Golf World, July 1975

The Battle of Britain


No one really expected the British Open to come down to a play-off between serious Tom Watson and fun-loving Jack Newton. But that it did, and Watson erased some bad memories.


"Doo ye ken Tom Watson, noo?"

And while you are at it, you had better ken Jack Newton as well.

To know them is to love them for their drastically different approaches to life, and, since the 104th British Open Championship (known outside the Colonies, as The Open) to know them is also to appreciate budding major league golf abilities.

Careers and ages are parallel. Both are: 25, attractive, pursuing respective golf tours with the same amount of success, but there the similarities end. Watson, of course, is the 1975 British Open champion, Newton the runner-up in a 71-72 play-off at Carnoustie, Scotland. A big difference.

Another big difference is in personalities. Watson is quiet, appears studious, is very polite, holds a degree in psychology and was in bed before the sun sank at 10 p.m. each night at Carnoustie.

Newton, from Sydney, Australia, is gregarious, a people and fun lover, is a former physical education teacher, went to bed very, very late each night at his St. Andrews hotel, and you have also got to say he is brave.

While Tom tooled around unhampered in toothless weather until the last in 71-67-69-72-279, nine under, Newton was another story. With his scores of 69-71-65-74-279 he needed no excuses whatsoever (the 65 being a record at Carnoustie), but he had one. Prior to the start of the championship Jack injured an ankle so severely on the practice tee that he had it professionally wrapped each day, and was subjected to pain-killing injections.

Only a few friends knew of this impediment. It was the right ankle and it restricted a normal turn and follow-through. Out on course you could hear the knowing Scottish fans remark that he was playing a bit flat-footed at times and the knowing Aussies would wince, because indeed it was difficult to play otherwise once the pain returned. So much for the common story of ailing golfers doing something really big.

The play-off, as are many, was anti-climactic to the four-day run. Watson ran in a wizard chip-and-run at 14 for eagle to take a lead unrelinquished, as Newton approached into a bunker at the consuming 18th to lose by one. By then a large portion of the crowd of 15,000 had found shelter in the maze of Tented Village on course to watch via the telly, as rain poured.

The success erased what had to be bitter memories of failed district challenges in two U.S. Opens and one Masters; the big ones may not be as though for Tom anymore. I was only the second time in the five days it took to decide this truly great sporting spectacle that normal weather was around. One does not expect to sunburn watching the British Open. A wind burn, yes; the flu, yes; soaked then dried by wind tunnel winds, yes. But please, dear weatherman, not a sunburn, under cloudless skies that had burned the course dry and destroyed the rough.

An overnight rain fell on all this before two rounds and the greens became U.S. tour dart boards. When Johnny Miller began what appeared one of his now-expected low-numbers the third sunny, windless day, one Scot mused, “the lad must think he’s home in Caleefornia.” Indeed. About 20 players and everyone who had come to watch the competitors suffer desperately wanted wind. Without it Carnoustie was a tabby cat. With it, a tiger.

The sting of Carnouste’s humiliation was balmed some by the early showing of home heroes. Peter Oosterhuls, now on the U.S. tour after much success in Britain, led the first day. Scottish Open champion David Huish led after the second and so the pints were raised high in pubs and the hopes were just as elevated. At the finish, sadly, neither was in the hunt.

Bobby Cole of South Africa led after Round 3, but surprisingly, a leader in one of the four major championships took a back seat, as Newton flashed to his record 65. The use of the word “record” at Carnoustle became a little foggy at times, like the misty blue-gray haar that drifts in from the sea eache day along the coast. All used the big ball, so it was an Open record using it, and it also was a record on the revamped course, shortened and tightened in the bargain. It also equaled Henry Cotton’s all-time Open low.

And the there was Jack Nicklaus. Until the final round he was the betting favorite, never more than 3 to 1, but he had, he said, “just a pretty good British Open, and half-way explained why the last round had something of Medinahish look to it: “The R and A has studied Augusta National pin placements. Today they were in absolutely the toughest places ever on this course. And then we had a little wind.”

Yep, the wind finally came up the last day, straightening the national flags over the 7,000-seat 18th grandstands and bending the economical little flagsticks. The great Cotton, away from his club in Portugal whilst that country sorts itself out, added to the explanation of the wild see-sawing going on the last day:
“The cups were in difficult positions, and the wind was not all that strong. But the wind did, as well as the sun was finally dry the greens, the pace quickened. It changed as the day wore on.” Which explained Nicklaus’ early tremors when he putted from 15 feet at the second to save par. It was his second putt.

And then the case of Johnny miller, 11 to 4 to win at the start of the finale, clearly the favorite among bettors. He missed a two footer at the very first hole and he may have nightmares about the 18th, but the first hole could have put him a play-off, which is unfair hindsight, of course.

What the wind had done was make the outward nine very difficult, and the inward somewhat softer except for 16 and 17. And if 16 through 18 aren’t the most nerve-racking championship-test finishing holes found please tell us.

The early starters the last day also caused some consternation among the leaders. As the big shots kept nerves in check until tee time they could follow the scoreboard , or watch the extensive TV coverage and see what was happening. A pile of 40s for the first nine was appearing and now there had to be some competitors who talked themselves out of a good round before teeling off. The wind was not all that strong; it was the greens and the cup placements killing everyone, but the wind was uppermost as competitors began play.

Lefty Bob Charles was the only player to break 70 and Graham Marsh, Ray Floyd, Mike Foster and defender Gary Player were the only others to even break par 72. Marsh, incidentally was much a contender and when he finished play he would rush to the nearest television set to watch… no you didn’t guess it… cricket. His brother Rod was catching, or wicket keeping for Australia’s national team as it wiped out England’s team in a Test Match that vied with interest on the Isles with the Open championship.

You would have to use a tennis term to describe outward-nine play: tentative. By now everyone had sorted out that there would be some downwind birdie opportunities coming home and patience was required.

As the trains tootled alongside the course (it seems they are a part of links architecture) the story of the Open was truly unfolded. Or folded, depending upon your view. The principals were Newton and Cole, last off Watson and Miller directly in front and Jack Nicklaus in front of them with Neil Coles, the last British hope. Hale Irwin and John Mahaffey were next and definitely threats but as the day wound down, so did all but two players.

The play-off pair tied at nine under, remember, but during the round Newton and Cole at times were up to 12 under. The stokes were lost at the finish. Nicklaus was making hard pars and seldom getting into birdie position. Miller was not cashing such brilliance as a chip from a bish at 13 to four feet, then missing for bogle. Nicklaus missing eagle at 14 by inches; Newton making a poor chip at 15 to lose the lead, bunkering at 16 to drop another shot. And so it went.

By the time he got to 18 tee Nicklaus knew that, at eight under, he had a chance for at least a play-off if he could birdie 18. But the cup position and his go-for-it approach left him with a delicate wedge pitch for his birdie and he missed. Only a few were left as serious challengers.

By now Watson thought he was thoroughly out of it. He had three-putted 10, 11 and 12 and one just doesn’t win a major title doing that. But he perked up with a birdie at 14, and he parred 15 and 17 and stood at 18 scratching his head in wonderment, eight under still in it. By now Cole was leading at 10 under. And so Tom went all out for a birdie at 18 and when he got it from 20 feet, it was an amazingly new ball game.

Miller met pure disaster at 18. All week players had been philosophically accepting the strange bounces, some good, some bad, that the undulating course had produced. But this time it was a matter of inches. “I did not know that Newton and Cole were losing all those shorts in back and so I knew I had to birdie 18 for a chance (actually he was nine under a tee). If I had known nine under was going to be the demarcation line I would played differently. But I was trying to win.”

What he did was lace his drive down the safer right side, saw the ball carom into the top of the bunker, run across the top and finish below the lip. He then took a six-iron, “and opened it up to a 7 ½ Iron and I tried to get it to the green.” It failed to clear the bunker, he stood dazed in the sand and the crowd was super silent. He tried it again and came out and needed to chip in for the nine underscore. He didn’t and finished in a tie for third with Nicklaus. “I was speculating on what Newton and Cole would do and I thought I would have to go for broke. It was the most disappointing finish I’ve ever had. And I’ll think about the 18th 400 times on and that long plane ride home tomorrow.”

“I had been hitting my drives within yards of where I aimed all day so I just stayed with it at 18. I hit 12 greens today in this wind. I just wasn’t my turn to win.”

Meanwhile, Cole had gone from 11 to eight under par with traumatic bogies at 15, 16, and 17. None were more traumatic than Newton’s at 17, aso his third in a row, which put him at nine under. It is here where one, normally, hits a long iron to an island made by the serpentine Barry Burn (which downed Player at 18, incidentally). As for instance this windy day, Nicklaus hit two one-iron and it looked all for going to the burn. Many thought it had, even Newton. But he was quickly given the singl by a marshall that his ball had bounced over the water and rested precariously at its edge. So close he was, he all but dangled his right leg over the embankment to scoot the ball forward.

At 18 Newton used the reverse of Miller’s thinking. “I did NOT want to be in that bunker on the right, so I hit it down the left side.” He hit closer than he wanted to the out –of-bounds, but he was safe. Cole was down the right side as everyone else. Both approached within the 20-25 foot range on the green.

Watson was at its back awaiting his fate. The huge crowd of nearly 20,000 was silent.. Newton putted first. “I was never confident of the line,” he said, “and I could see where if you putted past too much it would duck down an incline. So I hit a dreadful putt and left it three feet short. I think they call them knicker twitchers.

Then Cole had his chance but he never gave the ball a chance as it traveled on the low side all the way. A play-off. “Guess I’ll have to cancel out of a pro-am in Dublin tomorrow,” Quipped Newton. Retorted Tom, “I’ll pay all your expenses if you go.”

“I’m thrilled and disappointed at the same time,” added Newton. “I’ll never have a better chance to win the Open, but I’m happy to be in a play off for it.”

“Me too,” said Tom. “I thought there was no way I’d be here after seeing the scoreboard at 17.” “I’m disappointed to,” said Nicklaus, “but this does give two new stars an opportunity to win the British Open and you’ll be seeing a lot of both of them from now on.”

Another that you might be seeing more of too is George Burns, just turned pro for the Open, who finished join 10th on round of 71-73-69-71—284, four under par, an amazing rookie performance.

Having just failed the American tour qualifying school, would Newton come back to the US as the British Open winner, provided the rules allowed? “Not until next year,” said Newton, who has committed to play Britain and the Continent as representative for a posh new English resort. And he may duck Australia’s tour as he is up for a suspension hearing by his PGA at home for an alleged clubhouse fracas, his second infraction said association president Peter Thomson.

It was a high noon play –off start. It was uneventful except for a lad who picked up newtons ball at the second and a movie camera that distracted Tom into a hook at the third. The dramatics were at 14 where Newton was stoney for a birdie. Watson had cleared “The Spectacles” which are two bunkers that look like cave entrances in front of the green on the par 5. He chipped in for an eagle.

“I had the line figured out and destiny took over,” said Tom. “That was the key hole.” He had been two ahead by the fifth hole then he twice hit into bunkers yet salvaged a bogie. “A double bogie there would have killed me,” he confessed later. Newton birdied the long sixth, “Hogan’s Alley”, to draw even against Jack’s bold bid for birdie missed at 10 and he dropped another shot. At 11 he was given relief from a burrowing animal hole which also gave him relief from a birch tree which blocked his path forward he parred to stay even and then went one ahead at 12 for a birdie. But Jack flew the green from a bunker at 13 to lose his advantage.

Then the Watson eagle, and the dreaded finishing holes. Tom lost his lead at the “short” 16th (235 yards, 30 yards wide target, trouble all around). He took bogie when he missed the green and chipped poorly. “I have a mental black about the hole,” said Tom. The closest I’ve come to the green is 10 yards all week.”

They both escaped 17 with pars. At 18 Newton approached with a two-iron into a bunker and Watson was safely on. Jack blasted out to 10 feet and his putt appeared going in then broke widely at the finish. Tom got his par and it was all over. He and veterain caddie Alf Files did a bear-hug dance.


Weather is such an important factor to the seaside British Opens that it becomes a part of the sports pages in Britain a week before play begins. This year both the Islands and the Continent were gripped for weeks prior in a delightful heat wave, as it was described. A heat wave in France is 75 degrees in late June: 65 in Carnoustie and 70 in London. It also had been rainless during the same period and it was reckoned that, should such a meteorological miracle continue, fearsome Carnoustie would be a veritable patsy for the Open.

J.W. Nicklaus did nothing to allay such fears. Arriving early, as is his habit, he proceeded to record four practice rounds, carefully scrutinized by estimable British golf writing corps, in 67, 65, 67, 65 for a newspaper record 264, 24 under the usually hard par of the windswept acreage hard by the North Sea. A. Palmer thought, should such conditions hold, a 272 figure would be very sufficient and the purists, as well as the masochists on hand to watch cruel fate befall golf’s heroes, were unhappy.

But not to worry.

On Open eve, the clouds came in the wind came up, the temperature dropped admirably and dramatically and the cashmeres were being broken out fro the next day’s start.

And so the open began. It was chilly and damp but no wind. And as scoring unfolded during the long day (first tee off 7:30 a.m., the last in, 8p.m.), it was obvious that, with more good bounces than bad, the course was not going to be anything as expected nor as history and legend has advertised.

In the first place, it had been fiddled with. Perhaps the R and A had improved it by so doing, but was no longer the standard of the past, replete with Armour, Hogan, Player, Et al victories. Par is still 72, but the course had been drawn in the 7,085 yards from 7,252 in the past. Major alternation, and approved by most everyone, with the 77 yards deducted from 18 to make it a go-for-broke par 4 instead of a lay-up par 5 as in the past.

Nicklaus opened his first day by propping up in his hotel room in St. Andrews and watching the morning round on television. Nowhere in the world is a major sporting event more thoroughly covered than here. He watched Home hero Peter Oosterhuis, the giant Briton, and Scottish Open champion David Huish cause delirium among the fans. Oosty put up a 68, four under, early on, and it became the standard of the windless day. The Scot had 69, including a perfect shank at 12 from which he recovered for a par, although his playing companions shunned him like a leper afterwards.

There were many who challenged and some even momentarily passed Oosty, but all before they reached those ferocious three finishing holes, which had been stripping early-won advantages away from everyone. Including Nicklaus. He had a wonderous run of seven under par in 12 holes after a poor start, but got fleeced at the.

Oosterhuis dared finish birdie, birdie, bogie, the likes of which will win his tourney. Jack after a squiggly six at the second off a shanked chip from an impossible stance, birdied holes No. 4, 6, 11, 12, eagled 14 on a 40-footer, birdied 15; then came upon the Tragic Trio or whatever anyone wants to call the final three examinations.

He bogied the 235-yard 16th and the 18th when he hit a poor four-iron shot into the right bunker, almost exactly where he had put it the last round to give Gary Player even more breathing room to win in 1968. He was surprised that there were not more than the eventual nine who broke 70 as Carnoustie would probably never be as easy.

Light rain fell with the incoming tide at 3:30 and in between his shots, Hale Irwin cleaned his spectacles and tried to clean the course. “I was greedy,” he admitted afterwards, knowing that the conditions could not hold and he felt it was urgent to reap as many shots as possible. As it was he finished in the group of six players on 69, one behind leading Oosterhis. It was his second Open and he also admitted he knew he was still learning: “Let’s face it, this a different kind of golf. You swallow those bad bounces, or unlucky bounces, and keep going.”

Huish, the Scot hope, was in the championship, incidentally, after desperate play in pre-qualifying. He was in a play-off for a berth and birdied from 12 feet to send six other hopefuls packing.

Overnight rainfall for the second round did nothing more than make the course a bit longer and greens softer; the long drought had done its worst. Graham Marsh was an early off in the 7:30 a.m. mist. “I couldn’t even see the first hole,” he said after finishing with a marvelous round of 33-34—67, five under and a course and big ball record. But still no wind and the players were continuing to pile in the birdies in expectation of days ahead during which pars would be a blessing.

Just as the pressroom settled in to begin listening to Marsh’s record round on the newly set-up course (four birdies, one eagle, one bogie), in rushed Cole, the South African, with 34-32—66, the new standards, and the 32 being a direct slap at Carnoustie. Wind, where are you?

He had seven birdies and one bogie on the same course on which he won in 1966 the British Amateur as a wee one, age 18. He still is wee, but longer in tooth now and experienced enough to have altered his grip entirely to correct a faulty backswing position at the top. It began coming round two weeks prior to the Open and he feels he now can go full bore.

But ... again, but ... while Bobby was describing such things, it was Oosterhuis’ turn at bat. He had a most eerie start, par, birdie, birdie, par, birdie, birdie, birdie. Count ‘em folks, five under in seven holes, and nine under for the tourney. And he missed a tiddling putt at the third at that, when it circled the cup and came back at him. Wind, where are you?

A hard rain came in with the tide again, and John Mahaffey’s charge to the top of a very fine 17 holes, was dashed at 18 when his wood approach hit a mound and the velocity was killed and he found the Barry Burn. Double bogie, five under. Nicklaus made an uncharacteristic double bogie early on, “and call it stupidity or lack of knowledge of the course.” He thought he had played a good shot out of “one of two patches of rough on the course, “only to find that the burn had wound itself back to where he thought it was safe. Not so. So he was off the borides for the day.

Oosty was going on a tear in a heavy fog and medium rain. He turned in 30, was nine under and clear leader. He birdied 11 for a 10-under figure, two ahead of the nearest. And then, and then, his sad proclivity of blocking out shots and literally slicing into problems suddenly took hold. At the end he was fighting to remain under par, for the day, strange to say as he bogied four holes of five from 12 through 17 and was six under. He finished on 70 and was six under for the distance.

Scot hero Huish recorded 67, the fifth to break the record, and was the clear leader at 136, eight under, and was extraordinarily calm about it. In a delightful brougue the genuine club professional shrugged off the pressure and the guarded questions about how will he withstand further pressure. “All I can do is my best. If I can continue to do that, and I have been at my best. I’ll be pleased no matter where I finish,” he said. “And it helps a wee bit to have the people willin’ in putts for ye. My chances of winning? Nil.”

He is 31, looks older, he has a regal nose, is 6-2, been a pro since ’59, played for Scotland in the 1973 World Cup, won the 1975 Scottish Open with an eagle-birdie finish to tie Norman Wood and won the play-off on the second extra hole. Prior to coming in for the Open he had notched $7,500 in tourney play, and appeared totally unsurprised that he was leading the Open.

Scottish golf fans were in a state of shock after the third round of play. It was another damned windless day, it actually got hot in mid-afternoon, shirt were peeled for sunbathing by spectators and the course was peeled by the challengers. For indeed they were all challengers, despite bobby Cole taking the overnight lead, and he was the first to acknowledge the strangeness of the 1975 Open.

“Anyone within four shots had a chance,” he said after his 66 (a course record? Of course not!) had put him on 204, 12 under and one ahead of a gaggle of players.

Aussie Jack Newton, a carefree fun-lover, had only minutes earlier posted a magnificent round of 65. He was in second at 11 under. Johnny miller also had 66 in what at first appeared to be on of his Arizona-type rounds. He was alone at 10 under. At minus nine, Tom Watson, then came John Mahaffey, Andries Oosthuizen, Hale Irwin, Neil Cobles and Jack Nicklaus at eight under. Newton’s round was all the more remarkable when it was learned he was playing with an injury.

The burly Aussie’s playing companion was Nicklaus, overshadowed while scoring 68 in a major competition. How about that,” said Jack unenthusiastically, “score four under in the British Open and lose ground, go backwards.”

And what of the overnight leader and his pursuer? Well, the inevitable happened to likable David Huish, the Scot hero who led after 36 holes. He scored 76, fell from the scoreboard, but was unperturbed. He is a genuine club pro in North Berwick, with only patches of tour play at home as experience. “Life’s to short to do something you hate, so why do it? Won’t play the tour,” he said. He wasn’t hating what was happening to him in the Open, however.

“I’m still four under after three rounds and if anyone had been able to offer me that before it started I would have jumped at the chance,” said to have jumped at the chance,” said Huish. “I never did fancy I was in the same league with these great world stars at the top. I’m sure the experience will have done me no harm and I’ll be back.” He appeared more concerned about getting back to his club where a big week of golf was to start on Monday.

Favored Nicklaus was almost wistful in discussing the weather. “You still gotta play golf out here, but the greens are so perfect, if you have a stroke it won’t go off line. I suspect this is not what the R and A had in mind; that is they wanted more pale to the greens.” Someone in the 14-nation press crowd made him aware that he was the oldest “by far” among the challengers, most others being in their 20s. As the old-timer in the group how did he feel about that?

With that he threw his paper cup in the air, eyes went skyward and he answered, “you mean 69 isn’t bad for an old man?” the press tent erupted. “Just don’t tell Arnold palmer about this!” said Palmer’s junior by more than 10 years.

Then he got down to the true problems at hand. “I hate to see conditions like this in a major event. The rain takes the pace out of the course, and the wind, lack of it, takes the character away. Hell we came over to play British golf, not American, and that’s what we’re doing. Under trying conditions one needs experience to do well. It has not been needed the last three days. I’ve been trying for the lowest score every day. As for playing with Newton today, when something like that is going on, you just try to stay out of the way.”

Later, Newton disagreed with Jack. “He helped me. It was wonderful to be playing with him. We chatted a lot and it relaxed me. He and Tom Weiskopf helped me even before the tourney started. I played a practice round and was putting poorly so I merely observed how these two great players putted and I realized my hands were not enough; that is I am putting more now with my shoulders and I’m not so wristy. It was a little uncomfortable the first two rounds but today it fell in place.” And how, for a 27-putt round.

“It is something for such a world class player as Jack to be so nice to a guy 25,” he continued. “I know some older stars, a couple of them, who would think, ‘okay kid you are on your own, let’s see what you can do,’ and it would be like playing by yourself all day.”

One of the sadder stories of the event was defender Player’s travails at 18. All three days he put his second into Barry Burn, for 6, 6, 7 finishes all but wrecking each round of 75-71-73. Had he parred, of course, he would have been on 212 instead of 219, and a birdie here or there at that single hole would have put him into the hut.

As Gary plonked into water this day and then took his drop, a young Scot lad sighed, “Will ye looka that! They don’t even try to fish the ball out.” A lost golf ball is the furthest worry Gary Player has had this year, a very poor one indeed after his incredible 1974 showing.

Only once the first three days did Carnoustie show some teeth. It happened when Nicklaus was being led to the press tent and a policeman’s huge guard dog tried to take a hunk out of him. For the last round either wind or guard dogs at every hole will be needed.