When we left young Jim Simons on the PGA Tour a few weeks ago he was playing golf so slowly that the fairway grass kept nodding off. A survey confirmed what his fellow pros already knew: he was one of the slowest players around. So Simons decided to do something about it. He was going to force himself to play faster, whatever it took, even if it meant breaking into a jog before his tee shot came down out of the sky. And last week in the rain-drenched Ohio countryside, Jim Simons furnished proof that speed is the answer to more things than a hippie's well-being.
Simons thought himself up a variety of fast-playing gimmicks, not all of them in line with the game's etiquette, but effective nonetheless. And then he played the finest golf of his life on one of the toughest courses this side of a car wreck. The result was not only a lot of grateful thank-yous from his fellow pros, but also a dramatic victory in the third annual Memorial Tournament at Dublin, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, an event Jack Nicklaus hopes to build into something spoken of in the same reverent tones as the game's four major championships, the U.S. and British Opens, the Masters and the PGA.
To win, Simons had to play rounds of 68-69-73-74, which added up to a four-under total of 284, as well as overcome several formidable obstacles in Sunday's final round. The first of these was the Muirfield Village course, still evil despite being slowed down by the rain. Next, Simons was paired with the tournament's awesome founder and the layout's designer, who was, of course, Nicklaus. Finally, he had to make a par 4 on the very last hole, knowing that Bill Kratzert, another of the game's fine young competitors, had already finished with a 285 and was poised for a sudden-death playoff.
What Simons did was what most golfers do who win tournaments. He made putts. Lots of them. Many of them for necessary pars. And while he did, he was treated to some weird doings on the part of Nicklaus. Jack making a triple bogey on a par-3 hole by hitting pitch shots that traveled six and seven feet at a time. Jack making a double bogey at the 17th hole just when it seemed that he was getting ready to win his own tournament again because it is the Jim Simonses of the world who usually fall apart. Not this time. Nicklaus doubled by hitting a poor drive, a poor bunker shot, a poor pitch and poor chip while Simons recovered from a horrid drive, as he had done so many times earlier in the week, by dropping a rugged 12-foot putt for a par. Same old thing on the 18th. Poor drive. Poor bunker shot. So-so pitch. But then a routine 20-footer in the throat for a par and the $50,000 first prize, which left Kratzert dazed.
May 28, 1978
All in all, however, the 28-year-old Simons won the Memorial by speeding up his shotmaking. One of the things he did was to step outside the gallery ropes after hitting his tee shot and start skipping toward his ball before the others in his pairing finished driving. He would hit-and-run on his second shots as well. Then, on the greens, Simons marked his ball with a 50¬¨¬®¬¨¢ piece, the better for him to go about the process of lining up his putts from a distance while his partners were taking their turns. Heretofore, Simons had been one of those players who do all of their figuring and fidgeting only after it is their time to play.
"Nobody's complaining about my etiquette," he said at the Memorial. "They like it. I guess I was even slower than I knew I was."
Simons was more or less in control of the Memorial from the beginning, although his 68 was one shot off the first-round lead shared by Nicklaus and Gary Player. When he added a 69 on Friday, his 137 total gave him a two-stroke lead on the field. The 73 he shot on Saturday left him one stroke ahead of Kratzert at 210, but his total of six under par for the first 54 holes was an amazing statistic to those who recognized how difficult a course Jack has built. Two things were responsible for Simons' low score—the weather and Simons' putter.
In many ways it was a golf tournament that you could have watched on a weather radar screen. The third annual Memorial News, Weather and Sports Invitational. It had rained almost steadily around Columbus for 2½ weeks before the tournament started, and weather and playing conditions occupied much of the conversation and activity all four days. Also parking conditions. Somewhere along the way Nicklaus and his friends and business associates came to realize that with all of the planning that had gone into Muirfield Village and the very classy event, nobody had ever given enough thought to where the vast hordes of spectators might put their cars if it rained enough to turn the fields in the Muirfield Village complex into gumbo.
Nicklaus' plant is laid out in such a way that spectators must be ferried to the golf course even when the ground is dry and they can park in the fields. Last week, the rain eliminated parking in the fields.
So a wonderful variety of alternate parking areas came into being: the Columbus Zoo, the Dublin Drive-In Theater and various company lots. None of them was close to Muirfield, and the situation was not helped by traffic cops who took delight in diverting every vehicle, regardless of what sticker was on its windshield, toward Cleveland or perhaps East Germany. Also, some misunderstandings developed. At one point, an elderly couple parked at the zoo and boarded a bus that they thought would take them to the lions and tigers. It took them to the tournament instead, where the old gentleman said something like, "Ten dollars each! To see a monkey?" At the drive-in theater, the lines of people waiting for buses to take them the five miles to the course were agonizingly long.
Despite all of this, the Columbus fans endured and turned out in record numbers. They were there when it was damp and muggy, there when it was windy, and they were there on Sunday when it became football weather—mostly gray, breezy and cold. Still, Nicklaus knew he had a problem for future tournaments. Like finding some land closer to the premises, draining it and paving it so that automobiles can be accommodated regardless of the weather.
As for the course, it more than held its own, even though the players were allowed to improve their lies the first two rounds, or play the game "hands on," as they say, which is possibly the worst new expression in golf. The result was more sub-par rounds than ever, and fewer rounds in the 80s. One of the reasons was that the soft fairways kept a lot of drives from bouncing into trouble. If you got a one-yard roll with a driver, you were lucky. You almost had to "carry" the ball into trouble. But the Muirfield course is so splendid an architectural achievement that there is plenty of golf left after the tee shot. Irons must be exact to avoid bunkers, water, trees and dangerous putts. For example, after the second round, Roger Maltbie, who won the Memorial in 1976, its inaugural year, came into the locker room and said, "I'll tell you why this is some golf course. I just played 18 holes improving my lie, never hit a bad shot and what it added up to was 76."
Nicklaus wants terribly for the Memorial to become a "major championship." The tournament certainly has the course, the atmosphere and annually a good enough field for it to qualify as such. The only question is whether the golf world needs another major. If it does, then the race is essentially between the Memorial and the Tournament Players Championship, and right now the TPC has the edge, being a "designated" event—meaning that everybody has to show up. Last week the Memorial was without Lee Trevino and Lanny Wadkins, the PGA champion. Both had reasons for being absent, but players of their stature don't skip a major. Thus, Jack probably has some public relations work ahead of him as well as a need to solve the parking problem.
On this subject, Gary Player had a thought. "Golf will never have a fifth major," he said. "You can't start up a major today that Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen never had a chance to win."
A brutal course won the first two Memorials, and weather teamed with Jim Simons to win the third. Each year the tournament has honored a golfing great: Jones, Hagen. Francis Ouimet. Instead of Sarazen for 1979, how about Bantam Ben Shultz, or whatever his name was, who drove the most buses from the drive-in to the course?