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America's Golf Mecca

Pebble Beach will host the U.S. Open for the fifth time in June, a testament to one of the greatest settings for the country’s national championship
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Chris Noth, May/June 2010

(continued from page 2)

The United States Golf Association had made sure Pebble would be a stern test of golf. The rough was up, and the greens were mowed to the nub and starved of water. If there was any weather at all, this was going to be one tough Open.

"Pebble Beach is not a difficult golf course under benign conditions," says Nicklaus. "It's a very difficult golf course under severe conditions."

The wind blew for most of the four days and only the highly skilled and highly determined players would contend. Those conditions would play straight into Nicklaus's hands, but he wasn't surrounded by slouches.

Again Trevino, (suffering with something akin to pneumonia) was nipping at his heels. Arnold Palmer, on the downturn of his legendary career, was putting up one more battle in U.S. Open. The dour but dangerous Bruce Crampton had a toehold on the leaderboard.

Nicklaus had a one-stroke lead over Trevino to start the final round and was paired with him. Nicklaus opened a three-shot lead through the front nine, then the wind got him on the 10th hole, where it tossed his drive off the bluff on the right. He made double bogey. But in these conditions, nobody could get closer to him than a shot and by the time he reached the 17th hole he was three shots ahead. It was blowing a gale at the 17th, so all Nicklaus had to do was avoid disaster.

Instead, he made history.

Smack into the wall of wind he ripped a one-iron of more than 200 yards that struck the green just in front of the pin, hit the stick flush and dropped down a few inches from the cup for a tap-in birdie. With a conservative bogey on the 18th, Jack Nicklaus had won the first Open at Pebble Beach and Pebble Beach had won Jack Nicklaus.

Tom Watson, 1982
A decade later, Watson had overtaken Nicklaus as the dominant player in the game. But Nicklaus was still dangerous. He was up to 13 major championships after wins at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in 1980.

Still Watson had become as much a nemesis for him as Lee Trevino had been a decade earlier. He had beaten Nicklaus twice in 1977, at the Masters and British Open. He had beaten Nicklaus again at the 1981 Masters.

Watson started the final day tied for the lead with Bill Rogers and three shots ahead of Nicklaus. Nicklaus crafted a fine 69 in benign weather and when he signed his card in the scorer's tent he was tied for the lead with Watson, then Watson chipped in on him for the win.

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