Years from now when the occasion is recalled, there will likely be four or five million people who will claim they were in the elegant Ohio woods near Columbus with Jack Nicklaus, some friends of his and all of those Japanese film makers in electric carts the day they shot Birdies on the Orient Express, or whatever Jack decides to title it. Indeed, last Friday was no ordinary day in the history of professional golf. It was a day when Nicklaus invited three chums named Lee Trevino, Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller to join him in a carefree little 18-hole round for $1,000 a pop, complete with greenies and carryovers—a cat game, as it is known outside the councilroom of the USGA—and all that the foursome did was put on a show for the ages. The festivities were recorded in sight and sound for U.S. and global viewing. Unless lunatics get involved in the editing, the result just might be one of the landmark contributions to the sport. As the high priest of cat games, Lee Trevino said, "We might have been out there to have fun, but, man, we hauled off and played jam up and jelly tight."
There is nothing, really, to compare it with. It was not a tournament. It was not an exhibition. And it was not hard-core gambling, which means that Deane Be-man, the PGA commissioner, can raise up from the wash basin and stop gagging. If anything, it began as a device for Nicklaus to promote his new course and club, Muirfield Village, and the Memorial Tournament he will sponsor there on the tour late next spring. It became, however, a happening.
Getting Nicklaus, Trevino, Weiskopf and Miller together for a round of golf was intriguing in itself. Putting them on a course that is already a work of art provided something more. To have the, day turn out to be the kind that inspires songs and poems about leaves and things did not hurt. Nor did the nearly six continuous hours of Trevino's humor. But, finally, on top of everything else, to have those particular superstars provide the type of golf they did was almost too heavy.
In Japan they will probably show every single shot that all four players hit and air every remark that was recorded through the magic of the small, wireless, radio frequency mikes Jack and the others wore. They do that sort of thing in Japan—a show runs forever. But anyone who is not planning to move to Osaka will also get at least two hours' worth. CBS-TV was a co-producer of sorts, and you should check your local listings next Jan. 3. So much for their promo.
Here is what happened in the golf game, insofar as the scoring was concerned. Miller birdied the 2nd hole. Miller and Trevino birdied the 3rd hole. Trevino and Nicklaus birdied the 4th hole. Weiskopf birdied the 5th hole. Weiskopf birdied the 6th hole. Nicklaus and Miller birdied the 7th hole. Nicklaus birdied the 9th hole. Miller birdied the 11th hole. Weiskopf birdied the 12th hole. Nicklaus eagled the 15th hole. Nicklaus birdied the 16th hole. And Weiskopf birdied the 17th hole.
As a foursome, the immortals were 13 under par on a course that can take its place on any list of Pine Valleys and Pebble Beaches you want to draw up. It must have seemed all the more amazing to the 5,000 spectators that the heroes could shoot this kind of golf with wires running up inside their shirts, and while waiting for 20 cameras to be moved by the Orient Express—about 10 electric carts manned by assorted versions of Cecil B. DeShingu-san.
The game they played worked like this: low score on a hole got $1,000. It was two tie, all tie. And there were those carryovers. Thus, when the 1st hole was halved with pars, the 2nd hole was worth $2,000 to Miller when he rolled in a 30-foot putt for a birdie.
Miller had rapped the putt too firmly but it struck the pin and went in.
Up on the green Nicklaus said, "I'm afraid I'll have to deduct the cost of a new flagstick, John. You cracked that one."
One of the best holes at Muirfield Village is the 3rd, a dangerous and scenic par-4 lined with trees, with a green guarded by a creek, a deep bunker and overhanging limbs. Trevino and Miller both hit glorious irons into the green. Lee putted first and curled it in. Nicklaus and Weiskopf then began to help Miller line up the putt that would halve the hole if he could sink it.
Trevino called a time-out and spoke to the crowd. He had already been babbling away, saying, "Yawl gonna play, or are you scared...? Look at them three blonds out here pickin' on a poor Mexican.... Relax, Jack, I'll run your show for you.... Wonder if Miller's got those short arms and deep pockets when he's got to come up with that 10% he gives to the church...."
Now Trevino was saying, "Look at that, folks. There's three of the greatest players in the whole world over there tryin' to line up one little old putt. If they miss this, they're gonna look like clowns."
The first big lick in the game came at the 5th hole, an ingenious par-5. It is a dogleg to the right with a stream bisecting the fairway vertically instead of across. The 5th hole would be worth $3,000 if anyone could win it since the 3rd and 4th had been halved with those birdies. Weiskopf had almost reached the green in two blows after nailing a driver and a three-wood. He was in the front, right-hand bunker.
Filmed golf has its show-biz moments, and this was one of the better ones of the day. The show's two directors, Frank Chirkinian of CBS and a pleasant, ever-smiling gentleman called Shingu-san, were not exactly hidden by the scenery. At times, in fact, it looked as if Nicklaus, Trevino, Weiskopf and Miller were playing a sixsome. In any case, as Weiskopf was preparing to hit from the bunker, Chirkinian suddenly waved his arms at a cameraman and hollered, "This will be a continuous take after Tom's shot."
"Ready?" said Weiskopf.
The club waggled.
"Ready?" said Chirkinian to Shingu-san.
"Not ready, Frank," said Shingu-san.
"Now ready?" said Chirkinian.
New waggle. New stance.
"Ready, Frank," said Shingu-san.
Weiskopf finally hit a superb shot, the ball very nearly holing out, with Tom leaping up and down excitedly in the bunker. It was a gimme birdie and a swift three grand.
Later on Nicklaus himself would win two such carryover holes, which would cause Trevino to say that he was getting sick of all this "local knowledge." Jack took $3,000 with a birdie at the 9th, and he provided the biggest roar of the day with a 40-foot putt for an eagle at the par-5 15th for another $3,000.
As Nicklaus' long eagle putt was gliding across the 15th green, Weiskopf, commenting on the fact that Muirfield Village may well have the speediest putting surfaces known to mankind, said, "That's five feet past."
"Six inches down is where it's goin'," said Trevino.
And down it went.
Well, perhaps that is enough of the repartee. It may all be available on a long-playing album one of these days, or maybe the Nicklaus Transcripts will be published. This particular production was sort of the finale to what had been a strange week in professional golf, the first "off" week for the PGA tour this year. What came before the cat game was a three-day nontournament for prize money totaling $117,500. Strictly for Japanese television, for what will be a staggering 52-week series, the match-play affair was arranged at Muirfield Village so that 16 players could battle it out to see who would have the honor of meeting Nicklaus and Weiskopf in the semifinals.
The invitees were Americans Jerry Heard, Ben Crenshaw, J. C. Snead, Tom Kite, Eddie Pearce, Forest Fezler, Leonard Thompson, Joe Inman, Mark Hayes and George Burns III, plus Australians David Graham and Bob Stanton, Ireland's John O'Leary, Scotland's Bernard Gallacher, and Japan's Kazunari Takahashi and Tsutomo Irie.
A few weeks ago, when the format became known, Ed Sneed, one of the tour wits, said, "Why does Jack want to run the risk of putting himself in the semifinals? He ought to seed himself into four up on the back nine of the finals."
The Japanese crew shot something like 100,000 feet of film each day, which is the rough equivalent of six Gone with the Winds and three Duel in the Suns with a couple of All in the Families thrown in. No one paid much attention to what went on until the semifinals, naturally, but what was typical of the play, since all of the guests were guaranteed a minimum of $2,500, was an incident in a match between Jerry Heard and Eddie Pearce. Heard hit a tee shot in the water and won the hole because Pearce followed it up by hitting two shots nobody could ever find. The nontournament ended up as the Japanese wished, with Nicklaus beating Weiskopf in the finals 2 and 1 to take the $25,000 first prize.
"I didn't win a dime," Jack protested. "That money all goes into next year's tournament."
The highlight of the nontournament involved Ken Venturi, who was present in the role of a commentator for both the Japanese TV series and the film special that will be seen on CBS. Venturi did the introduction and the explanation about the two competitions. It was all filmed in a matter of minutes.
"Do you realize," Ken said, "that I'm going to have on the same sport coat for 52 weeks in Japan?"
Venturi had labored hard on what he would say and how he would say it. He had versions for a one-minute opening, a 30-second opening, a two-minute opening, etc. The first take ran 56 seconds.
"Was it O.K.?" he said to Shingu-san.
"Very good," said Shingu-san.
"I can do it shorter.... Longer...? Anything else you want me to get in?"
"No problem," said Shingu-san. "We use Japanese voice, anyway."
Out of all of this comes the question of how good it is for golf. The convening of talents such as those belonging to Nicklaus, Trevino, Weiskopf and Miller would not mean nearly so much if it were not for the tournaments they compete in and what they have achieved in real combat. The spectacle of a tournament can never be replaced by an exhibition in any kind of gift wrapping. The world may not need another one of these, in other words, just as it does not need another King-Riggs match, and this is quite aside from the fact that last week's show in Ohio would be impossible to top.
But beyond this, and more importantly, it was not real competition. Don't feel sorry because Trevino failed to win a cat, skin or scat, whatever they are called at your home course. The four stars were guaranteed $20,000 just for showing.
Trevino said it best. "This'll be a hell of a show but let's play my game next time, baby. Let's all go down to the bank and draw out our own cash and put it up."
That of course would be the ultimate in theatrical golf but—oops—there goes Deane Beman back to the basin.