Boss, we put together that Price control strategy thing you asked for, but it's not pretty. You sure you wouldn't like to have a seat?
No. Right. Well, first, the guys down in History have decided to classify this Nick Price guy as "scary good." He kept another major away from the Americans on Sunday—that's eight of the last 10 and four in a row, if you're counting—and this one was just a plain ol' Oklahoma barbecue. It was the PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, and Price won by six shots over the best field since, well, since ever. All top 40 guys in the Sony Ranking were there, which had never happened before, and Price dusted them like 40 acres of soybeans.
And when you put this with his British Open win last month, it means the man from Zimbabwe belongs with Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead on the list of seven guys who've won back-to-back majors since World War II, which the boys downstairs say is like throwing you in with Renoir and Matisse and Picasso, if that gives you any idea.
The people up in Tactics have been all over the dirt angle, but they've got nothing. Turns out Price is as clean as he seems. He's one of those relentlessly cheery guys who signs every T-shirt and smiles for every Kodak and shakes every paw. Even after he'd done four hours of interviews and speech-giving Sunday night and was finally on his way to his car, dead tired, he stopped and shook the hands of all the CBS roadies who were breaking down the TV scaffolds. When he won the British Open at Turnberry in Scotland last month, he flew his plane down to England where his mom lives, surprised her at her house, sat her down at the kitchen table, plopped the trophy in front of her and said, "Enjoy."
August 21, 1994
As for vices, we know he smokes about six or seven cigarettes a round, but only from the tee to his ball, and even then he cups the thing in his right hand like it's illegal—"I don't want the kids to see," he says—and when he gets to his ball, he gives it to Squeeky, his caddie. Poor Squeeky, he's trying to quit, he's even on the patch, and suddenly he has a lit cigarette in his hand.
The guys in Technical can't understand how this guy hits it so good. He lines up the putter in front of the ball before he gets around to striking it, like your basic C-flight player in the Bartlesville Jaycees Scramble. But his putts have this weird habit of diving in the hole like they're sensitive to light. And his golf swing is so frantic and fast he looks like he's trying to win Hernia of the Month. But the ball comes off the face so pretty and straight it could make a grown 15 handicapper cry. Ben Crenshaw, a noted source on this stuff, said nobody has hit it this pure since Hogan or Byron Nelson, which is a mouthful, considering it skips over J.W. Nicklaus himself.
The "scary" part is that Price is going this good—16 wins worldwide in 24 months—and he might not even be in a zone. "I'm not streaky," he said in Tulsa. "I know what's making it work." Right now, he's winning tournaments the way Nicklaus used to: left and right and from behind and from ahead and with incredibly heroic shots and run-of-the-mill, step-on-their-neck pars. "It just seems like he wins everything he enters," Phil Mickelson said last week. "In reality, he only wins half."
Not true. On this particular ungodly stretch, he has won three out of four—the Western: the British; fourth in Memphis, where he was one shot out of a three-way playoff; and now this, his third career major. He has won three out of four. That sounds like some submarining baseball pitcher, but this is golf and we're talking about beating 150 guys at a time. And it's not like this is new. He has been whipping these guys like egg yolks for two years. Since he won his first PGA Championship in 1992, he has finished in the top 10 in 61% of his starts all over the world and won every fourth tournament. Somebody asked Corey (Dreaded Best Player to Never Win a Major) Pavin, who finished second at Southern Hills, if Price might ever cool down. "I hope so," Pavin said. "I'd like to win something."
This Passport Slam thing had never even come close to happening before—Americans have failed to win more than one major only once since the first Masters in 1934—and so one of the wise guys down in Creative asked when the American golf strike is going to end. But that's the funny thing. The Americans had Price reeled in and then they let him go. What happened was Price shot 67 and tied for the lead on Thursday with Colin Montgomerie, a Brit. Then Price burned rubber Friday morning with a 65 and took a five-shot lead. But Saturday it looked like the Yanks had the dragnet over him. Jay Haas was even within two shots of him halfway through the day. The top of the leader board was getting crowded, and Price's neckline was getting a little tight, and his playing partner, Pavin, was chipping in on back-to-back holes. One fan hollered out, "Let's see you sweat, Nick!"
But it was just about then that the American flight hit large pockets of bogeys. Haas made a triple at 15 and Pavin a double on 14 and Mickelson a double at 12, and suddenly the best player in the world had himself smooth air and a three-shot lead again. They rattled him into five sand traps, but Price saved par out of the sand all five times. "I won the championship yesterday," Price said on Sunday, when it was over. The boys in History are looking it up, but it may be the first major won with a Saturday even-par 70.
We can't quite pin down what happens to the Americans. Paul Azinger made his return to defend his title, coming off chemotherapy and radiation treatments for cancer, but he wasn't ready, and his 75-74-149 didn't make the cut. "I envisioned shooting 64 and being the headline in papers all over the world," he said. "It was harder than I thought." Fred Couples shot 69 the first day but then either lost interest or rented a house with cable. Payne Stewart finally made his first cut in a major this year, but only by the loose thread of his knickers. Mickelson and John Cook needed big Sundays and instead shot even par to finish third and fourth, respectively. "Basically," said Pavin, "Nick beat the crud out of us."
True, Price did have to play Sunday, but once you saw him hitting it on the practice range beforehand, you knew it was all over but the crud-spilling. At least that's what Squeeky figured. "When I saw the way he was hitting it, I knew we were going to make some birdies," he said. Squeeky knows when his boss is about to win. He should. Since he hooked up with Price in 1991, we figure he has made upward of $600,000, which is a lot of grease, even for a guy named Squeeky.
When Greg Norman birdied the first two holes Sunday to get within three shots, Price answered with birdies at number 3 and number 4, which turned out to be very good Shark repellent. After that, nobody sniffed Price from closer than four shots, and when Price made the only birdie of the day at the 215-yard 8th hole, Tulsa resident Oral Roberts himself couldn't have bailed the Americans out. Price was so untrippable and unsinkable that as he came to the 17th green, some history-minded scorer had him beating Pavin, Mickelson, Norman and Hogan.
Price's final-round 67 gave him 269, the lowest score in any U.S. major ever, and it made him the No. 1 player in the world, slipping past the Shark himself, which, if we know Shark, isn't going to make him too happy, Price being his best scuba buddy or not. Personally, we would check the tanks closely, Nick.
As for the future, the Projections department thinks Price is about as unstoppable as a big sneeze. We overheard David Leadbetter, Price's coach, telling him, "All these people want to know how long you've been in a zone. I have news for them. You haven't even hit your zone." He might be right. Price is longer than Tolstoy (he averaged more than 300 yards on the measured driving holes over the weekend), accurate (he was fifth in greens hit), and he and his new aluminum putter almost border on the occult (he had fewer than 30 putts in every round). All this, and he's decent, too. When he won, he told the crowd, "I'm sorry it was so boring for all of you today."
Our Insurance guys say there's always the possibility of Price's breaking a femur or something. He water-skis on a lake crawling with alligators near Orlando, his home base in the U.S., and he's a bit of a daredevil. He skis barefoot, and he does tricks on a kneeboard, like 360s. But he only does it when he knows and trusts the boat driver, and there are only two he trusts: his wife, Sue, and the man he just bumped back into mere mortality—Norman.
We'll give Shark a call.