AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following article documents my replay of the last three pairings of the final round of the 1972 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Calif. I selected this replay for its nostalgia and star power: Arnold Palmer making a gallant final charge in a major tournament; Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino contending for Tour supremacy; future star Johnny Miller shooting for a major title; and two relatively unknown grinders, Bruce Crampton and Kermit Zarley, looking to unseat one of the champions.
There are three notable differences between the replay and actual event. First, Pebble Beach played as a Par 72 in 1972, whereas the ASG course plays as a par 71; the ASG values were used and the historic scores treated in relationship to 71. Second, the last two pairings in the replay are different by accident; Crampton played in the second-to-last group while Trevino was paired with Nicklaus; I had Crampton and Nicklaus in the final group solely because of the encyclopedic listing. Third, I went with random weather and the dice determined that the replay would be conducted under severely windy conditions; the actual weather was milder. This obviously would have a major impact on how the players performed and tended to equalize the field. For purposes of rounding out the top 10, the other four players are assumed to have performed as they did.
Reading up on the biographies of the lesser known players, I found that Bruce Crampton was an ideal villain and foil to the beloved Palmer, Trevino, and Nicklaus, so the replay has a bit of human drama. Historic data is interwoven into the story, including anecdotes, player descriptions, results of the first three rounds, and the Vietnam War protestors during the final round. The rest is my imagination. In the spirit of Sports Illustrated, here’s how the round played out, part historic fiction and part alternate history:
By Bruce Kish
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) –
I shift my course along the breeze
Won’t sail up wind on memories
The empty sky is my best friend
And I just cast my fate to the wind …
– Carel Werber/Vince Guaraldi
Like so many unfettered balloons, the hopes, wishes, and dreams of players and fans drifted gently high above the luscious green fairways of Pebble Beach Golf Links atop the cliffs of Monterey Peninsula, overlooking sun-speckled blue waters as white lines of foamy crests smashed into dark craggy boulders at regular intervals.
Such wistful hopes aloft coming into Sunday’s final round of the 72nd U.S. Open included those of: “The King,” Arnold Palmer, 42, looking to turn back the hands of time and claim his first major title since the ’64 Masters; the “Golden Bear,” Jack Nicklaus, set to take the second leg of a possible Grand Slam and his 11th major title; the defending champion, Lee Trevino, the “Merry Mex,” looking to unseat Nicklaus for a third time at the U.S. Open; a promising future talent, local favorite San Franciscan Johnny Miller, aiming to take his place among golf’s greats with a breakthrough win in his backyard; and two unheralded tour grinders, Bruce Crampton and Kermit Zarley, both at last in a position to claim a share of glory after years of paying dues.
As bitter fate would play out on a brilliantly sunny afternoon, the heavy swirling Pacific winds dealt harshly with these metaphoric balloons of hope one-by-one, driving some out to sea, never to be seen again, or caught in an under-draft and dashed on the treacherous rocks among frolicking seals. Under the sun, this race was not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; the environmental conditions were the great equalizer that negated raw talent or familiarity with the terrain.
Australian Bruce Crampton (284/E) gained a measure of satisfaction in defeating fellow competitor Jack Nicklaus by three shots after finishing runner-up to the Golden Bear at Augusta National two months ago. Kermit Zarley, who started the day in a three-way tie for second with Crampton and Trevino at +1, one shot behind Nicklaus, finished in second alone, still one shot back.
The biggest winner of the event was the Pebble Beach Golf Links, which successfully hosted America’s most prestigious event for the first time. The U.S. Open tends to be held in the Northeast or Midwest, more temperate regions with major population centers, and the USGA is loath to break habits. It was not until the 55th edition of the tournament (1955) that the national championship finally reached the Pacific Coast when the Olympic Club in San Francisco hosted.
Pebble Beach traces its origins to 1880, when railroad baron Charles Crocker of the Central Pacific built the Hotel del Monte, a resort complex. Crocker, who funded the westernmost portion of the Transcontinental Railroad, looked to create a tourist destination that would increase his railway’s usage. Shortly after America’s entry into the Great War, architects Jack Neville and Douglas Grant constructed the golf links with an eye to taking advantage of the scenic views that the Monterey Peninsula offered. The grand venue opened to the public on February 22, 1919. Famed Scottish architect Alistair Mackenzie, who had helped Bobby Jones design Augusta National and drew up the plans for the Cypress Point Club (a five-minute drive north of Pebble Beach), was later hired to improve some of the hole layouts.
The Pebble Beach Golf Links became part of the national consciousness in 1947, when Bing Crosby decided to make it the host of his annual celebrity tournament and clambake after a five-year hiatus due to World War II. Televised for the first time in 1958, the Crosby National Pro-Am captured the imagination of golfers everywhere, particularly those in the Northeast suffering from mid-winter cabin fever. The idea of top professionals mingling with beloved entertainers was appealing and the breathtaking views of the course overlooking the Pacific waters were inviting. Tourism boomed. With all the attention Pebble Beach received, the locals clamored to host a U.S. Open. By the mid-60s the USGA agreed and awarded Pebble Beach the 1972 championship.
The first day of the tournament featured a six-player logjam at the top at 71 (E) including favorite Jack Nicklaus, Chi-Chi Rodriguez, 1969 U.S. Open champion “Sarge” Orville Moody, and journeyman Kermit Zarley. Defending champion Lee Trevino was hospitalized in Dallas for bronchitis and pneumonia and released two days prior to the start. Playing without the benefit of a practice round, he shot an opening 74.
At the end of Friday, the top of the leaderboard was still clogged with six players tied at 144 (+2). Nicklaus was joined by Australian Bruce Crampton and Tour rookie Lanny Wadkins. Sentimental favorite Arnold Palmer rebounded from an opening 77 to post a 3-under-par 68, one stoke back. Trevino was two shots behind the leaders, part of a six-player squad deadlocked for eighth.
After Saturday, Nicklaus, 216 (+3), had a bit of separation from the rest of field. Crampton, Zarley, and Trevino were tied for second, one-shot back, and Palmer and Miller were tied for fifth, two behind.
What will be remembered years from now is how the swirling coastal breezes played havoc with the field on Sunday. After three days of pleasant temperatures and relative calm, heavy winds returned, calculated at the Monterey Peninsula Airport to be cycling between 12 and 27 m.p.h. Hours before the players arrived to start the final round, USGA organizers and hospitality providers were scrambling to keep large fest tents from blowing away and tying down anything unsecured.
As he warmed up in the late morning, Trevino compared the practice tee to an artillery training range from his time in the Marines. Gunners had to account for left-right movement caused by the wind, known as “Kentucky Windage” in shooter’s parlance; however, the heavy crosswinds would force one to aim into the breeze at an obtuse angle and hope the wind brought the shot back on target. A table of distances and angles with some math calculations helped plot a firing solution.
“I was never good at trigonometry,” Trevino told a bystander. “I’ll just do today what I did on every test – keep my head down and depend on prayer.”
Top professionals, who average 265 years off the tee, saw their drives cut down by 20 or more yards when hitting into stiff headwinds. Even the fundamental tactic of aiming into the wind did not guarantee success as on occasion the gusts suddenly let up, allowing shots to land 20-plus yards off the fairway in deep rough. Long hitters, such as Palmer and Nicklaus, were especially affected by how wide their shots went and had to make decisions that offset their advantages over the rest of the field such as making swing adjustments or using shorter clubs.
Nicklaus appeared less than thrilled when he learned of being paired with Bruce Crampton on Sunday. The well-traveled Australian, who turned professional in 1953 and started playing on the PGA Tour in 1961, had gained a reputation for being moody and boorish toward other players and spectators. Notorious for gamesmanship tactics, such as slow play to knock fellow competitors out of their rhythm, he made an enemy of Chi-Chi Rodriguez, the most laid-back player on Tour.
There is a story about Crampton that makes the rounds in locker rooms at Tour events: At a pro-am, a young woman introduced herself as Crampton’s amateur partner and, knowing his personality, commented that a friend had bet her ten dollars that he wouldn’t say five words to her. Crampton’s acerbic reply: “Sorry, lady, you lose.”
Yet for all the criticism the Australian receives, South African Gary Player diplomatically notes there is no questioning his work ethic or dedication to his craft, which has led to nine Tour wins coming into the 1972 season. He shows up at the practice tee in the wee hours of the morning, hours before his tee time, dismisses his caddy after the round and returns to hit more balls alone until dusk, eschewing any camaraderie with his fellow pros. Such monotonous repetition has forged an accurate swing that is almost robotic in its consistency. Crampton’s few defenders will admit to anyone who will listen that he cares about golf and little else, is not a people person, and is most comfortable in a crowd of one.
Nicklaus frowned as he teed up a ball and surveyed the fairway. Normally a quick player, the winds were forcing him and the rest of the field to slow down and gauge their direction and strength. As the breeze picked up, a right-to-left crosswind, he realized the day would be a physical and mental struggle and asked his caddy to hand him the 3-wood instead of a driver.
The Golden Bear aimed toward a spot along the right edge of the fairway, expecting the stiff wind to move the ball left to the center; an instant after beginning his downswing, the wind subsided somewhat, allowing the shot to continue unimpeded toward the rough. Fortunately, the shorter trajectory of the 3-wood caused the ball to land inside the fairway near the right edge and roll harmlessly along the first cut of rough. He was safe for the moment but would have to play one club longer on the approach without knowing how the wind would affect it.
Meanwhile, as the players fought to adapt to conditions, the volunteers who manned the scoreboards frantically struggled to keep up with the leader changes. During the first 10 holes, the lead changed seven times. Nicklaus and Crampton exchanged places after the first hole following a birdie by the Australian and Nicklaus bogeying after hitting the greenside bunker. Crampton bogeyed the second to create a three-way tie with Nicklaus and Zarley. Trevino jumped into the lead on 4 by holing out a sand wedge from 45 yards for an eagle. On the fifth hole, the Merry Mex was joined at the top by Zarley, who dropped an 11-foot birdie putt on the Par 3, then followed up with another par-breaker on the sixth to move a shot ahead of Trevino.
Zarley, who would otherwise be an unknown commodity, goes by the nickname “Moon Man” thanks to a Bob Hope quote on national TV that with a name such as Kermit Zarley, “he must be the Pro from the Moon.” Zarley, a Seattle native who turned pro in 1963, is a consummate grinder who shows up every week and earns just enough money to pay his expenses. He has managed one Tour win in nine years. An unabashed Evangelical Christian, Zarley is better known by his fellow pros for co-founding the PGA Tour Bible Study group back in 1965 than for his playing accomplishments.
Zarley’s time at the top lasted three holes until he crash-landed an errant 8-iron approach shot into the Pacific Ocean that led to a triple-bogey on 9, dropping him into a three-way tie with Crampton and Nicklaus. The Australian regained the lead with a birdie on 10 that ultimately held up for the remaining eight holes.
Playing in the third to last group, Palmer and Miller watched the rest of the field gradually pull away from them. A triple-bogey on 2 knocked The King to four shots off the pace and he failed to make up any ground over the remaining seven holes on the front nine. Miller, who had literally played in his own backyard when the Olympic Club hosted the 1966 U.S. Open, felt pressured to perform well in front of the home crowd. After struggling through the first five holes with a pair of bogeys, Miller ignited the gallery by holing a 25-foot uphill putt. On the next hole, he rimmed out a two-foot par putt.
Palmer’s chances appeared dead in the water after double-bogeying 10 to drop to +7, six shots behind Crampton. It was at that moment of despair among Arnie’s Army that the clock suddenly started to wind back as if it were 1960; Palmer himself later admitted that after the 10th hole, he stopped caring about results, and, freed from worry, rediscovered his old self.
After an innocuous birdie on 11, Palmer matched it up on the par 3 12th, draining a long, winding 25-foot putt that reinvigorated his gallery. Moments after sinking an eight-foot putt on 13 for his third consecutive birdie, a roar echoed from the 11th green where Crampton had just bogeyed. The two-shot swing now put Palmer four back. The charge continued as he added a fourth straight birdie to cut to the deficit to three. After nearly holing out his tee shot on 16, Palmer tapped in his birdie putt to trail Crampton by two with two holes remaining. To The King’s giddy fans, anything was possible.
Among the celebrities following Palmer was Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schultz. Schultz, who relocated to San Francisco from Minneapolis, is an avid golfer and member of the Santa Rosa Golf & Country Club. A good player in his own right, he still understands the anguish that the sport causes most of its participants.
Accompanying him was jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi, who gained fame composing and performing the soundtracks for Schultz’ televised Peanuts specials. Nine years ago, in a San Francisco recording studio located 140 miles north of Pebble Beach as the crow flies, Guaraldi composed a sleepy work titled Cast Your Fate to the Wind, which won a 1963 Grammy for Best Original Jazz Composition. It would have been an appropriate theme for the final round.
Both Schultz and Guaraldi were standing near the ropes on the par 3 17th when Palmer, facing a heavy left-to-right crosswind, overcompensated and pulled a 3-iron into the greenside bunker. His second shot caught the lip, lobbed high and bounced onto the green, stopping about 15 feet short of the flag. Palmer misread the break on a downhill putt and ended up five feet past the cup to a horrified groan from the gallery. He regrouped and saved bogey, but it seemed as if the air had been sucked out of his supporters. Three strokes back with one hole remaining, Palmer had fallen from contention. A pained expression acknowledged his fate as he bent over the cup to retrieve the ball.
On the 18th green, Palmer waited patiently while Johnny Miller’s 16-foot putt stopped one rotation shy of dropping into the hole. It had been that kind of a day for the local favorite, who still burdened himself with performing well before the home crowd. As they walked to the scorer’s tent, Palmer patted the dejected Miller on the back and gave him some words of encouragement; Miller later told reporters that Palmer believed he was on the verge of a major win.
Palmer finished tied for third place with Nicklaus. His front and back nines were night and day: +3 with one fairway and five greens in regulation at the turn; -2 with six fairways and six greens in regulation to finish. A triple-bogey on 2 and a double-bogey on 10 were ultimately the difference. Having come back from the brink of irrelevance with eight holes remaining to contending for the title with two holes to play, Palmer was visibly distressed during the press conference afterward and wondered aloud how many more opportunities he would be in a position to win a major title.
Trevino, playing in the second to last group, conceded defeat after 13 following a disastrous five-hole stretch that included four bogeys and a double bogey due to an inability to hit any greens in regulation. Playing into a headwind on three of these holes, his longest drive barely cleared 260 yards. Although declared medically fit at the hospital, he was still not up to full strength and fatigued from the travel and whirlwind schedule. Still, the Merry Mex retained his sense of humor, commenting that the only thing more annoying than being knocked out of contention by the weather was having it delay his post round appointment at the bar. After shooting 35 on the front nine, Trevino closed out with a 41, dropping from second place into a tie for sixth with Homero Blancas.
For the mostly partisan gallery, hopes for an American victory lay with Kermit Zarley, a player most had never heard of. Despite a horrifying stretch between 9 and 13 that included a triple-bogey, bogey, double-bogey, the journeyman from Seattle managed to stay within striking distance of the leader, Crampton. He drained a 29-foot putt on 16 to temporarily cut the deficit to two. On 18, the Moon Man used rocket fuel, whaling a 4-iron to reach the par 5 hole in two, then landed an eagle putt from 21 feet to close within a shot of the lead following Crampton’s birdie on 16 that briefly increased his lead to three with two to play.
The final pair came down the back nine with hardly a word exchanged among the competitors, who treated each other with a strained civility. Nicklaus, who had lost a share of the lead after 10, remained tantalizingly close. Despite trailing by two after 11, there was a feeling among the spectators that the Golden Bear still had a chance. He created opportunities to close the gap on 14 and 15 but rimmed out a 7-foot birdie putt and followed up by leaving a 6-foot birdie putt short.
If the players had been artists, Nicklaus would be an Old Master whose gorgeous swing can work the ball in a way few players can match. He can drive for distance and cut dogleg corners or just as easily hit the most delicate shots from poor lies around the green to within a few feet of the cup. Today, none it mattered as his putting had let him down and he failed to gain any ground on the back nine.
By contrast, Crampton would be a paint-by-numbers artist, clean and precise, but lacking the depth and style of Nicklaus. While nowhere near as long as Nicklaus, Crampton has a simple, compact swing that is reliable, evidenced by his hitting 11 of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens in regulation despite the breezes. The slow pace of play necessitated by the conditions suited the Australian’s style and the fury of the winds seemed to match the seething anger toward everyone that fueled his game.
On this day, function beat out form. Unlike the rest of the field, Crampton made the shots when he had to, unphased by the elements or the merciless barbs of hecklers in the gallery. His resiliency was unflappable as he ignored the leaderboards or the occasional bad shot and played imperviously whether trailing or leading. A 14-foot chip-in from the fringe on 11 created a two-stroke cushion. On 16, he converted a breaking 10-foot birdie that put away Nicklaus and kept him one ahead of Zarley. After missing the green on 17 and saving par with a 7-foot putt, the tournament was now Crampton’s to lose.
The final hole seemed anticlimactic. After teeing off, Nicklaus and Crampton waited in the fairway for several minutes while security dealt with a disturbance. Several Vietnam War protesters had chained themselves to a tree behind the 18th green and lost the key. Said Trevino, walking out of the scorer’s tent, “I know how to find the key to that chain. Just give me a book of matches.”
Normally, an apparent champion is warmly received during his triumphant walk down the final fairway. On this day, however, only the distant crash of the surf and the roar of the wind, that had crushed the hopes of players and fans alike, greeted the hatchet-faced Crampton and his caddy as they approached final green. In the press tent later, Crampton stated he was so focused on closing out that he did not know his lead had dwindled to a single shot until a marshal congratulating him mentioned it.
The sullen gallery ringing 18 hoped with all its might that Crampton would three-putt, thereby setting up a Monday 18-hole playoff with Zarley. Sensing the hostility in the air, the irascible Australian lagged the first putt from 21 feet to within a foot. Traditionally, a player on the verge of winning marks his ball and allows the fellow competitor to finish so the championship is clinched with a ceremonial final putt. Today, Crampton disregarded custom like he ignored the feelings of others, walking behind the ball as it approached the cup, then immediately tapping in after it stopped. He strode off the green, ignoring Nicklaus, who waited to make his first attempt from 8 feet.
Minutes later, Crampton received the championship trophy from USGA President Lynford Lardner, Jr., amid tepid applause from the few spectators who chose to remain for the ceremony. Crampton hoisted the trophy overhead, an expression of cruel satisfaction on his face at having defeated both the field and the gallery.
Overall, the USGA was satisfied with Pebble Beach’s ability to host a major championship and there is talk of bringing back the U.S. Open in the next 10 years. With the victory, Crampton has barged into the ranks of elite players such as Nicklaus and Trevino, and can no longer be ignored despite his abrasive personality. The lessons taken from the 1972 event are that the best player doesn’t always win, and the player who takes home the trophy is the one who is most consistent and can best adapt to conditions of play.
Nicklaus, undaunted in defeat, praised the course layout, the tournament hosts, and Crampton’s performance. He acknowledged frustration with the elements and admitted he hadn’t played as well as he could have but stated that it was now history and he was focusing on next month’s British Open at the Muirfield Golf Links, the site of his 1966 championship. When asked about his chances of winning again in Scotland, Nicklaus cracked a smile and, quoting a folk song, dryly replied, “The answer is blowing in the wind.”
1972 U.S. OPEN REPLAY FINAL STANDINGS