Well, let’s see now… having just endured another birthday on Saturday – my 111th, according to my Facebook page – I’m actually in a happy mood, and thinking happy thoughts as I review the golf domain on an otherwise gloomy Monday morning.
I’m happy for Jhonattan Vegas, who despite his name is not a flamboyant showman, but a steady journeyman pro, and who won the Canadian Open yesterday. He shot a fine 64, and no one could catch him. I’m happy for Golf Canada, now that RBC has committed to another six years of sponsoring the Open. I was playing golf on Sunday morning with a former senior executive from RBC, who was also delighted with the news, as even he was unsure whether the extension would happen.
I was really happy for Jared Du Toit, a member of the Team Canada amateur squad who finished tied for ninth at the Open. His closing round of 71 was terrific, given the pressure and the hope of millions of Canadians that he might win. But he carried himself perfectly, and seemed to have a lot of fun being out there… and that’s what it’s all about.
I’m happy for the Olympic Games in Rio. They may still turn out to be a huge disaster, but at least the women golf pros and some of the bigger name men are still planning to go and play. I can’t imagine that any of the players will regret making the journey, and those who win medals will be proud for the rest of their lives.
For a million different reasons, I’m happy that I was born, raised and still live in Ontario.
I can’t imagine a better place to live. And one of those reasons is the incredible number of excellent golf courses that we can play in this province, from Ottawa to Windsor, Kenora to Fort Erie. At last count, I’ve played 122 courses in Ontario, and with extremely few exceptions, they’ve all been good, to way above average. So far this season, I’ve played 10 of them, and I feel blessed.
I’m happy that the PGA Championship is happening this week, at Baltusrol, one of America’s finest, classic courses. I particularly remember Baltusrol for the 1967 U.S. Open, which, in retrospect, was really a turning point for both Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
Those of us of a certain age (i.e., old) will remember that Jack had already declared his dominance of the men’s game by then… he had already won six majors by the end of 1966, at least one of each of the four. But he wasn’t a very popular player with the public at that point. He was overweight, notoriously slow around the greens, not considered particularly gracious or colourful, and worst of all, he had knocked Arnold Palmer off his perch as the acknowledged number one player.
Arnold couldn’t have been more popular in 1967. He had won the Masters four times, and three other majors, coming into Baltusrol. He was the envy of every male golfer on the planet, and the dream of millions more women. He was handsome, charming, polite, cool, a devoted father and husband (even if there were many rumours of his being quite the philanderer on the road). Nine out of ten golfers would rather just shake Arnold Palmer’s hand than play a round with Jack Nicklaus, in 1967.
But Baltusrol changed all that.
Going into the final round, Nicklaus, Palmer, and the great Billy Casper were all tied for second, one shot behind amateur standout, Marty Fleckman. Heading into the back nine, it was coming down to the match that everyone wanted to see: Palmer vs. Nicklaus, mano-à-mano (rather like Phil and Henrik at Royal Troon last week).
After the 10th hole, they were only three shots apart, as Fleckman was having a terrible day, and Casper just couldn’t get all cylinders firing. In the end, Jack made a great birdie on 18, as did Arnold, but Jack won the day with a five-under 65, and a tournament record score of 275. This was, I believe, the last time Arnold ever beat or finished second to Jack Nicklaus. This was the virtual passing of the torch.
It was also a tournament at which Jack showed up much slimmer than before, with a haircut that resembled one of the Beach Boys’… not the usual brush cut. Over the next couple of years, Jack became even cooler, letting the hair grow over his ears, allowing himself to smile when he hit a good shot, or even the occasional chunked wedge. He became humble in victory, and gracious in defeat. His play became noticeably quicker.
In the end, Jack became as much of the All-American boy as Arnold had been, for all too short a time. From personal experience, as I’ve written here before, the two gentlemen are very different personalities, but as role models for the greatest game on the planet, they are and always will be, without equal.
And I’m happy to have studied them for well over 50 years.