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Throwback Thursday: That time Arnold Palmer won on Jack Nicklaus' cozy new course

By Sam Weinman

Imagine if a new Tiger Woods-designed golf course opened in time to host a PGA Tour event, which was then won by Phil Mickelson.

That was roughly the dynamic in 1969, when Harbour Town Golf Links hosted its first Heritage Classic. While it was primarily a Pete Dye project, the South Carolina course on Hilton Head Island was hailed for the involvement of Jack Nicklaus. The Golden Bear was touted as Dye's "design consultant" when the first Heritage was played over Thanksgiving weekend in 1969.

Best of all, the winner of that first Heritage was a 40-year-old Arnold Palmer, who hadn't won a PGA Tour event in more than a year, but who was energized by the challenge of playing his rival's new course.

Since late August (Palmer) has been doing 50 sit-ups every morning and 50 sit-ups every evening for the old hip hurt, and he was in a very pleasant frame of mind about his golf -- almost as if he had reconciled himself to the fact it would all come back sooner or later if he only stopped pressing so hard and worrying about it.

Finally, however, he was fired up about playing on Jack's course, and on a course that he wasn't supposed to be able to play well.

That was the other thing about Harbour Town. As much as we think of it today as this charming, throwback venue, it actually had the same reputation when it opened. Even by 1969 standards, Harbour Town at 6,700 yards was confining for PGA Tour players, cozy enough to negate the power advantage held by the likes of Palmer and Nicklaus.

Although Nicklaus downplayed his involvement in the course's design -- he said he contributed "1 percent" -- he was adamant about it suiting a wider base of players. 

"If there is one thing I didn't want this course to be," Nicklaus told Charles Price in the November 25, 1969 issue of Golf World, "it was a course that appeared to have been designed for my game. For every long par-4 hole, there is a short one to offset it."

Maybe Nicklaus was being magnanimous, or perhaps he had a more selfish goal in mind. As Jenkins wrote, "Nicklaus was accused of having designed a course that is thoroughly un-suited to his own game, Jack being a big hitter who likes some room. 'You've built a course for you to practice the talent shots on,' someone told him."

The practice eventually paid off. Six years later, Nicklaus claimed his sole win at "his" cozy, little course.

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News & Tours

When a "walk-off" performance meant something else for Tiger Woods

By Alex Myers

A bad back has dominated any Tiger Woods talk of late, but a "walk-off" performance used to refer to something much different than a WD for TW. Woods' clutch play throughout his career has produced numerous "walk-off" winning putts on the final hole, and nowhere has he pulled that off more than at Bay Hill.

Related: Does Tiger WD at an unusually high rate?

Woods pulled out of this year's Arnold Palmer Invitational, but those memories remain. Let's take a look, um, back.

In 2001, Woods arrived at Bay Hill in a bit of a "slump" despite having won the final three majors the previous season. He was (gasp!) winless in his first five events before arriving at Bay Hill (remember the days he used to play five events before Bay Hill?), but got on a roll that included him capping the Tiger Slam at the Masters a month later.

At Bay Hill, Woods found himself in a tie with Phil Mickelson -- they were the top two players in the world rankings at the time -- on the final hole of regulation and after a wild drive left, he hit an incredible approach shot to about 10 feet. He converted the birdie putt (:43 mark of the video) for a dramatic win, gave a huge fist pump, and celebrated with then caddie Steve Williams. Note: This will be a recurring scenario.

Fans had to wait all of seven years to see a similar finish. Woods won this event two other times in between, but he did so by a combined 15 shots. In 2008, the difference was Woods was in search of a fifth straight win. Oh, and this time it was a 25-footer and he was battling journeyman Bart Bryant instead of the No. 2 golfer in the world. Woods doesn't discriminate when it comes to his on-course victims.

"Only perfect. That's all that putt was," NBC analyst Johnny Miller said. Of course, Woods would win that year's U.S. Open and then miss the rest of the season after having surgery on his left knee. We don't think the injury stemmed from his violent cap throw celebration.

Related: Our favorite go-to sayings for Tiger Woods

When Woods returned to Arnie's event the following year, he was still looking for proof that he could return to the player he was before the surgery. With Woods tied with Sean O'Hair on the final hole, Miller and Dan Hicks set the stage as if they knew what was going to happen next.

"He's got that beautiful cut shot, that he can aim it at the stands there and work it to the hole. And we know he can make that putt," Miller said. Good call:

"Again! At Bay Hill! On the 72nd hole!" Hicks exlaimed. "That's the way to get back into the winner's circle, isn't it?"

Related: A collection of our favorite Johnny Millerisms

"The guy is absolutely out of this world," Miller added.

This year, Woods is just out of another tournament. He won't be around to author another "walk-off" putt this weekend, but you can bet that won't stop NBC from taking a stroll down memory lane.

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News & Tours

Here are some cool retro photos of Jack "Quadzilla" Nicklaus hitting balls in shorts

By Sam Weinman

At Golf Digest, we're fortunate to be surrounded by photos of the giants of the game at various stages of their careers. Look, there's Hogan blasting out of a bunker at Riviera! There's Arnie on the steps of his private jet!

As you might imagine, there's no shortage of photos of Jack Nicklaus, whether it's in his cherubic early pro days winning the U.S. Open at Oakmont, or after holing his iconic "Yes, sir!" birdie putt at 17 in 1986 at Augusta.

Related: Johnny Miller analyzes Jack Nicklaus' swing

Until recently, though, what we had never seen was this: the Golden Bear, in the prime of his career, hitting balls in shorts.

jack-in-shorts-300.jpgWe received the pictures courtesy of the man who took them, Dick Richeson, a former assistant professional at Lost Tree Club in North Palm Beach, Fla. By Richeson's telling, a 30-year-old Nicklaus came to the club during the summer of 1970 (presumably around the time he won the Open Championship at St. Andrews) to practice, and he put the young assistant pro in charge of watching and teaching his two sons, Jackie and Steve.

"It was a challenge in helping them learn how to hit a golf ball," Richeson said. "When one would mess up, the other would laugh at him. And then came the tempers."

Nevertheless, the Nicklaus visits to Lost Tree resulted in these photographic gems, which Richeson said he wanted only for sentimental reasons, and not to try to hawk as memorabilia. He eventually sent them to us, along with a letter to Nicklaus reminding him of the context.

We're glad that he did. There are a number of things to marvel at about Nicklaus in the pictures. His perfect head of blond locks. Those timeless saddle shoes. But mostly, it's the intimidating size of Nicklaus' legs, more befitting an NFL fullback than the greatest golfer of all time.

Jack Nicklaus hitting balls in shortsNicklaus' legs were always an acknowledged source of his power, which he elaborated on in a Golf Digest story in May 2012.

"In my prime, my legs were very strong," he wrote. "My right thigh was 29.5 inches and my left was 28.5. I always wanted a stable base for my swing, and my hips did not move sideways. They turned, as if in a barrel."

So there you have it. The key to winning 18 majors: Work on your short game. Hit a power fade. And if you can squat 700 pounds, that doesn't hurt, either.

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News & Tours

Throwback Thursday: That time Henrik Stenson stripped down at Doral and didn't get a tip

By Alex Myers

These days, Henrik Stenson is known as arguably the best golfer in the world never to have won a major championship. He's come a long way.

Related: The 11 best golfers without a major

Not that Stenson wasn't in that conversation before his hot stretch in 2013 that culminated with him winning the FedEx Cup. Stenson won the 2009 Players and was ranked as high as No. 4 in the world before a brutal slump. But until recently, he was most remembered for, well, this:


During the opening round of the 2009 WGC-Cadillac Championship, Stenson stripped down at Doral to hit his second shot from mud on the third hole. Professional golfers removing their shoes and socks to play such a shot is pretty common, but taking off their shirt? Their pants? That's all you, Henrik! Here, he talked about the decision to "save" his white trousers and yellow shirt:

Stenson's comments right after the round were just as entertaining:

"I'll probably take that to the grave with me. I don't think I scared too many spectators off the course...I hope," Stenson said.

"You never know, I might have a new endorsement with Playgirl or something like that."

As far as we know, that hasn't come true. But if you're a big fan of the exhibitionist Swede or bad golf tanlines, you're in luck. Autographed pictures of the impromptu strip show are still available.

Related: Golf's all-time biggest slumps

Stenson is back at Doral this week and a part of the marquee pairing of the world's top three players the first two days. Hopefully, this time, if he winds up stealing the spotlight from Tiger Woods and Adam Scott, it's for his golf.

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News & Tours

Throwback Thursday: That WGC-Match Play final you probably don't remember

By Alex Myers

Much of the talk leading up to this year's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship focused on the absence of three big names: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Adam Scott. But the entire top 10 (or 20? Or 30?) from the Official World Golf Ranking could take the week off and this year's event would almost surely produce a more memorable final than the one it got in 2002.

Related: Six ways to fix the WGC-Match Play

Oh, you don't remember what happened that year? Not surprising. That was the time Kevin Sutherland faced off with Scott McCarron at La Costa for the Walter Hagen Cup! Still don't remember? Still not surprising.

Sutherland, ranked No. 64, was the No. 62 seed out of 64, while McCarron was ranked 47th and seeded No. 45. In other words, it was a nightmare scenario for a sponsor/broadcaster of a televised match play tournament.


Not exactly a clash of the titans.

While we're not sure how many people actually watched, the match turned out to be a good one. In the 12 years that the event's final was 36 holes (2010 was the last time), this is one of only two times that it went the distance, with Sutherland winning 1 up. Not that the other instance of this was particularly memorable, either. No. 24 Jeff Maggert knocked off No. 50 Andrew Magee in 38 holes in 1999, the inaugural year of this event as a WGC.

Related: Why match play still matters

For Sutherland, the win made the lone PGA Tour title of his career a million-dollar payday, which was still a big deal back then. OK, so he probably remembers that year pretty well. . .

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