Excerpt from Posnanski's Nicklaus-Watson book


NBCSports.com columnist and GolfChannel.com contributor Joe Posnanski's latest book is "The Secret of Golf: The Story of Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus." It is set to be released on June 9 from Simon and Schuster. Read an excerpt of the book below and click here to read more.

From the time he was in junior high school, Jack Nicklaus had reigned supreme in Tom Watson’s mind. Nicklaus had vanquished his hero, Arnold Palmer. Nicklaus had pushed the boundaries of golf excellence. When Watson first came on the PGA Tour, Nicklaus was a faraway star playing what seemed a different game. Watson would watch him, follow him, study him. One weekend in New Orleans, he walked with the gallery after Nicklaus. “It was hard with the fans out there, and I’m trying to see what club he’s hitting off the thirteenth tee or where he’s laying up or what type of shot he’s playing. But I studied him every chance I could.”

At the beginning of 1975, though, Watson felt ready to challenge Nicklaus. He had won a tournament. He had contended at the U.S. Open. Golfers and fans began to talk about him more and more; someone coined the phrase Watson par. A Watson par might go like this: Watson would hit a terrible drive into the woods somewhere. He often hit terrible drives then. He would smile his hard smile, find the ball behind a tree or barely visible in high grass, and hit a deft rescue shot to the fairway somewhere.

He would hit a good third shot that might stop eight or ten feet from the hole. And then he would make the putt for a par.

Watson made Watson pars so often and with such astonishing shots and putts that a little bit of a legend built up around him. There seemed no trouble he could not overcome.

“I never saw anybody—anybody—who was as positive after a bad shot as Tom Watson,” Johnny Miller said. “It was crazy, really. He just never let it bother him.”

In Augusta at the Masters, Watson got his chance to match up with Nicklaus. Tom Weiskopf, one of the fleet of “next Nicklaus” golfers who came onto the Tour, led the Masters going into Sunday. Nicklaus was a shot back; Miller was four back; Watson five. The Masters in those days mixed and matched the Sunday pairings. For some reason that neither golfer remembers, that day Watson and Nicklaus were paired, and Weiskopf and Miller played in the ground behind them. It made for great television.

Watson wasn’t a big part of the story. He played reasonably well, but Nicklaus, Weiskopf, and Miller left him behind. The CBS producer Frank Chirkinian gleefully described how the day unfolded like a perfectly structured drama. Nicklaus was the reigning king. Weiskopf was the dark and grim younger brother who longed for his moment. Miller was the blond and heroic prince making his charge. The crescendo came when Nicklaus teed off on the 16th hole. “Get up!” he shouted at the ball; he had hit a poor shot. The ball did not get up. It settled forty treacherous feet away from the cup; he would need all of his skill and nerve just to two-putt the hole.

Meanwhile, back on the 15th hole, Weiskopf and Miller were in position to make eagles or birdies and take the tournament away from Nicklaus.

After Nicklaus hit his shot, Watson played his role in the theater, plunking his tee shot in the water. He walked all the way to the green to see if his ball had crossed land; it had not. So he walked back to the tee, hit the ball again, and again hit into the water. Finally, on his third attempt, he put the ball on dry land.

Chirkinian could not believe his telecasting fortune. He did not know anything about Watson yet, but he did know that Watson’s fumbling had given Weiskopf and Miller time to hit their approach shots. This set up a remarkable television scene. The 15th green and 16th tee are only a few yards away from each other. Nicklaus would see exactly what Weiskopf and Miller did, and they would watch Nicklaus’s putt. Chirkinian built the drama by directing his camera to first show Weiskopf, then Nicklaus, then Miller. For Chirkinian it felt like the moment before a heavyweight boxing fight. Weiskopf putted first. He made his ten-foot putt to take the lead, and Chirkinian turned the camera on Nicklaus. “And that,” Ben Wright announced, “is going to be evil music ringing in Nicklaus’s ears.”

Then it was Nicklaus’s turn. ... (Click here to read more)