Imagine one of those commemorative prints, the kind they hang on the wall of a Mixed Foursome Room, such as Ladies' Day at Minchampton, or Jones at the Road Hole, or, for that matter, Deane Beman at Appomattox, and you get an idea of what could be in store for Jack Nicklaus. He has won the Grand Slam of professional golf in 1975 and now he is depicted by the artist in a green jacket from the Masters and a fez from next week's U.S. Open at Medinah, a course the Shriners have contributed to American culture. A cloud of gray mist hovers over his head from the British Open at gloomy Carnoustie, and by his side is a four-ply, steel-belted radial from the National PGA at Firestone.
"You're totally crazy," Nicklaus said the other day. "I can't think about the Slam until after the Open. If I've won at Medinah, then of course it will enter my mind."
It hasn't already? Come clean.
"It has and it hasn't. It has to the extent that I know I'm a better golfer now than I was in 1972 when I won the Masters, and the Open at Pebble Beach, and almost won the British Open at Muir-field with a good last round. But you can't think in terms of all four. There's so much preparation that goes into just one major championship, you can't let yourself think beyond it. I was never more ready to play well in a tournament than I was before Augusta this year. And I knew it. I had never worked any harder on my game, for one thing. Now I'm hoping to regain the same control of the golf ball for Medinah."
June 15, 1975
Does it trouble you that Medinah is not the best type of Open course for you? It certainly has more trees than any Open course in the last few years. The greens are relatively flat, and may not be as speedy as you would prefer.
"You have to drive straight in any Open. It's a strong golf course. In the Western Open at Medinah in 1962, I think I shot 291 and tied for sixth. The winner shot 281. I don't think there's a 'my kind of course' anymore considering the caliber of players we have today. We've all won at places where we weren't expected to, like me at Harbour Town. It depends on your game that week."
But it can hardly be to your liking that Medinah will be the kind of course where almost anybody could shoot low if he's on, or high if he's hitting it crooked. In the only other Open there Middlecoff shot a couple of 75s, but he also shot a 67 and a 69. In other words, unlike the killer Winged Foot last year, Medinah can yield.
"You can't shoot much lower than Miller and Weiskopf did in the last two rounds at Augusta. Medinah has an interesting group of finishing holes, from about the 13th in, where anything can happen. It has this in common with the Augusta National."
Three times in the past you've won two major championships in the same year. Incidentally, Jones and Hogan are the only other players who could say that. And you've been flirting with the Slam for four years. But you're an even better golfer now? In what way?
"I'm a much better driver and a better wedge player. I knew this going into the Masters. When I came out of Doral and Harbour Town my swing pattern was just like I wanted it. But there was one thing I didn't know. I didn't know if I could still win a major championship. That's why the Masters was important."
You didn't know what?
"The Masters was a comeback for me in a sense. I'd been a year without winning a major championship. I was fourth at Augusta last year, 10th in the Open, third in the British Open and second in the PGA. That's pretty good. But I lost all four. Frankly, there were times through all that when I was wondering about myself. I was wondering about my ambition and my sheer ability to strike and control a golf ball when I had to."
If you lose at Medinah, will you start wondering again?
"A year is a success for me when I've won one major championship. That's why last year was such a failure. No, I'll be just as up for the British Open and the PGA. You know, I love the four majors so much, I can see myself playing in them just because of the atmosphere long after I'm unable to win them."
How did you put yourself back to work? Or, rather, what did you do when Johnny Miller put you back to work?
"I really did work harder than anytime since I was a kid. The first thing I did was mostly mental. I would hit practice balls and think about what I wanted to achieve, ideally, with my swing. I found an old driver I had that I liked, so I started hitting with it and discovered that I was driving straighter than I ever had. Shorter but straighter. Then in Florida I found a sand wedge I loved, one similar to the club I'd always used, but better. This helped the chipping, which has always been a problem for me. So I had a driver and sand wedge that gave me tremendous confidence. For a few weeks there, including Augusta, I just felt like I had total control over the golf ball."
Anything else mentally? Like conjuring up images of Johnny Miller in a concrete rainsuit?
"I became determined to put golf first. For example, in the past I've always gone to the office and then to the golf course in the afternoon. I started thinking one day, heck, I'm taking the business problems to the golf course. This year I started going to the golf course first, and then to the office, if there was time."
O.K., now you're winning the Masters and you're in total "control" of the golf ball. Where'd you scare up that sloppy 73 on Saturday which turned the whole thing into a golf tournament?
"Arnold Palmer and I were paired. It's strange but true that neither Arnold nor I generally score well when we play together. One reason, obviously, is that we don't like to lose to each other. We get caught up in a match-play frame of mind. We also get caught up in the yelling and screaming match between our galleries. Well, they certainly got their money's worth. I shot a 73 and Arnold shot a 75. Somewhere else out on the course, Johnny Miller was shooting a 65, and Tom Weiskopf was shooting 66."
You've hit two shots on television now in crucial situations, both of them with a one-iron. There was the shot to the 17th at Pebble in the '72 Open on the last day when you thought you had to have it. It got in there about three inches from the cup. And there was the one-iron to the 15th on Sunday at Augusta. Since you're a better golfer these days, do we dismiss the one at Pebble into a 40-mile wind as just good luck, the kind of thing that Bruce Crampton always expects to happen to him?
"That was a bad swing. I must have been choking. I couldn't believe the results. The shot at Augusta might have been the best golf shot I've ever hit. It had to carry more than 240 yards. You don't win a tournament on one shot, but there was quite a bit riding on that one. The shot was so pure—and I knew it the instant I hit it—I wouldn't have been surprised if it had gone in the hole. I honestly don't mean it to sound like bragging but when you do something like that, under the pressure of a win-or-lose situation—and, as I say, Augusta represented a comeback for me—it's pretty satisfying. It's that kind of moment that makes you think, by golly, I can still play this game."
You've said before, privately, that major championships are easier to win, to an extent, than the normal tour event. Want to make that clear for the world out there?
"They're played on tougher courses, which eliminates a lot of people. If you look at them from the viewpoint that you have a smaller field in the Masters and British Open, then by sheer numbers they should be easier. What I'm talking about is attitude. A major championship is a battle of nerves, among other things. What I mean is there aren't that many players in the field of a major championship who can actually visualize themselves winning. They're defeated from the start. Therefore, those of us who think we can win have fewer people to beat. Anybody can win, of course, if everything falls together, and some real long shots have won, as the history books tell you. In a regular tour tournament, you tee off 144 guys and at least 100 of them aren't afraid to win. But in the four major championships, which are sort of the four Super Bowls we play every year, there probably aren't more than 25 players who deep down think they have a chance unless they happen to get hot. And there may not be more than six or eight who actually expect to win."
You've said that just being involved in something like the last round of the Masters, when you and Weiskopf and Miller were all living up to your advance notices, was the most fun you've ever had in golf. Exhilarating might have been a better word. Fun? Would it have been as much fun if you'd lost?
"Naturally, it was more exciting to win. More rewarding. All that. But, darn it, it was fun. It was fun to be a part of that. I hope Johnny and Tom feel that way. Any one of us could have won because there's always an element of luck in golf no matter how well you play. Had I lost, I still would have felt privileged to have been a part of something that people would call one of the greatest tournaments ever played. It was fun to be out there in the middle of all that. That's what you work at to become in this game. Someone who can be involved in that kind of drama and competition. You know, I lost the British Open at Muir-field in 1972 when there was all of this Grand Slam talk and it was very disappointing. But being a part of that tournament was one of the two or three biggest thrills in my life. In the last round when I got to five under through 10 holes and was in the lead, playing just ahead of Trevino and Tony Jacklin, I experienced something that's never happened to me before or since. The 11th hole was completely encircled with people and they were all cheering me on, all the way to the green. And even though I was a long way from winning or losing I found myself walking down that fairway with tears in my eyes. Well, I lost the tournament by a shot, but I wouldn't take anything for the experience."
Did the thought ever occur to you, back then, that you were possibly too young to win the Slam? That it would be coming too early in the old career?
"It's funny. I did think that. In a strange way, I didn't want to do it. I thought, what'll I do then? I'm too young to retire. I would have gone ahead and done it, of course, if it hadn't been for Trevino and a few other people."
Yeah, uh, it's probably a good rule to take a Slam wherever you can find one. Would you be tempted to quit now, if you could win at Medinah, Carnoustie and Firestone?
"Those are three awfully big ifs. If I have to answer that, I would say that I would certainly gear down. It wouldn't be quitting exactly. I think I would play maybe eight or nine tournaments a year, including the Big Four. I would still want to win major championships."
You have 15 of them. You will have gone to that Great Dogleg Right in the Sky long before anyone even approaches that, if anyone ever does. How many is enough?
"When all these young guys out here start beating my brains out regularly."
Meanwhile, you're just excited about Medinah. That fun thing again?
"It's been a heck of a year. I've won three times. Miller has won three times. Littler twice. Weiskopf, Trevino and Hale Irwin have all won. If I knew my game was going to be good enough at Medinah that I would at least have a chance, then I'd say I can hardly wait."
Can you hardly wait?
"I can hardly wait."
Thank you, Mr. President.