The Price Goes Up

With a dramatic eagle putt, Nick Price came from behind to win the British Open at Turnberry
July 24, 1994

Maybe you've seen them. Large objects near the tees and greens. Contain many boldly colored numbers. Raised on high posts for easy viewing. Hold up-to-the-minute information on the current golf tournament. They're called scoreboards. Why won't anybody look at them?

At last month's U.S. Open, young Ernie Els of South Africa said he didn't look at one for the last three holes. It cost him the outright win and forced him into a playoff the next day that he nearly blew. On Sunday at the British Open, young Jesper Parnevik of Sweden said he didn't look at one for the last seven holes. It cost him the championship.

"I don't know," Parnevik said blearily, minutes later. "I guess I screwed up."

What Parnevik did was think he was behind when actually he was ahead. He was 12 under par with a two-shot lead over Nick Price when he reached his drive on 18. Looking at his tricky lie in the rough off the right side of the 18th fairway, Parnevik was under the very mistaken impression he needed a birdie to win; so he went hell over shank for the flagstick, tucked tightly into the front left corner, to try to get one.

"I heard a lot of roars behind me," said the Swede. "I knew someone was doing good." But since Parnevik had decided to stop looking at the scoreboards after the 11th hole, he didn't know exactly who was doing precisely what. "I thought I was chasing someone." And what, he was asked, if you had known you were ahead by two? "Well," he answered ruefully, "I would have just hit for the middle of the green, I think."

Parnevik is known for flipping the brim of his Titleist hat upward, like a Tour de France rider. He should stop this. It may be cutting off the circulation to his brain.

The wedge Parnevik hit from the rough came down short and left of the green, snuggling itself into some nasty Scottish botany that you would not wish on a rattler. He chipped out short and two-putted to do the only thing he absolutely could not do and still win the tournament-make a bogey.

Bobby Jones once said that golfers learn nothing from their triumphs and everything from their failures. Parnevik was about to get a doctorate.

One hole behind Parnevik, Price, a man who'd had it up to here with learning from his failures at British Opens, knew what he needed to do. Price is a voracious reader. He not only reads greens, he also reads scoreboards, and the one by Turnberry's 17th green showed that after his birdie at 16 he was 10 under, two back of Parnevik. He reached the green of the par-5 17th in two. Now, if he was going to win the one tournament in the world he wanted more than any other, he needed to make this 50-footer for an eagle.

Naturally, he had no hope.

British Opens do not seem to care a whit for Price. In 1982 he had a three-shot lead with six to play at Royal Troon and lost to Tom Watson. In '88 he led by two going into the last round at Royal Lytham & St. Annes and lost to Seve Ballesteros. No, this Sunday on the Ayrshire coast by the cliffs and rocks at Turnberry's Ailsa course had looked like everybody else's day but Price's. He hadn't owned the lead at any point, not once.

"We haven't made a long putt all week," Price pointed out to his caddie, Jeff (Squeaky) Medlin, not yet aware of what Parnevik was doing ahead. "We've got to hope Parnevik bogeys 18." Gee, got a third wish?

Price's putt broke six inches right to left, came over a ridge, got a view of the hole, steamed to it, stopped for lunch, started to die and then, at the last second, with only a half roll of life left in it, dropped into the hole, pooped.

You couldn't tell who jumped higher, Nick or Squeaky. One tried to catch the other but neither one succeeded, and Turnberry's 17th green may happily tilt forever.

Only one thing left for Price to do—par the 18th, something he hadn't done in two days. Luckily, Price took another look at the scoreboard and knew he was now one ahead. He squeezed a safe three-iron into the middle of the fairway, took his favorite club, the seven-iron, in his big hands and knocked the ball to the center of the green, where he lagged to the sweetest 18 inches of his life. He brushed that one in and gave his soaring blood pressure the rest of the day off. He had trailed by three with three to go and played those final three in three under par, and if that isn't a killer commando raid on the old silver claret jug, then nothing in history ever was. His final-round 66 for a 268 total matched Watson's score here in '77, which was the tournament record until Greg Norman's 267 last year at Royal St. George's.

Though Price, an Orlando resident via Zimbabwe, has won more than any player in the world since winning the 1992 PGA—15 times, not to mention 10 other top-three finishes—and had already won three times this season on the PGA Tour, he had been virtually absent in the majors so far this year. He never made a noise at the Masters and missed the cut at the U.S. Open. Price had been so quiet he could have been filed under missing persons.

Missing, as well, were a bunch of U.S. headliners, including Curtis Strange and Raymond Floyd, who decided to stay home this year. With Fred Couples still nursing his injured back and Paul Azinger not yet returned to play after undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma, it was not surprising that the oddsmakers again offered little chance for an American victory—Mark Calcavecchia, in 1989, is the only American to win the British in the last 11 years. In fact, this is the first year ever that no American is among the winners of the first three majors.

England's Nick Faldo was there, but on Thursday his brain disappeared. Faldo was going along swimmingly until the 17th hole, where he mistakenly played the ball of one of his playing partners, Jim McGovern. Two-stroke penalty. Faldo made a triple-bogey 8 on his way to a 75. The amazing thing is that Faldo plays the only Rextar 11 in the world. Rextar makes it specially for him, in honor of his winning two Masters titles at the 11th hole at Augusta. Would seem a very hard ball to get confused about.

Said Faldo dejectedly, "It was not very clever, was it?" He finished tied for eighth, seven shots behind Price.

Then there was John Daly's Ultra Competition ball with the Arkansas razorback mascot and the word KILL imprinted on it. On Friday, just when Daly was off to his usual wonderful start in the British Open—in fact, he was five under and leading the tournament—he came to the breathtaking 452-yard, par-4 10th, along the coastline of the Firth of Clyde, and hooked his drive onto the beach and rocks. And though the massive throng of Daly fans helped him comb every inch of that shoreline for five minutes, the ball never turned up. Daly made triple bogey. He followed that with a four-putt double at the 11th. He finished dead last on Sunday.

It was about when Daly was self-destructing that Watson, a 66-to-1 shot at the beginning of the week, broke free. He followed a first-round 68 with an amazing 65—his lucky number at Turnberry. Remember '77, when his back-to-back 65s beat Jack Nicklaus by one in the best major this side of Old Tom Morris? This round was suitable for framing, too. It included a driver off the fairway at the par-5 7th to set up a two-putt birdie, and a sliced three-iron at the 8th, off a steep hook lie against the wind, to eight feet for another. When he smoked his tee shot on 9, he strode off and cracked to some bystanders, "I've got the bookies quivering now."

He had everybody quivering, waiting for the other spike to drop. Watching the 44-year-old Watson play like this lately is like watching a cliff diver. It's fun to see him climb so high, but sooner or later he's going to come down, and it could get ugly. Since Watson last won a major, the 1983 British Open, he has contended in half the majors he has entered. And yet the closer he gets, the farther away he seems. Saturday, for instance, he three-putted twice on the back nine, missing little ones, easy ones. Still, he finished birdie-birdie to tie Parnevik, Price and Ireland's Ronan Rafferty at eight under, one stroke back of the 54-hole leaders, Fuzzy Zoeller and Brad Faxon.

The ageless Zoeller arrived on his usual whistle and a wisecrack, while Faxon was coming off a $3,000 practice-round win over Ben Crenshaw, Davis Love III and Corey Pavin. Each man agreed to pay $1,000 to anybody who went the round without a bogey, and Faxon did it. In fact, going into Sunday morning, he'd played 41 holes without a bogey.

Naturally, the first thing Faxon did on Sunday was go out and bogey the 1st hole, and there went his chances. Zoeller, though, held on to the lead, and Watson actually caught him at nine under at the 7th. That's when Watson's road and Watson's sky collided. It got ugly. He three-putted the 8th for a double bogey and then, improbably, three-putted the 9th for another double. Suddenly, instead of leading, he was four shots back and deader than haggis. For the day, he took 38 putts. "It hurts," said Watson afterward. "It hurts inside."

Zoeller was gone by the 9th too, bogeying from behind the green. All of which made it seem as if the glorious day belonged to Parnevik. After birdieing the 17th, he momentarily led the entire field by three, until Price got his birdie at 16. Then came Parnevik's disaster at 18. "When I came off and saw that I had been leading by two," Jesper (pronounced YES-per) said, "I was crushed." Not something you hear everyday.

The lurking Price, meanwhile, was doing everything he could to stay in it. He had missed two little putts on the front nine but came back to make some unbelievable saves. On 14, his approach shot strayed next to a TV tower; so with marshals holding cables six feet in the air, he chipped out, chopping a little seven-iron up a hill and down another to an impossibly close and steep pin position. "He got it up and down from there?" Faxon said later. "Wow!"

His hopes salvaged, Price made his must-have birdie at 16, a 12-footer that died in the corner and kept him alive. That's when, unknown to Price, Jesper went yust plain brain-dead and bogeyed the 18th.

It was the kind of ending that makes men and breaks men. The 29-year-old Parnevik had dedicated his performance to his paternal grandparents, both of whom died recently. "It was almost enough," he said sadly.

Then there was Watson. "I'll have another chance," he said. "I will." And he will. He will not die from lousy putting. But his wife might. "It's kind of hard for me to understand why he's afraid of putting," said Linda Watson, alone afterward. "When he's relaxed, he's still one of the best. He'll break through. But every year it gets harder."

As for the 37-year-old Price, the medal he was handed has only two words engraved on it, and they are true: CHAMPION GOLFER. He is golf's clear No. 1 now, Sony rankings or no Sony rankings. But this was for more than that.

"Sometimes," Price said, "when you reach down deep inside yourself, you surprise yourself. It normally doesn't happen when you need it the most. Today it did."

As he embraced the claret jug on the 18th green, he told the thousands there, "I had my left hand on this trophy in 1982. I had my right hand on it in 1988. Now, at last, I've finally got both hands on it. And does it feel good."

After all the picture-taking and speech-making and handshaking with blue blazers was done, Price walked back toward the gorgeous Turnberry Hotel, which sits like a grand white picket fence atop the hill overlooking the course, holding the trophy tight as he climbed the stairs. And as he looked back to his left and saw his name atop all the others in big black letters against a huge field of yellow, he may have been reminded all over again how much he loves to read scoreboards.

FOUR PHOTOSBOB MARTINPrice rose to the occasion as he watched his 50-footer at 17 fall into the hole. PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISINAs Watson's putter sputtered (right), Parnevik had a rough time keeping track of scores. PHOTOBOB MARTIN[See caption above.] TWO PHOTOSJACQUELINE DUVOISINZoeller (above) and Faxon led after three rounds, but in the end the Americans came up short again. PHOTOBOB MARTINDaly dropped from contention when his ball was lost at the 10th on Friday.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)