15 Jun 19
Lake County Record-Bee
We find ourselves at the midway point of the 119th annual United States Open Golf Championship this weekend. The U.S. Open is being contested on the Monterey Peninsula at the historic Pebble Beach Golf Links. This marks the sixth time that our National Open has been held at Pebble Beach, which is celebrating its 100-year anniversary this summer.
Pebble Beach is one of the most iconic championship golf courses in America. In fact, because it is open to the public, albeit at a hefty price in the range of $600, it has often been described as “America’s course.” Yet you might find it of interest that while the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship were being held for 70-plus years at some of the more elite private country clubs, most notably on the East Coast, the Pebble Beach Golf Links had a limited championship pedigree prior to hosting its first Open in 1972.
A pair of United States Amateurs had been held at Pebble prior to the ’72 National Open. In 1929 Jimmy Johnston won in the finals over Oscar Willing. To serious golf historians, the main story behind the 1929 Amateur revolved around amateur great Bobby Jones. Jones lived in Atlanta, was the favorite, and because of the limitations of travel in those days, he took the train to California and booked a return trip the day after the finals match. The only glitch in this plan was that a relative unknown, Johnny Goodman, defeated Jones in the first round. Goodman would become a known entity down the line, becoming the last amateur to win the U.S. Open, a feat he accomplished in 1934. He would also win the U.S. Amateur in 1937.
The Jones perspective was even more important in the history of golf. Jones had nothing to do for five days. Instead of playing in the round of 16, he instead joined the nation’s top female amateur, Marion Hollins, for opening-day ceremonies at Pasatiempo in Santa Cruz. He also played a round of golf at neighboring Cypress Point. Jones met the architect of both courses, Alister Mackenzie, and enlisted the great architect into helping him design his “dream course” in Georgia. Four years later Augusta National opened for play, and the following year the first version of the Masters was contested. The Mackenzie-Jones design connection was all because of an early-round loss in the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach way back in 1929.
It took another 32 years before Pebble Beach was on center stage once again. Ohio State University golfer Jack Nicklaus won the Amateur that summer at Pebble, defeating fellow collegian Dudley Wysong in the finals by an 8-and-6 margin of victory. Nicklaus would turn professional the following year and the USGA would book Pebble for the 1972 National Open.
The U.S. Open ventured to the West Coast for just the second time when it held its 72nd edition of the tournament at Pebble Beach that summer. Lee Trevino was the defending champ, having beaten Nicklaus the summer prior at the old-time Merion Golf Club in an 18-hole playoff. Trevino was coming to the ’72 Open feeling under the weather after missing spring tournaments with pneumonia and bronchitis. Nicklaus was the favorite following his victory in April at the Masters. Jack was in his prime and had won 10 major championships to date. Other favorites included Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf.
While Pebble Beach has been described as the ultimate mixing of land, sea and beauty, the constant wind throughout the week played a major impact upon the festivities. By Sunday, the wind was at its strongest and was considered to be a three- or four-club wind. Par would turn out to be a very good number. Mother Nature made for a most difficult time on the links.
On Thursday, Nicklaus shot a 1-under-par 71 to find himself atop the leader board alongside Orville Moody, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Mason Rudolph, Tom Shaw and Kermit Zarley. One back at even par was the foursome of Bobby Cole, Gary Player, Don Massengale and Cesar Sanudo. Friday played just as tough as Thursday. Jack shot a 1-over-par 73 and still held the lead at even-par 144. He remained tied at the top with Zarley, Sanudo, Bruce Crampton, Lanny Wadkins and Homero Blancas. Arnold Palmer shot a 68 and was one shot off the pace. Trevino, Lee Elder, Ralph Johnston, Rod Funseth, Player and Chi Chi were two back.
Jack was alone atop the standings on Saturday even though he shot an even-par 72. Crampton, Zarley, and Trevino were one back, Arnie and Johnny Miller were two off the pace, and Weiskopf and Homero were four back. Player shot 77 and fell five shots behind Jack.
Sunday’s round began and the winds were even more intense off Carmel Bay. Among the top 10 that day, only 21 total birdies would be recorded. It was all about gutting out U.S. Open-type pars. Nicklaus ran off pars and came to the 16th tee with a two-stroke lead over Crampton and Palmer. He made an 18-foot birdie putt on 16 to go three strokes up. Playing the 217-yard par-3 17th hole in close to gale force winds off the ocean, Jack nuked a 1-iron that landed on the front of the green, took one hop and slammed into the flagstick. It stopped two inches from the cup. Jack’s birdie gave him an insurmountable four-stroke lead. A safe bogey at 18 resulted in a final-round 74, a 2-over-par aggregate of 290, a third U.S. Open title, and a $30,000 first-place paycheck. Crampton would finish as runner-up three strokes back, Arnie was one shot farther back in third place, and Trevino and Blancas would round out the top five.
For Jack, it was his 11th major title, tying him with Walter Hagen for most professional majors. Counting his two U.S. Amateur victories, his 13 total professional and amateur major wins tied him with his golfing idol, Bobby Jones. Nicklaus would win another seven majors during the next 14 years to get to 18 pro majors. In the case of Pebble Beach, it was the ultimate coming-out party and would host the National Open every decade with Tom Watson winning in 1982, Tom Kite in 1992, Tiger Woods in 2000, and Graeme McDowell in 2010. We will only have to wait another eight years for a seventh Pebble Beach U.S. Open when the USGA returns to the hallowed links in 2027. Even the USGA can’t mess up a United States Open when it’s held at Pebble Beach.
Yet it was the 1972 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach that opened the eyes of the game’s greats and the golfing public to the majesty of the iconic golf course alongside Carmel Bay. There’s nothing like a Pebble Beach National Open and we have two more days of great entertainment.