One thing Jack Nicklaus' Memorial tournament seems to do is bring up the question of how much praise a man can take before Red Adair has to be called in to put a cap on his ego. The Muirfield Village course near Columbus, Ohio, the site of last week's tournament, was in such immaculate condition that people would sooner have dropped cigarette butts on their babies' tummies. Even after rain caused the final round to be postponed, there was not a single player, including those who shot soaring numbers, who did not proclaim the course the best-prepared, lushest, most glorious piece of golfing real estate they had ever dragged a cleat across.
Here was a course where you knew if you drove in the fairway you would get a perfect lie, and if you hit a good iron into a green you knew it would hold and when you putted you knew the ball would roll true. Never before, everyone agreed, had this been the case on any tournament course, anywhere. Day in and day out, golf's most raved-about layout is the Augusta National, but not even in its most exquisite year, when one might not discover the slightest blemish on the most' obscure dogwood, has the Masters course received the kind of no-holds-barred puffs that Muirfield Village did.
So after the first few days, when Nicklaus was drowning in compliments, there were those who began looking for ways to keep him honest. Something had to be wrong. Well, if you wanted to be picky, you could say that Muirfield Village has the longest combined walks from green to tee of any course outside the Himalayas. Somebody measured them and came up with a total of one mile—most of it uphill. It was also decided that the green at the par-3 16th sloped too much away from the shooter. And then there were jokes. Too much grain in the tees. The creeks ought to be a lighter color brown. And as Ben Crenshaw said after his first-round 87, "It's too dark inside some of the hazards."
Obviously, the way to have such a flawless course is to be a perfectionist like Jack, and have the money to spend on it. A cynic might say that each hole should be named after a Columbus bank, but Nicklaus himself has about $1.5 million tied up in the bent grass fairways and vicu√±a greens. It may well be that Jack will one day decide he wants an ocean hole at Muirfield Village and he will order Course Superintendent Ed Etchells to reroute the Firth of Clyde from the west coast of Scotland into the creek bordering Muirfield's third green.
May 29, 1977
For all of you gardening and front lawn fans, here are Etchells' tips on how to make your plant life look velvety and wonderful: use only hand mowers on your bent greens, not tractor mowers like the low-rent neighbors down the street; rake your bunkers only with paddles, or toothless implements, because they smooth out the sand. Also, you must top-dress your greens and fairways every two weeks. Also, you should cut the grass a lot. Cut your fairways to [7/16] of an inch, and then cut your greens to [5/64] of an inch. You set the mower height with a magnifying glass. On greens shaved this close the golf ball may wander off if you so much as clear your throat while standing over it. But fast greens are the mark of a great course. To do all these things, you need roughly $250,000 a year; but if you are Jack Nicklaus, the club members will only smile and send a gofer to get a checkbook.
As he did last year during the inaugural Memorial, Nicklaus was making mental notes on the improvements he wants, both on the course and for the tournament, as he competed. At one point, when he noticed some volunteer kids having fun with the scoreboards—they were posting names like Golden Bear, Arnie, Chi Chi, etc.—Jack summoned Pandel Savic, a close friend who is co-chairman of the tournament with Bob Hoag, to tell the kids to knock it off. Nicklaus was playing the 15th hole on Friday when he gave this order.
Jack had opened with a par 72, a round that featured a double bogey, and he had been told that he had played a "hostly round." When he shot a 68 on Friday, a round that could have been much lower because of how snugly he put his irons into the flags, he said, "I thought a good bit last year about whether I wanted to win my tournament, but now I've made a decision. I would like to win."
It is not the splendid golf course alone that makes Jack's tournament so immediately special, so evidently worth winning that it drew a stronger field than any Masters. And it surely is not the name—the Memorial—which, if anything, is rather unfortunate. What it might be is the presence, influence, taste and maybe even inspiration of a woman—that lovely and gracious lady Barbara Nicklaus. No other tournament of any quality has quite the exact kind of feeling that Jack's does, and much of the credit for the detail and hospitality and atmosphere is due Barbara, who perhaps is not only the best golf wife anyone has ever known but is also definitely the leader in the clubhouse as the best sports wife.
She was in and out of the club, hosting, arranging, entertaining and generally lending style to the occasion, despite the fact that she had lost her $12 hammer with four more pictures to hang. She knows everyone in town and everyone in the field, but she somehow finds time for them all, and calmly.
Jack had better watch out. Last week Barbara confided that she has signed to do a TV commercial for the first time in her own name. "Hi, I'm Barbara Nicklaus. For Magic Chef microwave ovens." One thing could lead to another and Barbara may come up with her own Memorial Invitational cook-off. Forget Francis Ouimet as next year's honoree, Jack. Let's call it the third annual $225,000 Barbara.
For the first three rounds this tournament belonged essentially to a young and likable unknown, Bobby Wadkins. Not Lanny, his older and more familiar brother. Bobby Wadkins had squeezed into the field as the second alternate. And after the first six holes of the opening round on Thursday, the 25-year-old native of Richmond, Va. was all set to quit and walk in. He was five over par. Then he thought of something. There was a $500 guarantee for players who finished 36 holes. Bobby Wadkins could use $500. What Wadkins then did was fire the most colossal stretch of golf on the PGA tour this year, an unbelievable one on a course of this stature. Bobby went nine under on the next 11 holes. He shot a back nine of 29, which added up to a four-under 68 and a tie for the lead.
Wadkins had never seen more than half a dozen press rooms, so when he came into Muirfield's he said honestly, "I reckon you all know I was five over after six holes." After the laughter, he explained that what he had done was tell himself to hit it like he had on the practice tee, and not like he had on the first six holes. On those holes he had driven into a bunker, driven into a creek, shanked a wedge and three-putted. How you get nine under from that point on was not, as most might have imagined, to hole out everything but the head covers. It was like this:
Smack a two-iron onto the par-five 7th and make a 10-foot putt for an eagle, make a 15-footer for a birdie at the long 10th, hit a three-wood onto the narrow par-five 11th and two-putt for a birdie, almost hole out an eight-iron for a birdie at the watery 12th, drop a 20-footer for a birdie at the 13th, chip to 10 feet for a birdie at the 15th, very nearly hole out a five-iron for a birdie at the 16th, and then dump a 30-footer for a birdie at the 17th. In other words, nothing bizarre. Just magnificent shots. On the last green, he needed to get down from 40 feet for his par, and the 29, and he did so, although he said, "I was choking to death."
In both the second and third rounds everyone waited for Bobby Wadkins to disappear, but he refused. On Friday he shot a creditable par 72, this time performing in front of a gallery. He lost the lead by two shots to Gary Player and Jerry McGee, but they quickly gave it back to him on Saturday. Through the 11th hole, McGee was tied for first, but then the dangerous course suddenly grabbed him. as it can do, with its trees and creeks and bunkers. Jerry triple-bogeyed the short 12th out of a bunker, and that thrust him toward a 79. Player developed a snapping hook and flew to a 76. And in the midst of this, Wadkins was shooting a 69 to take a one-stroke lead over Nicklaus.
It was a lead that nobody expected him to keep on Sunday, of course. Not after Jack had decided that he wanted to win his own tournament. Not after Nicklaus holed out a bunker shot on the 18th on Saturday for the birdie that put him only a warm breath behind Wadkins.
But this was O.K. in a certain sense. Bobby Wadkins had already given the Memorial much of its fun, and maybe you could say that it was he who made the host, tycoon and architect decide to go to work on the thing he does best.
The final 18 began as if Barbara Nicklaus had scripted it. Bobby Wadkins hit it to the right off the tee on No. 1 and made a bogey, and he hit it left on No. 2 and barely rescued a par with a 15-footer, and he hit it right on No. 3 and made another bogey, all of which gave Nicklaus the lead. Jack was playing perfectly, stiffing his irons through the first six holes to go two under on the round.
When Nicklaus gave Wadkins a chance to breathe by slipping to a couple of bogeys, Bobby promptly squandered the strokes, driving wildly into the water at the 9th hole. It was about then that the storm struck and everybody got to stand around, sit around, scurry for shelter, ask questions and make periodic side trips to the clubhouse. Nicklaus maintained a two-stroke lead on Wadkins through the first and second delays. But when play ceased at 8 p.m. Wadkins was on his way to an 81 and Jack stood on the 16th tee two strokes ahead of Hubie Green and four ahead of Tom Watson. Everyone else was so far behind and wet they would have settled for a roll of paper towels rather than a check.
Even under water, Jack's course remained a wonder. It drained like Niagara Falls or a bottle in the hand of an absent-minded bartender, you can take your choice. Now you saw a stream rushing across a green, and now you didn't. Not all of the delays were caused by water, however. Thunder and lightning were partly responsible, and it was noted that, as yet, Jack has not found a way to control electricity.
When they went out early Monday to complete the round, there was the chance that Green would do something marvelous, or Nicklaus would do something horrible, over the last three holes to keep Jack from becoming his sport's first three-million-dollar man. No one did anything but make routine pars. Nicklaus shot a 71 for a 72-hole total of 281 and the $45,000 that boosted his career earnings to $3,010,252. Green was second by the same two strokes he had slept on. Watson was third, bringing up another fascinating statistic. It was the 10th time in 15 starts this year that Watson has been in the top five.
Counting the delays and the sleepover, the last round took about 21 hours, but that was no real imposition on Columbus sports fans. All in all, it didn't take much longer than a Woody Hayes touchdown drive.