Jack Nicklaus is a legend in his spare time. Chi Chi Rodriguez said that, four years ago, and if it was true then, when Nicklaus stepped out of semiretirement to win the 1986 Masters, his 20th major championship, it's truer than ever now. Nicklaus, at 50, is one of the best and the busiest golf-course designers in the world, an enormously successful businessman whose company, Golden Bear International, Inc., at last count had 20 golf projects under way, with 44 more planned.
And what does a captain of industry do in his spare time? He plays golf, of course. But not like this. Last weekend, warming up for the U.S. Open, Nicklaus shot 261, his lowest 72-hole score ever, to win the $1 million Mazda Senior TPC at the Dearborn (Mich.) Country Club. His $150,000 check was the biggest of his career, and in a head-to-head showdown on Sunday, Nicklaus sent his once and future rival, Lee Trevino, to the showers, beaten by six strokes despite having shot 66-68-66-67—267, 21 under par.
"The only way we're going to beat this guy is if he signs the wrong scorecard," said Trevino's caddie, Herman Mitchell, even though his man had just birdied the 16th hole on Sunday to Nicklaus's bogey, cutting the lead to five. Trevino, always the realist, agreed. After it was over he said, "That's the only shot I had at him today. I mean, what else can you do? Throw a club, break his ankle or something?"
Nicklaus's scoring in the tournament, 65-68-64-64—261, revised several lines in the Senior tour record book. His 72-hole total was the lowest in the 10½ years since the tour began, beating Orville Moody's 263 in the 1988 Vintage Chrysler Invitational. His 19-under 197 for 54 holes broke the Senior TPC record, also Moody's, by three. His 64s on Saturday and Sunday tied the single-round tournament record, set by Moody last year and equaled by Larry Ziegler earlier in Saturday's round.
Even Nicklaus was impressed. "I was amazed at myself this week," he said after he handed the keys to a new Mazda to his wife, Barbara. "I shot two 64s. Come on!" Especially amazing were his 111 putts. "I don't think I've ever putted like this anytime in my career," he said. "I holed a ton of 20-footers this week. I never make 20-footers."
Nicklaus also putted for eagle on 11 of the 16 par 5s during the four days, which means his irons were working too. He made two of the eagle putts, including one on Sunday at the 455-yard 3rd hole, when he sank a 10-footer after reaching the green with a driver and a wedge. "I haven't played a wedge in years," he said.
The Dearborn Country Club's 6,665-yard course and its forgiving pin placements for the Senior TPC are not what Nicklaus can expect to see this week in the Open, at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club, not by a long shot. "The pin placements weren't as hard as on the regular Tour," Nicklaus admitted. But Dearborn's putting surfaces were close to the real thing. "Hopefully, Medinah's greens will be just about the same," said the four-time Open champion. "Maybe a tad faster."
Trevino, who has won five of his 11 starts on the Senior tour and is currently its leading money winner ($480,633), is passing on the Open, but he's pulling for Nicklaus. "He's really putting well right now, and next week he's going to a golf course where putting is important," Trevino said Sunday evening. "I have high expectations for him."
If Nicklaus plays a starring role at Medinah, he should give some of the credit to his dress rehearsal on the greens at Dearborn. "I've got it in my head that I can putt," he said.