1975 Masters finale was a triple crown of excitement

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 27, 2014, 7:31 pm

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When the leaders approached the final nine holes of the 39th Masters 39 years ago, no one could have predicted how significant the next two hours would be to their careers, the tournament, and golf itself. 

In his new book, The Magnificent Masters: Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Tom Weiskopf and the 1975 Cliffhanger at Augusta (Da Capo Press, available everywhere books are sold), Golf Channel and NBC Sports' Gil Capps recounts the protagonists and setting that produced one of the most memorable Masters ever. Here is an excerpt.


“Five, Four, Three,” Frank Chirkinian counted down, “Two, One … Sing, Vinny.” That was the guidance Vin Scully received before CBS came on the air. “It always seemed to lift me, make me rise to the occasion,” says Scully of the Chirkinian command. 

Before the days of the internet and mobile devices and all-sports cable stations, CBS television and radio was the nation’s lone connection to up-to-date play at the Masters. The first time the nation saw Augusta that Sunday came just before 4:00 p.m., as CBS gave an update into the NBA playoff game that preceded the golf. “The Augusta National Golf Club has seen some marvelous finishing rounds, and this fourth and final round of the 1975 Masters might very well be a story that will live for many years to come,” were the first words out of Scully’s mouth. Chirkinian showed Nicklaus’s second shot on the 9th on tape and then his seven-foot birdie putt from behind the hole to tie for the lead before sending it back to Brent Musburger. 

Scully couldn’t believe his fortune. The storyline at the beginning of the week remained the storyline late Sunday afternoon. “The three men that I was thinking about the most are all locked in on Sunday,” says Scully. There were no cameras on holes 1–8, but he didn’t need sight to figure out what was happening. 

“I’ll never forget the sounds of Augusta,” says Scully who took in the scene from his tower at the top of the hill, just to the golfer’s left of the 18th green. “You would sit at 18 with that large gallery around the green and all of a sudden, like cannon-fire, you’d hear a roar, sometimes a muffled kind of a sound, but always a roar. Immediately everyone would look over at the leaderboard, and then they would change a number. 

“Well on Sunday, you started to hear the roars, and you started to see that this was going to be Nicklaus, Weiskopf, and Miller. I couldn’t believe that the storyline held up all the way through, but it did. There they were: the big three. And it was amazing.” 

Indeed, the game’s best three players — each at the top of his game going to the final nine holes — all with a chance on the closing holes was rare. In major championships, there had been plenty of two-man duels. Jones-Hagen. Snead-Hogan. Nicklaus-Palmer. Nicklaus-Trevino. But never the top three. 

In the 16th tower, Henry Longhurst had just taken the single red rose out of the glass that cameraman George Drago left him before every broadcast. Then, he made haste of the glass’s remnants — gin. About 150 yards away, Ben Wright was in his position just behind the right corner of the 15th green. With nothing but the years of Masters winners jotted down on a pairing sheet, he summoned the advice Longhurst gave him several years earlier: “We are nothing but caption writers in the picture business. If you can’t improve the quality of the pictures with your words, then keep your damned mouth shut.” Like Scully, they didn’t want to screw this up — not only for fear of their boss — but because they were the soundtrack to golf’s greatest moments. 

It’s not known when or who coined the phrase, “the Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday,” and whether or not it was widely acknowledged before or after 1975. Of course, that was the case at most any tournament when the nerves were ratcheted and pressure heightened on the closing holes. But that Masters myth certainly gained traction following this day with an epic finish that would earn the tournament much of its reputation. 

In the heat of battle on the finishing holes was where Jack Nicklaus was most confident at this stage in his career. “I was a good closer,” he said years later. “In part, it was because I had a lot of opportunities; in part it was probably a function of my temperament. I’m sure some players have a counterproductive personality or temperament for handling pressure and finishing off a tournament. Good golf requires a lot of self-knowledge.” 

Nicklaus continued to think about completing his backswing. He played the percentages and made pars on the first three holes of the second nine. Meanwhile, the final twosome ran into difficulties on the two downhill holes, 10 and 11. 

As soon as he was just two shots back — the closest he’d been all week — Miller’s pesky putter reappeared. He missed an eight-foot birdie putt at the 10th, leaving it a few inches short, right in the heart. At the 11th, his birdie attempt from thirty feet just missed on the high side and ran by two feet. When he hit the comebacker, the ball caught the right side of the hole and spun out to the left. “I didn’t hit a bad putt, it just broke more than I thought,” says Miller, who stared at the ball for five seconds. “That was a huge, huge putt for me, though, to stop a little momentum.” 

Weiskopf parred the 10th hole after a simple chip from the front of the green to tap-in range. He found himself at a perfect angle on the left side of the fairway at the 11th. “It was kind of a hairy lie,” he says of the ball in the fairway, a lie you could get at Augusta National in spots where the overseed hadn’t come in. 

“When you are really good at what you do — and I was good at what I did —with every club I was within two steps one way or the other of that distance,” says Weiskopf. “Now the wind comes into it, now the excitement, the nerves, the pressure of the shot, the choice of the shot, the lie — good or bad. That’s what makes it difficult — it’s not the yardage.”

With a 5-iron, he aimed away from the left-rear hole location tucked along the edge of the pond. It wasn’t far enough right. Weiskopf pulled the shot, and the ball hit on the bank and rolled back into the water. Because the ball had initially carried the hazard, he was able to drop on the other side between the hole and point of entry instead of a more difficult angle on the ball drop. He dropped the ball over his right shoulder—as was the rule then. Still, there was just ten feet of green between the water and the hole on the ninety-foot shot. “That shot’s impossible,” says Miller. 

“I took a chance,” Weiskopf says. “It’s either going to be a good choice or a bad choice. I was comfortable with that shot because I had a really good lie … I felt like I could get it eight or ten feet past the hole.” But Weiskopf didn’t hit it hard enough. His heart was in his throat for a split second before the ball barely cleared the bank and rolled up three feet from the hole. He made the putt to salvage a bogey. It was an important up-and-in, but it was his first dropped shot in twenty-seven holes. For the first time all day, he trailed. 

Jack Nicklaus now possessed the outright lead. At 11 under par, he led by one over Weiskopf and three over Miller. There were only seven holes to play. 

Miller stayed aggressive and fired right at the flag on the 12th but was a club short. It barely carried into the bunker (the only one to find that bunker on Sunday) — the same one he holed out from in 1971. Only this time with the new sand, it didn’t bury. He escaped to three feet and made par. Weiskopf hit a 7-iron to the left of the pin and two-putted from forty feet for his par. 

Standing in the fairway at the 13th, Nicklaus had been striking the ball as well as at any point during the week. He hadn’t missed a shot since the opening hole. On his second shot, however, he got too fast with his long-iron into the green. This time, it resulted in a pull to the left in between the first and second greenside bunkers. It settled just a few feet off the green but 100 feet away, Nicklaus chose to chip it to the back-right hole location. The ball barely got halfway to the hole, leaving him more than twenty-five feet for birdie. He couldn’t make it and had thrown away the first of two par-five opportunities coming home. 

Back on the tee, while Nicklaus and Miller remained in short-sleeved golf shirts, Weiskopf pulled his sweater out of the bag and put it on. His 3-wood off the tee didn’t turn over and went straight behind the pine trees, forcing him to lay up. He hit his wedge shot strong and mis-read his birdie putt coming back down the slope. 

The only one to take advantage of the easiest hole on the course was Miller. His drive around the corner of the dogleg left him a long iron to the middle of green. He two-putted for birdie to get back within two of Nicklaus. 

The 14th hole marked the halfway point of the second nine. Sandwiched between the more famous par fives, the 13th and 15th, the uphill, dogleg left hole never got any respect. It was the only hole on the course without a bunker — or any hazard for that matter — since a large fairway bunker on the right side was removed after the 1952 tournament. 

The hole, which awkwardly moved to the left while the terrain sloped to the right, had not been kind to Nicklaus since bogeying it in his very first practice round here sixteen years earlier. “I always had a hard time with 14,” he admits. In his career, he had played it in eight over par. Of all the holes at Augusta National, only the 18th had been tougher on him at 10 over. One year earlier, he bogeyed it from over the green in the final round when just one off the lead. 

In the fairway after a perfect drive, he had hit an 8-iron ten yards over the green on Saturday, and now thinking the wind was with him again, he chose a 9-iron. The green was the second largest on the course, but with a large rise from the front right to the back left. A third of the green was a false front, and the hole location was back right just over that incline. After he struck the 9-iron, the wind seemed to turn and the ball finished short and rolled back off the front. A frustrated Nicklaus tossed some leaves of grass into the air again after the shot. On his next shot, he used his putter but hit it too firm. It scooted just off the back of the green, sixteen feet past the hole. He left the comebacker a foot-and-a-half short. Nicklaus used his putter three times, but it was officially a one-putt green. Nicklaus felt like he’d let two shots slip away the last two holes. “I thought the tournament had gotten away from me on 13 and 14,” he admitted. 

The 14th hole had been tough on this day, yielding only two birdies when the final twosome came up. Miller exacerbated its difficulty by pulling his drive into the pine trees on the left. He had hit every green in regulation to this point and showed his anger at the mistake by slamming his right fist into his left palm walking off the tee. Taking a long iron, he unsuccessfully gambled on his second shot when his ball hit more tree limbs and failed to get out of trouble. After all those birdies and stellar play, Miller looked to be throwing away his chances on this one hole. For his third shot, Miller stepped off his own yardage and decided to hit a rope-hook 7-iron around the trees. The ball bounded up the green, hit the bottom of the flagstick, and almost went in. The anything-but-routine par drew a wry smile from Weiskopf. 

After a beautiful drawing 3-wood into the center of the fairway, Weiskopf hit an 8-iron that never left the flagstick to six feet in front of the hole. He rolled the putt right in and waved to the crowd as he regained the outright lead with four holes to play. To those watching, it looked like this would finally be Weiskopf’s Masters.

 

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.

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Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”

For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.

There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.

“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”

But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by GolfChannel.com paints a different picture.



Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”

“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”

Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.

“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”

It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.

Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”

The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”

You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.

How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?

“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.

Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.

The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.

Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.

Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.

“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.

Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.

The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.