Nelson eagled the 447-yard first hole at Southern Hills today - with a nine-iron. Roger Maltbie reached the 465-yard 13th hole with a seven-iron. Tom Weiskopi was on in two at the 569-yard 16th hole with a four-iron and Joe Inman, a patty-cake of a driver, hit an eight-iron to the 44-yard 12th hole. This is the U.S. Open?
Well, it must be because an Argentine who cannot speack English was among the first-round leaders and a lefthander all but set to give up pro golf and work for a living was in contention after the second round. The course, though, a remained a mystery, seemingly vulnerable so often and yet firmly in control after most rounds.
"There just ought to be a 65 shot here today," said George Archer, "and I think there would be if this weren't 'THE' Open. The course is easy. I'm playing terrible and I'm still at five over (145). This is a very good course, because it's not what the USGA wants. That's why I like it."
Normally after the second round of the Open, the golfers are livid, ready to take a divot out of the nearest U.S. Golf Association official's head but choosing not to because it just might be thicker than the rough and a fellow can't go around breaking his tols. Everyone has been remarkably polite this year, because the course is fair, in fact, too fair today.
One of the charms of most Opens is that they include one diabolical hole - usually a four-par - that brings most of the double-knitted robots to their knees and makes even the gifted shot-makers sweat for pars. This Open had one, No. 18, the first day. Then the USGA went soft and shortened it by 20 yards.
"It must have been a new member," cracked Inman. "Someone who's never been around an Opera before."
Safety was one of the reasons for moving the tee up, the back one being close enough to the 215-yard No. 8 for someone to suddenly find a script Hogan imprinted on his cheeks in the middle of his backswing. Whatever, the hole went from vicious to merely tough, a drive and five-iron for the Ruthian hitters.
The first day the 18th was a 449-yarder with a sharp bend to the right and either a long iron or a wood to an elevated green, often from a downhill, sidehill lie. The screams could be heard in Butte, Mont., as more than a fourth of the field shot either 40 or higher on the backside.
"You try to prepare yourself for a five on a four-par like that, so you're not too disappointed," Al Geiberger said after the first round. "Out here on the tour if anyone gets a bogey on a four-par he immediately yells unfair."
"Probably, it's a little unfair for the type shot you have to play. But you really ought to have something tough to win the U.S. Open on." Probably, Geiberger was not prepared for the double-bogey six he took today on the "fair" 18th.
And that best illustrated the lot of so many players during the first two rounds. Johnny Miller would get moving at a one-under clip and suddenly take three shots to escape the bunker on the par-three No. 11.
Waiskpof made five on a par-three hole today and a three on a par-five. Fuzzy Zoeller smacked a sand wedge two feet past the hole on the 354-yard No. 17, watched incredulously as the ball spun back and kept rolling down a slope until it finally stopped 35 feet from the pin.
"And here the bunkers make up for the rough," said Masters champ Tom Watson, six over after two rounds. "The sand here is too soft, but not unfair. Most Opens you prefer to be in sand rather than the rough around the greed, you shoot for the sand in fact. Here, you really have to hit it bad to get penalized drastically by the rough.
"What prevents a 65 or a 66, I think is the greens. There are so many little mounds. You can hit a helluva shot, 10 feet from the hole and then have it back down a little slope."
As Weiskopf said after his second adventure around Southern Hills, the greens call for "defensive putting."
And the Open calls for the sort of attitude Archer displayed today. Moments after a two-over-par round Archer was on the phone with a reported from Iowa, who had requested that the clubhouse bartender put him in contact with "a golfer."
"I'm a golfer," Archer said, "but who do you want to talk with? Arnie? No, he's drunk on the floor over there. Completely passed out. Watson? No, he's doing something obscene in the corner. Crenshaw? He's got too many girls around him.
"I'm afraid the only golfers here right now are 90 shooters, like me. I'm Joe Shank and I'm frankly a little hot." Then he introduced himself and proceeded to highlight the rounds to that point, including Gary Player's 40-yard pitch for a bird at No. 9.
You expect the best, prepare for the worst and dismiss most rounds almost immediately after they're over, said Geiberger. Unless you shoot something for the history books, such as his 59.
"I've been signing autographs with my name and '59 this week," he said, "because people have wanted it that way. But three times I've put down 69 instead of 59. It really is hard to get that 5 down."