind of course.
There was talk among the group of Nicklaus friends about an elk hunt in New Mexico for November. This is what Jack really wanted to do with his schedule, go on an elk hunt, not compete so much. But wouldn't it be better, said Putnam Pierman, his business partner, to put off the decision and see what happened tomorrow?
"If you don't win," said Pierman, "you may feel you need to play a few more tournaments in the fall."
Nicklaus thought that over. Maybe so. Then he thought about how well he had been hitting the ball all week, how strongly he was concentrating on the PGA, how much he wanted to get that 14th title behind him.
"Book the hunt," Jack said.
This was the man the world had to beat on Sunday—an unbeatable man. A man who took on a golf course not at all suited to his game but who, with dedication, hard work and patience, was able to conquer it with astonishing ease.
"Besides," said a press tent wit, "he was tired of reading about Weiskopf," a reference to the summer's hero who was not quite up to another barn fire. Gad, he finished sixth.
What Nicklaus did last Sunday was go out in a pairing that contained, essentially, the whole tournament. He was with Rudolph, who trailed him by one, and Crampton, who was three strokes back but was considered to have the best chance of putting together a low round and overtaking him. And what Jack did within this group was never give the slightest hint that he was going to do anything but win. Right away he started hitting the ball dead stiff, flirting with birdies. By the 6th, he had one. By the 7th, he had another. And when he rolled one in at the 15th, after a remarkable iron shot around a cluster of Canterbury's antique trees, it was all over.
Nicklaus coasted on to a final-round 69, which went with his earlier rounds of 72, 68 and 68. That adds up to 277 and a four-stroke victory over Crampton, whose one-under 70 was the best run anybody could make at Nicklaus among the serious contenders. Mason Rudolph, with his lasso swing, had hung in there tenaciously most of the way but he was destined to double bogey the last hole for a 73; Don Iverson, the young, handsome nobody who had shared both the 18- and 36-hole lead despite playing in his first major event, finally relented to the pressure and concluded with a 74, falling into a tie for sixth.
Jack had been a grim fellow all week, somewhat of a man lost within himself. He has been admitting for two years or so that these major championships are the only things that matter to him anymore. When a season passes and he has not captured one of them, the winter is a long one. Evidence of his attitude came early in Cleveland when a friend asked him to do a TV interview, specifically in regard to the Ryder Cup matches coming up in Scotland. Jack refused, not rudely, but absolutely.
"I don't want to talk about anything that does not concern itself with this championship," he said.
Canterbury was living proof that when Nicklaus appears to have his mind and game in shape, nothing is beyond his reach. It is an engagingly old-fashioned place, all cramped in among the tall trees of the lovely neighborhood in Shaker Heights. It seems as if the back nine was built on top of the front with four greens coming back to the old rambling brick clubhouse (the 3rd, 9th, 15th and 18th) and with tees hanging off the verandas on all sides, and some of them hanging off the front porches of homesteads. It is a hilly place with numerous blind shots, tight as a pair of jeans in spots, and there is a subtlety to the old greens that last week made the same putt break in a different direction each time. With a different speed.
Length made no difference. There was only one par 5 Jack could reach consistently (the 6th), but so could everyone else. It was essentially a short-iron course, a tough driving course, with the exception of the final three holes, which were long, long, long, and which were capable of producing either a bizarre or a dull finish.
When Canterbury staged a couple of U.S. Opens back in its past, the Lawson Little Open of 1940 and the Lloyd Mangrum Open of 1946, these last three holes produced playoffs, and those Opens produced controversies. No such thing this time. The PGA was over when Nicklaus reached them, and he could even afford the luxury of a closing bogey.
Jack probably never envisioned that he would take old No. 14 with a casual, six-inch tap-in putt for a bogey, but that is how it all ended.
"Looking back on it, I have to say I think I was trying too hard," he said. "At Muirfield last year, and then at Augusta and Oakmont and Troon. There's no doubt, I was hung up on getting the 14th."
But he added, "On the other hand, it's just a number, isn't it? Jones won his 13 in a shorter length of time, and he had fewer tournaments to try for."
Maybe we need to dwell on history for a second, to put it all in perspective. Bobby Jones won five U.S. Amateurs, four U.S. Opens, three British Opens and one British Amateur. This was the record Nicklaus was trying to beat. Now we find Jack with four Masters titles, three U.S. Opens, three PGAs, two British Opens and two U.S. Amateurs. Thus, having begun as an amateur and then turned pro, he has had five championships to try for instead of Jones' four.
"We need an asterisk, I guess," Nicklaus smiled.
Well, Jack, just in case you may be trying to dream up some goals for yourself, there are those historians who will argue that the career record is still out there; that Jones never held it at all. Walter Hagen did. How's that again?
Of course. In Walter Hagen's day the Western Open was considered a major championship, back there before they had the Masters. The pros got a bonus for winning it, just as they did for winning the U.S. and British Opens and the PGA. Way back then, in emotion, in publicity, in endorsements, the somewhat forgotten Western Open was a biggie, and that dad gum Walter Hagen, you know what he did? Along with his five PGAs, his four British Opens and his two U.S. Opens, that indomitable Walter Hagen went out and won five of them. That's 16 major championships for Hagen, Jack.
Sorry. You're two short.
Jack Nicklaus whooped appreciatively. He was back in the home he had rented for the week in Cleveland, pouring champagne for his pals. Booking the hunt.
"Let me up, will you?" he said with a smile.