Written by By Marc Dielmann, CNN
It was 1963, the oldest Open Championship was a few months away, and Jack Nicklaus was sweating as little as golf ever has.
More than 50 years later, “the rain man” at Turnberry in Ayrshire — and his mysterious knoll, its only view — still provides a striking image from the event.
In fact, it is the most well-known visual from the history of one of golf’s most iconic contests, yet as golf legend Arnold Palmer said at a 2004 meeting with the documentary makers behind the film “Rain Man” — “it could be used in any sport.”
Indeed, as the player who was chased off the course by the rainman sums up, “I was lucky the hell I played.”
Slip of the fingers
This fantastic image from the winner’s dinner that evening in 1963 was probably the only shot taken of the rainman for a number of reasons. For one, Augusta National Golf Club is only accessible by golf cart.
Nevertheless, he seems to have thought that his fleeting display of dramatic genius could be used to his advantage. The architect of the iconic course at Muirfield in Scotland, Tom McKernan, said that a similar trick applied to Nicklaus when he was trying to play in the mid-1960s at the famous US Open course.
Of course, Nicklaus — a favorite of mine as far back as 1975, when I first watched him play at the General Motors Exhibition Golf Tournament at the Matchwood Country Club outside Detroit — says in the film that the only lasting memory he has of the Open are various “haircuts” that were required between holes to preserve his length.
In fact, when competing for the US title in 1964 at Oakmont in Pennsylvania, he was well off the pace going into the last hole, but managed to pip eventual winner Virgil Green by one shot with a shot that had the whole gallery in stitches. And when it came to a marathon Grand Slam, he established himself as a firm favorite in the US Open, the Masters and the British Open for almost two decades, until he was unseated by a bomber who would become widely known as Seve Ballesteros.
Ballesteros was so fiercely competitive that for a time he paid another player, Fuzzy Zoeller, to vote against him on the podium at the Masters. It seems bizarre today, but Ballesteros could be irrational.
A memoir by Palmer written in 2012 describes the time at the Grand Slam events in 1985 when Ballesteros dressed in his underwear on the first tee and waited for Palmer to say “hello.” Palmer was “mad as hell” and Ballesteros was “big as an elephant.” Palmer couldn’t take it any more and ended up playing an excellent round of golf before going into the clubhouse to “eat his feelings,” according to the memoir.
And it was despite his eccentricities, Ballesteros managed to win 13 majors.
And although Phil Mickelson’s playing prowess has the likes of Palmer red-faced, the fact is that Palmer won 21 majors, while Mickelson has won only three. Even in golf’s seemingly endless quest for records — which has seen the likes of Tiger Woods join Palmer on the historic leaderboard — the two top players this century have missed the mark by only one a piece.
Mickelson’s fourth major win comes in the 15th and final episode of the series, which screens on Discovery Channel on Monday September 17 at 10.30pm UK time (5.30pm ET). It was no mean feat, particularly for an athlete who considers cricket as his favourite sport.
Mickelson has often talked about the words of physicist Erwin Schrödinger — who suggested that one’s mind’s ability to resist reality was about to change, therefore provoking one’s existential despair: “I’ll know when my mind’s been convinced into a gluttonous, greed-driven creature; When my mind’s been persuaded into acquiring all the benefits of reality by applying too many inputs to the experiment, and when it’s being coaxed into a kind of linear programming of reality, a programming which only allows myself to be fed and watered back.”
Mickelson has won three of the four major titles he ever wanted and it’s no coincidence that in 1993 it was at Turnberry, the home of golf’s second major of the year, that he went on to win his first of three US Opens at the age of just 26.
Click here to watch a sneak preview of the episode.
It was this team effort that dominated golf for the next decade and was perhaps the greatest advantage golf has ever had.
In fact, Ballesteros was worth more to the sport than any golfer ever has been, as John Gardner, the