Gary Player wins his 2nd PGA Championship
By: Claudia Mazzucco – On this day, August 6, 1972, Gary Player mastered the Monster in order to win his second PGA Championship at the Oakland Hills Country Club, South Course, in Birmingham, Michigan. He finished with 72 for a total of 281, one over par at the 7,054 yards golf course dubbed “The Monster” in 1951.
His victory was forged under gray, threatening skies, which occasionally dropped rain sprinkles on the record crowd of 24,100. The total attendance, including three days of practice, was 114,287 spectators. Jimmy Jamieson, who won the Western Open that year, bogeyed the last three holes to drop out of a brief lead and end up with a 70 for a total of 283, two strokes behind Player. Tommy Aaron came in with a 71 to tie Jamieson for second. Sam Snead, a 60-year-old relic from another era, shot 32 in the front nine in route to a 69 – the best round of the day equaled by George Archer – and a share of fourth at 284 with Raymond Floyd and Billy Casper.
“I guess I am just too dumb to quit,” old Sam said when someone asked him how long he was going to keep going.
The key of winning the PGA Championship was in a divot. Player said, “During the practice round, I hit an eight iron for my second shot from right of the fairway on the 16th hole. After I hit the shot, for some strange reason the divot caught my attention. “That’s a funny-looking divot,” I thought to myself.”
“The Greatest Shot I Ever Hit”
When Player, who had been the 54-hole leader, bogeyed the 3 and 4 holes, it put him one over and opened the gates for a host of challenger. Casper, Jerry Heard, Gay Brewer, Phil Rodgers, Doug Sanders, Floyd and Jamieson all had a piece of the lead at one time or another. But, it was as if nobody, really nobody, wanted to win the last of the year’s majors. It looked like there might be a ten-way tie and the most congested playoff.
With three holes to play, Player was in deep trouble, after making back-to-back bogeys at 14 and 15. He was tied for the lead with Jamieson and before him the picturesque par-four 16th hole, a 408 yards dogleg to a narrow green, lake in front, bunkers behind. Player drove his ball to the right and into the gallery. His ball was in the rough, with a big willow tree in front of him and water guarding the front-right of the green.
He was unable to see the flagstick. The possibility of defeat gradually became a reality and choke was, therefore, an inevitable factor. “This is a dangerous place to be in mentality,” Player said. As he was working out his yardages, and walked to a market on the fairway, he saw the same divot he had made in the practice round. It was still there. Gary’s attitude to what is to come was without the slightest trace of self-surrender or desperation. He grabbed a chair from a spectator and climbed atop to line up the shot in his mind. “I knew immediately that the shot I had from the rough would be a nine-iron. It was 150 yards, and I hit that nine iron perfectly. It sailed over the willow tree and onto the green, finishing three feet from the hole. It was the greatest shot I ever hit and definitely won the championship for me.”
Dan Jenkins said, “As the ball hung up there in the air, Player broke into a dead run to his left for a better view of where it might be headed. So did the thousands behind him. Everybody ran. And ran. For a hilarious instant, it looked as if Player had stolen somebody’s wallet and the mob was in pursuit.”
Player sank the birdie-putt and then made two pars on the final holes. He added, “Knowing when to take a risk comes from experience. It is a case of knowing the strengths of your game and then visualizing success based on those strengths. If you feel the time is right, then go for it. Don’t second-guess yourself. Go for it with all you have and commit. And if it doesn’t come off, then so be it. Accept it as such and move on. But keep making decisions.”
Players, situations, tournaments and circumstances are so different that it is impossible to theorize about that one shot that would make the difference. How is it done? Experienced players know that great shots don’t simply appear out of nowhere, in order to turn the course of events. Player’s career is a reminder that great shots are often the result of careful planning. After practicing on the range for hours, he acquired the ability to execute them under pressure. “That’s the secret,” Player concluded. “And for me, the secret to this one was in that divot.” Here, again, memory played a very prominent part in Major championship.
This was the fifth major championship played on the course Ben Hogan once called a monster (the other four were U.S. Opens), and no one yet had broken 280. In 1951, Hogan scored a final round 67 and was quoted saying, “I have tamed the monster.” Played labeled Oakland Hills (with its thread-needle fairways, undulating greens, and more than 100 sand traps) as the “greatest in United States,” Player said. “But when Hogan said this was a monster, he was not kidding.”
Claudia M. Mazzucco is a researcher at Golf Channel and teacher of History of Golf at the PGA of Argentina, in Buenos Aires. She is the author of Legendary Lessons (2016), El Golf de los Tiempos, A Novel (2002) and The Guide of Golf Courses in Argentina (2003). She received the PGA Award from the PGA of Argentina in 2005