The U.S. Open began today with the trumpet blast of a hole in one by Tom Watson, then built to an evening crescendo of cheers as Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf, amidst a drum roll of birdies, equaled the lowest score in Open history with a pair of 63s.
No day in Open annuals has ever seen such a sacrilegious deluge of low scores as the blitz that befell rain-softened, defenseless Lower Baltusrol in this windless first round.
Both Nicklaus and Weiskopf had superb chances to shoot 62, break Johnny Miller's mark of 63 set at Oakmont in 1973, and thereby win a $50,000 bonus prize, as they stepped to the easy 542-yard par-5 18th hole.
However, Weiskopf drove into woods, then hit a trap as he scrambled to make par. Nicklaus appeared to have capped the lowest-scoring major-tournament round of his pro career with a proper glory when he had a mere three-foot birdie putt at the 18th for sole possession of the Open record. But he missed.
"It's hard to imagine shooting a 63 to start the Open, yet feeling disappointed as you walk off the last green," said Nicklaus. "But that's how I feel. I really wanted that 62 and I thought I had it."
For both Nicklaus and Weiskopf -- who have suffered through the worst years of their careers in 1979 and 1980 -- those explosive seven-under-par rounds were like an eruption of long-pent-up psychic frustration.
However, many another man ripped this 7,076-yard track to bits. Performing in the wake of the two Ohio belters, they might as well have been playing Upper Baltusrol for all the attention it got them.
Lon (Tree) Hinkle, Keith Fergus and Mark Hayes each shot 66, yet none of them was even invited to the press tent. Hayes and Hinkle finished with birdies on the final three holes, but did it in near silence as the crowds already had gone home, exhausted from a day of screaming. s
Ray Floyd equaled the lowest nine-hole total in Open history, a front-nine 30. All it got him was a three-way tie for sixth with Jay Haas and Calvin Peete at 67. Peete, a black playing at a golf club that never has admitted a black member, integrated the leaderboard for the first time in six Opens at Baltusrol in almost total anonymity.
Lee Trevino picked the wrong day to shoot 68, as his quips will go unnoticed, obscured as he is by a crowd of 19 players in the 60s.More pity should go to Watson, who, after acing the 162-yard No. 4 with an eight-iron, shot 71 and declared, "It's great to be in the middle of the hunt." That, unfortunately for him, was before noon. By sundown, he had sunk to 25th spot on the scoreboard and was in danger of losing sight of the leaders.
On what other day in Open history could Arnold Palmer (73) roar out of the box with a front-nine 32 and go unnoticed?
The glorious reason was the all-consuming afternoon duel between Nicklaus and Weiskopf with the No. 1 and No. 4 money winners in golf history answering each other with birdie roars from two holes apart. If their cards were combined, the fellows from Ohio State would have had a better ball score of 57.
Only one day ago, Nicklaus and Weiskopf were so in need of commiseration that they played a Wednesday practice round together to critique each other on the eve of the prestigious tournament.
"The only record we were thinking about breaking then was the broken record we've both been hearing for the last couple of years," punned Nicklaus, meaning his plunge to 71st and 45th on the last two years' money list while Weiskopf was 48th and 49th.
"Jack and I hadn't played together in two years," said Weiskopf. "I wanted to see for myself what was wrong with the Ohio strong boy."
What Weiskopf saw was a Nicklaus ready to break loose. "I never saw him play so well . . . so confident in his procedure of play," said Weiskopf. "I knew he was ready."
When Nicklaus arrived at the practice putting green today, Weiskopf had left a terse inspirational message with Nicklaus' caddy: "Tell Jack he's playing well."
Weiskopf already had his own pep talk well in mind. "Tommy Bolt came over and told me two sentences," said Weiskopf. "He said, 'This is the Open, Tom. It's a game of patience.'
"Can you imagine," said Weiskopf, "two calm individuals like Bolt and me talking about patience?"
Both Nicklaus and Weiskopf needed patience this afternoon. Weiskopf opened with a bogey, while Nicklaus began with two wild drives and was one over after two holes.
Neither could have guessed what was to follow: eight birdies for each, and a half-dozen near misses apiece.
"I drove exceptionally, hit the best irons of my life and sank every putt that you could imaginably make," said Weiskopf, whose birdies came at Nos. 2, 6, 8, 9, 10, 13, 15 and 17 on putts of eight, 35, 18, four, six, one, 25 and two feet.
Nicklaus has been one-upping Weiskopf all their lives.
"By the time I got to the 13th hole, I was aware of Tom," said Nicklaus. "Angelo (his caddy) said, 'Come on, answer him.' And it seemed like I did every time. Sometimes it helps you hold a round together if you 'play off' another guy's hot round instead of thinking too much about your own."
In all of his 17 major championship wins, Nicklaus had never before managed a 63. His best Open score was his course-record 65 here at Baltusrol in his 1967 triumph.
"The last time I putted this well might have been the last time I was here," said a laughing Nicklaus, whose birdies came at holes 3, 5, 7, 11, 12, 13, 15 and 17 on putts of three, 35, 10, 20, 13, one eight and 13 feet.
In his last two championship rounds here, separated by 13 years, Nicklaus has 16 birdies.
Just hours before one of the great afternoons of his career, Nicklaus had been reflective, almost pensive.
"I miss the pressure," he said. "It's been so long since I was in position to win that there's no pressure on me. I'm just wasting time finishing back in the pack.
"Once a time is past, it's past. I'll never be 215 pounds, hit it so far or have my hair so short again as I did when I was here in '67. You can never return. I've lost the '60s and '70s. We all have. I'm not the same. I have to look to the future. I have to see what skills I have now. I have to find out what is in store for Jack Nicklaus in the '80s. I can't look backwards, because that man doesn't exist anymore."
The old Nicklaus was never prouder of himself than the new 40-year-old Nicklaus of today. "To shoot 63 in the Open is somethin' else," said Nicklaus, "but to do it after the way I've played . . . I can't tell you how I feel."
For Weiskopf, too, this day was a sort of redemption. When last seen in a major tournament, he was taking a 13 on the 12th hole at the Masters two months ago, then coming back the following day to make a 7 on the little par-3.
This was a day when he could smile, show his good-time face, show his generosity, show his honesty. Weiskopf praised his playing partners -- Lanny Wadkins and Fuzzy Zoeller -- for relaxing him with their banter. He laid a needle out for Johnny Miller by saying, "Oh, I think Oakmont was a much easier course." And he teased Nicklaus, saying, "I think my gallery outcheered his."
Weiskopf, who only glared at and humiliated one noisemaking fan who annoyed him all day, admitted that, "I didn't think of the 62 and the $50,000 until the last hole. I got very, very excited. I was walking quickly and probably swinging quickly. I had a chance to play the best round of my career. A 62 in the Open only comes once."
Even in their hour of equal excellence, Nicklaus had the instinctive knack for the competitive edge. "I don't think Tom's gallery out-yelled mine," he said with a wink. "Tom was just closer to his than I was."
Nicklaus, back where he is most happy -- in the midst of the pressure that he call fun -- laughed at his joke.
Did you recapture some of the old magic today? he was asked.
"Nah," grinned Nicklaus. "That was all new stuff today."