Sometimes, golf comes down to a single swing. A millimeter here or there separates triumph from disaster. Every so often, players go from disaster to victory with one single swing. But it's rare indeed that players go from disaster to victory during that single swing.
1972. The U.S. Open. Pebble Beach. Jack Nicklaus stood at the tee of the par-3 17th, 200 yards from the pin. Arnold Palmer had been charging, as had Lee Trevino. But Nicklaus stepped up to the ball with a one-iron — yes, a one-iron — in hand and began his backswing.
In the middle of his backswing, he felt a gust of wind on his clubface, and adjusted while swinging. At a U.S. Open. Amid the swirling winds of Pebble Beach. You tell the story now and it seems like the worst possible idea.
Nicklaus hit the flag stick and tapped in for birdie. Yeah, it worked out OK.
He'd entered Sunday with a one-shot lead over Trevino, a two-shot lead over golf immortals Bruce Crampton and Kermit Zarley, and a three-shot lead over Palmer. Palmer closed to within one by 12, but the birdie on 17 closed the door. Nicklaus ended up winning by three shots.
With his win, Nicklaus tied Bobby Jones for the most majors in a career with 13. The year also marked the first Open held at Pebble. There'd be many more to come. (For a quick video recap of the 1972 U.S. Open, click here.)
Next up: 1982. "Close, hell. I'm going to sink it."
- Jack Nicklaus
- Pebble Beach