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THE BEST AGAINST THE BEST

July 14, 1986
July 14, 1986

Table of Contents
July 14, 1986

Wimbledon
Carlton And Seaver
Cocaine
  • That cocaine could cripple an athlete's career was well established. Then came sudden, shocking proof that it can kill, too—even the young and strong. Don Rogers, a Cleveland Browns defensive back, was buried last Thursday—another cocaine casualty in sports, just eight days after basketball star Len Bias took a fatal dose of the same drug. Here are one man's reflections on those events.

Bo Jackson
Goodwill Games
Turnberry
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

THE BEST AGAINST THE BEST

As the British Open returns to Turnberry, Scotland, the author recounts golf's greatest match: Watson-Nicklaus, 1977

As they approached the tee at the 72nd hole, Alfie Fyles, Tom Watson's caddie, spoke up. "Go for the jugular," he said, and Watson broke a small grin and nodded his head and asked for his one-iron. This was it, at last; this would be the final hole in what, even then, people were calling the greatest golf match ever. Watson had gone head to head with Jack Nicklaus—the young lion, the challenger of this decade, vs. the golfer of the ages—in the first British Open ever played on the Ailsa course at Turnberry, on the Ayrshire coast, by the Firth of Clyde, off the North Channel of the Irish Sea. It was July of 1977; Nicklaus was 37, still in his prime, and Watson was 27, the new Masters champion, just coming into his.

This is an article from the July 14, 1986 issue Original Layout

On this last hole, Watson's tee shot drifted a bit left, but still clear of the bunker that sat 260 yards out. It was "awfully perfect," said Watson, so Nicklaus didn't hesitate.

For the first time on this hole he yanked out his driver and called up his power. It was incredible what he and Watson had done: identical 68-70s the first two days, matching 65s the third day, playing almost stroke for stroke together the final two rounds, pushing each other higher and higher, driving the gallery into a happy frenzy. They were a shot apart coming to the last hole, but still, either one of them could 70-putt the 18th green and finish runner-up. The winner's 268 would be the best score in British Open history by eight strokes. Two men had never played golf like this before, side by side.

The instant Nicklaus finished his swing he knew he had tried too hard and had hit the ball too full. The 18th fairway bent left just past the bunker Watson had missed, and Nicklaus wanted his drive to drift that way. Unfortunately his drives had been sailing to the right all day, and once again his tee shot flew that way, through the crook in the fairway, into rough as deep as there was anywhere on the course. Nicklaus turned the driver in his hand like a baton, took the offending club end and banged the handle down angrily to the turf as he stomped off the tee. To think it would end like this. It had to finish in glory. Nobody should lose this match. He or Watson, either one, O.K., but this was a match one of them had to win.

Watson walked over to check on Nicklaus's lie. At first he wasn't sure that the ball was even playable; it was buried deep in tall grass, only inches from a prickly strand of gorse. Would Jack be able to bring a club back, much less muscle the ball out? Watson decided Nicklaus would just be able to negotiate a swing, and he returned to his own ball, which lay perhaps 180 yards from the pin.

"What do you think?" he asked Alfie. The caddie fingered the seven-iron. Watson stared at him quizzically.

"What? You know I can only carry 160-65 with a six"

"The way your adrenaline's pumpin', Tom...." was all Alfie said, and his man took the seven. Watson hit it full-blooded to the pin, 30 inches from the cup.

It surely must be over now.

Nicklaus grasped his eight-iron. He took it back right through a branch of the gorse bush, macheted it down with a superhuman swat and sent the ball and a massive divot flying out. Somehow the ball found the right side of the green, 32 feet from the flag. It was impossible. Right away Watson knew—knew—that Nicklaus was going to make that putt for a birdie.

Nicklaus strode off. Barely had he turned heel than the Scots rushed over and reverently began dropping coins in the gash in the ground where Nicklaus's ball had lain, bribing the god of chance for a good putt. Pennies went onto the spot, twopenny coins, tenpenny pieces, even some old shillings. The pile began to resemble those cartoons of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Watson tried to fight his way through the rabble that swarmed onto the fairway. People were scrambling, bumping, tussling. Alfie got knocked down, pitched full forward. At the last moment he reached out and broke his fall, but he strained his left wrist, and as Watson broke through the mob, he looked back and was shocked to see his caddie's wrist already swelling. Until then, Alfie had been a pretty fair player himself, "a bit of a hustler." But even after the knot went down, the wrist stayed stiff, and he never again played a hole of golf. Alfie has carried, all told, for six victorious British Opens, and no other caddie has won more than half as many. After being so close to the perfection of those two men those days at Turnberry, maybe it was meant that no mortal should himself ever play again.

Nicklaus studied his putt, right to left, down into a dip and up. It was 32 feet on the 72nd hole of the British Open, with his rival lying less than a yard from the hole. Watson turned to Alfie and whispered, "You know, I believe Jack'll make this." Alfie looked at Watson as if he were mad. "I expect him to make this," Watson declared.

"Fine, and so you can make yours."

"Mmmm," was all Watson said back. If Nicklaus birdies, 30 inches looks like 30 miles.

Nicklaus struck the ball and started it on its path. Even before it was halfway, Alfie could see that Watson was right. Impossibly, incredibly, it was a birdie. "Good god," Alfie thought. "Tom's dead right. The bloody ball is going into the hole."

Although the British Open was first played in 1860, only 15 courses have been used in the rotation—what the British call the "rota." Turnberry, the scene of next week's Open, has long been generally recognized as the best links on Scotland's west coast, but not until 1977 had it ever been tapped for the Open. Part of this was circumstance, for Turnberry—Tonbrrry, the Scots say—though only 50 miles from Glasgow, is isolated down the coast, with the only close lodging at the Turnberry Hotel itself. The hotel is a magnificent old building, built on a hill, looking out onto the golf course below and the firth beyond, its long, burnt-red roof visible from almost everywhere on the links except, perhaps, from the depths of the 66 well-like bunkers that are scattered around the course.

Inconvenience aside, Turnberry would surely have entered the rota earlier, except that twice it had to go to battle. In the Great War it served as a flight training station for the Royal Flying Corps and Commonwealth Flying Units, and then in World War II it was all but ripped apart and reassembled as an air base, with 18-inch-deep runways laid down where the Scots had hit second shots out of the fescue and buttercups. After World War II, when the whole useless place—hotel and acreage, the lot of it—could have been had for ¬£10,000, the course was knitted back together. Now only here and there do bits and pieces of tarmac remain alongside the gorse. Otherwise, all that is left of Turnberry's noble other life is the monument on the knoll overlooking the 12th green, on which the names of the brave lads who flew off from the old links, never to return, are listed. Besides the English and the Scots, there were Aussies, South Africans and Canadians.

The Turnberry lighthouse stands just a fairway beyond the monument. By all that is holy in British golf, the courses ordained for the Open must lie by the sea, on sandy soil the land has reclaimed from the god Neptune. These are the undulating links courses, literally linking those two realms of nature that make up God's blue-green earth. Curiously, though, while St. Andrews and Muirfield, Carnoustie and Royal Troon—all the fabled Scottish links—reside by the sea, they are folded into the land in such a way that the sense of water can be lost. Turnberry alone is one with the deep. From the 4th hole to the 11th, the course clings to the firth coastline like a wet suit, and from almost everywhere on the course wee boats are visible below the dunes, with whitecaps breaking and winds blowing trenchant and briny.

On the best of days it's possible to see beyond the Mull of Kintyre, all the way to Ulster in Northern Ireland. The greater, looming presence, however, always belongs to Ailsa Craig, 10 miles out at sea and 1,113 feet high. It is a massive rock that stands at the mouth of the firth as if it were the helmet top of a monster Norse warrior god who will, if piqued, finally bestir himself from the sea floor, then stomp across the links and the heather.

The Scots say, "If ye can see Ailsa Craig, it's gaun to rain. If ye canna see it, it's already raining." The Scots also say, "If it's nae rain and it's nae wind, it's nae golf," and while that obtains on any links, Turnberry is the model. On the odd day when there is no wind, without what is known as The Tonbrrry Giant, the course, sans trees and tricks, is defanged. Like some large, toothless animal, it could still box your ears and gum you something fierce, but it could never take a bite as big as an 85 out of Gary Player's hide, as it did at a tournament in 1972 when The Giant blew in. In that tournament, as the wind picked up round by round, Peter Townsend posted a progressively revealing 65-70-75-80. The next year, during the same tournament, a huge hospitality tent was lifted clean off its moorings and blown away. There have been days at Turnberry when rain, hail, sleet and snow have arrived sequentially, each at gale force, and at times The Giant howls so ferociously that fairways cannot be reached with a driver. On most parts of Turnberry the gorse has been tilted over by the prevailing winds, left as if it were cowering in fear.

But the wind lay still in the summer of '77 when Nicklaus and Watson arrived. Everything was askew. The previous two summers had been absurdly hot and dry, and then that winter there had been too little moisture, which further inhibited growth. (The golfers who come to Turnberry next week will find the fairways as narrow as ever—some barely 20 paces across—but the rough will be ever so much more formidable than it was nine Julys ago.) At that time, too, a bizarre Scottish heat wave swept in, discombobulating man and sheep. In the gallery, many of the Scotsmen went without shirts, their unaccustomed bare skin glowing a bright pink. This being the land of wool and cashmere, there literally wasn't a T-shirt to be found, and some of the fans actually stripped to their underwear. Ailsa Craig shimmered like some misplaced Club Med isle.

Into this alien Scotland came Nicklaus, who was posted as the 6-1 favorite even if he was suffering what, for him, had been a regular depression. Although he had been the PGA Player of the Year the past two years, he had actually gone six majors in a row without a victory. To help put an end to this nonsense, Nicklaus eschewed the use of a British caddie and brought with him his American aide, Angelo Argea, an imposing man with silver steel-wool hair and a menacing, mustachioed countenance.

The affable Alfie Fyles came up from near Liverpool to—as his fading ilk still puts it—caddie to Watson. Alfie had caddied to Gary Player for more than a decade before shifting his allegiance to the young Watson two years before. It was a fortuitous pairing. Watson had been tagged a choker by captious critics, but though he arrived at Carnoustie in '75 too late for a practice round, he won his first major title there—in a playoff, to boot. Given that Watson was in a strange land, unprepared, accomplishing something he had never managed under the best of circumstances back home, Alfie assumed that he must have played a role of some consequence indeed in the young Yank's triumph.

British caddies have always presumed a more significant, distinguished role than their American counterparts, who, often as not, have been viewed as little more than necessities, on the same order, say, as pin-setters in a bowling alley. British caddies have always had their opinions solicited, and usually valued, even by the grandest and most savvy of golfers. For one thing, the elements are forever shifting in Britain. But much of the status of caddies has to do with the differences between the two societies. In America it's considered beneath oneself to labor as an athletic domestic, yet the British, comfortable with the gentleman-servant relationship, saw that men could make an honorable career out of toting other men's bags. Except for time out as a seaman in the Royal Navy, Alfie has caddied for about half a century.

Alas, there are fewer such stalwarts all the time. Long John, The Wasp, The Lawyer, the one-armed Wingy Eugene, the similarly handicapped Halifax Wingy (who lost his hook in some heavy rough once), Johnny One-Blank (who did have all his limbs but lacked an eye), Mad Mac, Laughing Boy, Yorky Billy have all gone. And disappearing just as rapidly is the caddie's Cockney argot, which featured a rhyming code. A Vera Lynn, for example, meant a gin, a Gregory Peck a check. A beehive was a five (usually used in association with cherry picker, which meant a knicker, which was itself a slang word for pound; thus a caddie with a beehive cherry picker had a £5 note). And St. Louis Blues was shoes, Holy Ghost was toast, and sizzle and strife meant the missus.

But the career boys are a dying breed. "All you've got is your bag-carriers now," Alfie sneers. "All they can do is give the golfer a weather report—not the right club." Nothing sets Alfie's blood to boiling more than the familiar sight of a man who calls himself a caddie throwing grass up in the air to detect the wind direction. In Alfie's view, you might as well have a homing pigeon asking a bobby to show him the way back to the house. "Once it was all eyeball," he explains. Caddying is telling your man to use a seven-iron to carry 180 yards when the most he can hit a six is 165. That is caddying, eyeball.

And in a world today where Americans expect to have a little piece of home wherever they go—the English language and the baseball scores, McDonald's and MasterCard—most American pros bring their caddies over to Scotland for greater security. Watson and Alfie are the exception. And even they had one great falling out, right at the beginning, after Alfie eyeballed Watson to his first major, at Carnoustie in '75. When he went up to the Watsons' room to get his pay, Alfie was so disgusted at the figure Watson gave him that he threw the Gregory Peck down on the floor. "You must need this more than me," he snapped. Linda Watson was furious, and Alfie told Watson to have her leave, that he worked for Tom, not for his wife. But Watson wouldn't budge, so Alfie picked the check off the floor—"before Tom could take me literally"—and left in disgust.

The next summer Watson brought his American caddie over to help him defend his title at Royal Birkdale and he missed the 54-hole cut. Both the Watsons began to seek rapprochement after that, and Alfie was waiting for Watson when the Yank arrived at Turnberry. They've been together every July since then, and Watson has the finest British Open record—five championships—of any American.

In 1977 it wasn't until Friday, the third round—when Nicklaus and Watson were first paired together—that they began to outdistance the field. Indeed, when they started off that midday, both having shot par 70s the morning before, they were a stroke behind Roger Maltbie and there were 16 contenders within four shots of the lead.

But on that third day Nicklaus and Watson would both shoot 65s—six birdies and a bogey apiece—and on Saturday they would move off into a realm by themselves. The pattern was set at the 1st hole, too, when Nicklaus struck a wedge to within three feet and made a birdie. Always, over the last two days, Nicklaus would draw ahead and Watson would fight back. On Friday, Nicklaus was two strokes ahead, playing the 8th hole, called Goat Fell, when the overcast skies turned electric. Both men were on the green, but Watson wanted to take cover immediately.

Nicklaus, the senior, prevailed, though, and Watson reluctantly went along, but as soon as they both putted out, parring, the golfers and their caddies scurried down to find shelter among the rocks on the beach. Only when they were protected by an overhang did it occur to Alfie that water made the best conductor, so back up the cliff they hustled to take refuge in a BBC trailer. Watson and Nicklaus didn't say much to each other, but rarely does either talk on the course. When the storm passed they put on sweaters and proceeded to the forbidding 9th tee, the one stuck out on an overlook, the one that Herbert Warren Wind has described as "out of a Gothic novel."

They both parred there and sank long birdie putts on 10. Nicklaus took his only bogey of the round with a bad putt on 14, and when Watson sank a 20-footer on 15, they were level once again. Nicklaus should have gained a stroke on 17, but he missed an eagle putt and, like Watson, had to endure a mere bird. Both parred 18. Nicklaus 31-34, Watson 33-32. Both: 203 for 54 holes, seven under par.

Curiously, it still wasn't viewed strictly as a duel. There was Ben Crenshaw, of whom great things were expected, only three shots back, at 206. Nicklaus was near the height of his powers, but even if Watson had won at Carnoustie in '75 and had edged Nicklaus at the Masters three months earlier, there remained something unsubstantial about him. In time Watson would tote up eight majors, but the "quitter" charge still lingered then with Watson, as even now he is being written off early, after only two years of struggling. "It has the same flavor," he says, biting off the words. Pause. "The same smell." Then, too, even at his best, Watson was neither awesome nor mysterious, and while he was invariably described as having "a Huck Finn look," Huck's playful, mischievous aspect was missing. Besides, the British had never held it against Nicklaus, the way the Americans did, that he eclipsed Palmer, so there were more cheers for Jack.

Nobody knew then how great a force Watson would become in the British Isles. "Tom's a good thinker," Nicklaus says, "and you have to think well over there to win. You're playing in adverse conditions, and there are just a lot of our guys who can't do that for 72 holes."

Watson would also develop a peculiar facility for playing his best down the stretch against Nicklaus—better even than emotional characters like Trevino and Palmer, who could sway a crowd. In his entire career, Nicklaus says, "my hardest loss" remains the '82 U.S. Open, when Watson beat him straight-up by chipping in from off the 17th at Pebble Beach. Watson never let Nicklaus's majesty intimidate him. Three months before Turnberry, at the Masters, playing in adjacent twosomes, Watson was on the 13th fairway when he saw Nicklaus raise his putter toward him after he sank a birdie on the green ahead, as if to say, Take this. In fact, Nicklaus was only exulting, but Watson upbraided him for his seeming hot-dog action as soon as they encountered each other off the last green. Nicklaus, stunned, didn't have the foggiest idea what he was being accused of, and Watson finally backed off, embarrassed but undaunted.

Watson is not an easy man to characterize. Principled and sensitive, he also bears the rap of being a know-it-all. He is one of the few athletes left who still smoke. While most other golfers play out of planned Sunbelt subdivisions, Watson went off to Stanford to school and has returned to his native Kansas City to celebrate his family, the Royals and the seasons. Some days in January or February he's the only person playing at the Kansas City Country Club. "It's cleansing," he says. After that, Turnberry and the other links may not seem quite so beastly.

The fans at Turnberry were jostling for places when the two men teed off in the final pairing late Saturday morning. It was a bright, sunny day, but for the first time all week a brisk wind was coming steadily, broadside off the firth. Nicklaus wore a pale yellow sweater with dark blue slacks, while Watson chose a sea-green sport shirt, which he wore with checked light-green-and-orange trousers and a wide, white belt that was the fashion at that time.

It's funny, looking back. Today, at 36, Watson is nearly the age that Nicklaus was then. Watson now appears, naturally, older than he did in 1977. The Huck Finn business is behind him. Plus, looking back, that wide, white belt locates him firmly in time. On the other hand Nicklaus, a renowned 46 now, looks almost the same as he did in '77. Examining the old pictures, and then studying the men today, one gets the impression that Nicklaus has stood still for a decade while Watson has been catching up.

On this occasion Nicklaus and Watson were playing a final round together for the first time, and it almost appeared decided on the 2nd hole, named Mak Siccar, when Nicklaus sank a 10-footer for a birdie and Watson, playing indifferently from off the green, bogeyed. A two-stroke swing. Nicklaus went up three just two holes later, when he rolled in a 20-footer at Woe-be-Tide. But Watson remained foolish enough to think he could still win. "In '82, the time I beat Jack at Pebble Beach, I was lucky," he says. "I was driving the ball all over, but the gallery packed down the rough, and I knew the course. Turnberry was different. It had an element of a Texas summer to it and I was the same way—very calm inside the boiler, so to speak. I could feel the heat, but only as if it were around me."

As for Nicklaus, even if he was three strokes ahead, he wasn't taking anything for granted. "If I'm playing Tom Watson, I know I have to win," he says. "With somebody else against you, maybe you feel they'll lose instead."

And sure enough, Watson steadied and started to fight back. On the 5th, Fin' me Oot, he hit a five-iron to 16 feet and popped it in. Never again would there be a three-stroke margin, although there could have been on the very next hole, Tappie Toorie, a long par-3, for Watson put his three-wood in a bunker. He splashed out to six feet and eyed the putt nervously. Nicklaus had his par assured. Then Watson asked Alfie for his opinion. In all their British Opens together—before and since—this was the only occasion when Watson, one of the finest putters of his era, ever asked Alfie for help on the green.

Shaking, Alfie stood behind his man and allowed that it seemed to him that it would break left at the last. It did just that. "Good line," was all Watson said as they walked off to 7, the 528-yard Roon the Ben. The tee there is elevated, the beach almost straight down, 60 feet below. Both drove to the left, but Nicklaus drove well beyond Watson, leaving himself only a three-iron. Watson pondered his plight. "What do you think, Alfie?" he asked.

"Everything you got, Tom."

"A driver?"

"If you can lift it."

"Yeah, O.K.," Watson said, and he took out the driver, used it on the fairway and put the ball on the green—"my best shot of the day." And it was he, not Nicklaus, who made birdie. He had two of the three strokes back.

On the 8th he got the tie. It was a 20-foot putt, dead center. "It was lucky," Watson says. "It had the line but not the touch. If I had missed at all, it would have gone six, seven feet by."

Except for the wives and girlfriends and accountants of the other golfers, there wasn't a fan on the course who wasn't in the last gallery. They kicked up such a dust cloud chasing down the 9th fairway that Nicklaus fought his way over to Watson and said, "Tom, this is getting out of hand." The junior man agreed, so Nicklaus went to the gallery marshals, and the two players sat down on their bags for several minutes until the crowd was brought to heel. The damn thing was getting like a football match at Wembley.

Maybe the disruption upset the golfers. The picturesque 9th was, in sum, their worst of the 36 holes they played with one another, Watson taking a bogey, Nicklaus only saving par with a 12-foot putt. And then, just like that, when Nicklaus sank a 20-foot birdie putt on 12, under the monument, the great champion was two ahead again, and there were only six holes left.

So, O.K., Watson broke serve right back. On the difficult two-tiered elevated green at the 13th, Tickly Tap, Watson ran in a 12-footer, and now he was only a stroke back and the crowd was beside itself again, reinvigorated, scurrying this way and that down the sides of the 14th fairway, so that Watson, with the honor, had to pause before he hit his drive.

Watson did get a squeak at the hole on 14, but he missed his seven-footer, and they went to 15 with Nicklaus still one stroke ahead. It's the last par-3, 209 yards, Ca Canny, which means Go Very Carefully, bunkered on the left, with a great drop off the right of the green. Predictably, the flag for the final day had been put far right, too, and so Watson played prudently to the left, but his ball drifted too far that way, off the green, between two traps. "Damn," said Watson after the shot. Nicklaus instantly realized he could absolutely, finally, put Watson away, and he went for the stick. He hit right on line, too, with an uphill putt for a reasonable birdie try and a two- or maybe three-stroke lead.

Though he was well off the green, Watson took his putter. He practiced this sort of shot regularly—the old "Texas wedge"—and, in fact, he had also already played a similar easier version off the 12th green. Here, he was a full 60 feet away, but he hit much too hard, about 70 feet's worth. Only the cup got in the way. Slam dunk. Watson jumped high in the air. Somehow, Alfie had the presence of mind to glance over at Nicklaus. He was just reaching down to put his ball back on his mark when Watson's ball swooped in, and Nicklaus literally rocked back, as if he had been coldcocked. More even than any of the great shots he himself hit at Turnberry, this is the one Nicklaus best remembers to this day. And when he missed his own putt they were tied again.

The Scottish sky would hold the light for hours yet, till 11:00 or so, and just now, late in the afternoon, for the first time was it starting to slant low. Standing on the 16th tee, Watson felt the rays on his freckled face, and he sensed the moment, what he and Nicklaus were doing, and he couldn't help himself. He couldn't help but smile, and when he did, he turned to Nicklaus and he said, "This is what it's all about, isn't it?"

Nicklaus smiled back beatifically, and then they both struck magnificent drives and strode off down the fairway. They both liked it that they were head to head, mano a mano, in the manner of most other sports, where your opponent is more flesh and blood and not the turf and the trees. Nicklaus dolefully recalled his second British Open, at Royal Lytham in 1963, when, standing on the 18th tee he could see Phil Rodgers and Bob Charles come off 16, he didn't hear any cheers so he assumed they had both parred and he played it safe on the last hole—only to lose by a stroke to Charles because, in fact, both Charles and Rodgers had birdied 16, but the wind was blowing the other way and had carried the cheers off with it.

Nicklaus and Watson were still tied after 16, Wee Burn. Seventeen, Lang Whang, the short par-5, was an obvious birdie hole, the one where Nicklaus should have had an eagle the day before. As was the pattern, Watson drove straight down the middle while Nicklaus went a bit right. Watson then unloaded a three-iron, which rolled around in a ringlet, ending up only 12 feet away for a chance at an eagle.

And that was when Nicklaus gave way. He was the one who made the kind of shot everybody else in the field had been making all four days. He botched a four-iron. It stayed right and, while it did stop a few yards short of a bunker, it left him in the scarred rough, 50 feet or so to a green that sloped away, five or six feet below. For the first time, Watson arrived at a green as if he were stalking it, and realizing how difficult his rival's plight was, he turned to his caddie and uncharacteristically cracked, "I've put a nail in his coffin now, haven't I, Alfie?"

So Nicklaus promptly played a perfect chip, running the ball out of the rough, down to within four feet of the pin, and then Watson, shaken, missed his eagle try. They were both putting for routine birdies in order to go to the 72nd even.

It was Jack Nicklaus who missed his.

He played it to break, but it went right through the break, a hair to the left.

And that was when Alfie said, "Go for the jugular," and Watson took out his one-iron. At last, after 71 holes, at last he had the lead, and Jack Nicklaus was in his lee.

Minutes later, though, Watson's premonition that Nicklaus would sink his birdie putt at 18 proved to be correct, and the roars of amazement reached a crescendo even before Nicklaus's ball tumbled in for his birdie: 68-70-65-66, 11 under. The nearest competitor besides Watson was Hubert Green at one under; and no one else had ever shot better than four under in 105 other British Opens. Only, of course, if Watson sank his two-and-a-half-footer, if he made his birdie, he would finish 68-70-65-65, 12 under.

Watson did not hesitate. He could not let the crowd rule. "All right, I'm ready to win this thing now," he said to himself, and he sized up the putt as Nicklaus raised his arms to quiet the mob. Still there were, in fact, the odd lingering whistles and sighs when Watson brought his putter foward and tapped the ball firmly. Alfie watched. It was not short. Tom Watson was never short then. It was not straight either.

But it was straight enough.

The ball plunked into the right side of the cup, and the greatest golf battle ever was over. Watson raised his hands to the crowds, putter high, and he was almost dazed when Alfie reached his man and embraced him. Then, there was Nicklaus before him, looking Watson square in the eye and telling him, "I'm tired of giving it my best and not having it be good enough."

Watson was almost too stunned to reply. "Thanks," was all he could manage. Remembering that, still a bit ashamed at how tongue-tied he had been, Watson drew on a Winston and shook his head. "I'm not very good at words in situations like that." But Nicklaus had understood. He put his arm around Watson's shoulders, squeezed him affectionately about his neck and escorted him off the green that way, as if he were the winner and Watson the vanquished.

Then at the ceremony, Nicklaus said in public, so graciously, what he had first said to Watson alone. "I gave you my best shot," the greatest player said, "and it just wasn't good enough. You were better." And then, too, a final, very British understatement: "It was well played." The Mona Lisa was well painted. Hamlet was well written.

A day's work done, Nicklaus went to dinner. His memories of Turnberry are not nearly so vivid as Watson's. "I couldn't take you around that course if I had to," he says. But then, he figures he has played 500 courses. "I just don't remember a whole lot when I lose. But you've got to understand: I don't remember a whole lot about the ones I win, either; only, when I win people keep bringing them up, so I'm not allowed to forget. But what's to say here? I shot a 65-66 and another man shot a 65-65. Well done." It's not Nicklaus but his wife, Barbara, who remembers how touched they were when they came into the dining room a bit later and the whole place, people at every table, rose and applauded him, the runner-up. Well done.

Watson, with Linda and a couple of friends, arrived a few minutes later, and once more the entire dining room rose and applauded. Watson went over to Nicklaus and spoke briefly to him. He came back to his own table and said he had told Nicklaus "what a wonderful speech Jack gave." Linda hurried to assure her husband that he had given a fine speech, too. "No, my speech was awful," Watson said and he shrugged. He had forgotten, perhaps, how eloquent he had been on the 16th tee. That was what it was all about, wasn't it?

Then, when dinner was finished, Watson went into a small ballroom where a dance band was playing, and he walked over to the leader and requested a song. "It'll be Blue Skies," Linda said. And it was Blue Skies. That was his father's favorite song. His father taught Tom to play golf. Tom took Linda in his arms and they danced to his father's song.

It was late, but the light lingered. The manager of the hotel had sent a bottle of champagne to the Watsons' room. They sipped it and talked of the wonders of this day. No matter what else Tom Watson would ever do in golf—and he would do much more—history had embraced him now, for he had beaten the best at his best, best to best.

The Watsons' room was on the top floor, and from there, under the red roof, with the last of the sun's rays falling behind the Mull of Kintyre, they could see down and across Turnberry. It was still below, except that here and there a lone Scotsman or two strolled the links, taking the unusual tropic air. It was as if the universe had been turned upside down, and dark was light and up was down and the people below were like stars sprinkled above in the heavens.

And then downstairs, outside on the promenade, a lone piper began to walk, playing his pipes, the Scottish melodies drifting up to where Tom and Linda sat drinking champagne. And they looked at each other and began to cry.

"I think it was at that time that I really fell in love with the game," Watson said, reminiscing. And now, just like that, just simply remembering, he began to mist up again. For a long time, then, he simply sat there, the tears welling up from the glorious days past into his eyes. He knew he was crying, he was told he was crying, and still he made no effort to brush away the tears.

"I'd always loved golf, but now it was a new type of love I could have," he said, and without disturbing them he let the tears keep rolling down his cheeks so that they could reflect the memories of Turnberry past, tinting them with his pride and joy.

ILLUSTRATIONBERNIE FUCHSTurnberry, with its distinctive lighthouse, gets its flavor from its nearness to the sea.ILLUSTRATIONBERNIE FUCHSFyles has been caddying for half a century.ILLUSTRATIONBERNIE FUCHSAilsa Craig dominates the view from the links.ILLUSTRATIONBERNIE FUCHSBoth men had birdie putts at 17; Nicklaus missed and Watson had the lead.ILLUSTRATIONBERNIE FUCHSThe fairways became runways when Turnberry was used as a World War II air base.ILLUSTRATIONBERNIE FUCHSTheir battle finished, the two men walked off together.ILLUSTRATIONBERNIE FUCHSAs the lone piper played, Watson wept.ILLUSTRATIONBERNIE FUCHS