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Ben Wright: Heroes In Harmony

Appeared in the November/December 2004 LINKS

Of the four major champions crowned in 2004, clearly the most unlikely winner was Todd Hamilton at the British Open at Royal Troon. As Hamilton holed out on No. 18 to finish off Ernie Els in a four-hole playoff, my thoughts drifted back some three decades, to a celebration at that venerable Scottish links that was no less unlikely.

It was July of 1973 and Tom Weiskopf had just won the Open in what was essentially a 36-hole, head-to-head duel in the rain against U.S. Open champion Johnny Miller. I nearly went into shock when I received a written invitation from Mrs. Jeanne Weiskopf in the press tent early that Sunday evening, asking me to join in a victory celebration at the nearby Marine Hotel. You see, Tom and I had not spoken in five years following a major disagreement at the National Airlines pro-am in 1968 at the Country Club of Miami. On that miserable occasion, Weiskopf, our designated pro, had treated me and a fellow team member, Steve Clark, who happened to be mayor of Miami at the time, in a churlish manner—and I had regaled the readers of the Financial Times of London and Golf World (UK) with all the gory details.

So I arrived at the party not knowing what to expect. What transpired was a teary reconciliation with the new champion, who was fervently clutching the Claret Jug. The stage was set for an exuberant celebration that included Jack Nicklaus, Tom’s home-state pal from Ohio.

But just as quickly as the revelry had gotten underway, a hush fell over the proceedings. The rollicking Bob Drum, renowned as Arnold Palmer’s biographer and fellow bon vivant, had turned his infamous wrath upon poor Nicklaus, whom he loudly accused of cowardice. With admirable calm, Nicklaus asked Drum what on earth he was talking about.

“Here you are, Jack,” Drum bellowed, his gravelly voice echoing around the room, “you’re the longest and straightest driver in the history of golf, and you have just lost another major—and there have been plenty more already—because you pussyfoot around out there with a 3-wood, playing catch-up.” Drum’s craggy jaw jutted forward until he was nose to nose with Nicklaus. “Just go home to Ohio and drive the [expletive deleted] ball at all possible opportunities in the PGA Championship [at Cleveland’s Canterbury GC] next month, and you might win one major this year.” Drum turned his back on Nicklaus, and a lone bagpiper helped defuse the situation by playing “Scotland the Brave” at full volume.

With commendable aplomb, Weiskopf then invited Nicklaus to join him in singing “Amazing Grace,” per the insistent bagpiper’s wishes. Oh, what a terrible noise it was as these two great champions, both of German extraction and both absolutely tone deaf, joined forces in a cacophony the likes of which I had never before heard. Talk about putting a swift conclusion to the evening!

Some months later—after Nicklaus had indeed won the 1973 PGA, by four shots over Bruce Crampton—Drum proudly produced a photograph of the great man clutching his driver. It was signed, “To Bob, from the driver and me. Jack Nicklaus.” To his death, Drum treasured that photograph as one of his most prized possessions.

Likewise for me is the MacGregor driver Weiskopf used that week at Troon. He gave it to me years later when we were rooming together on Hilton Head as members of the CBS broadcast team. Receiving that club only heightened my admiration for Tom’s skill during the height of his playing career—it’s so stiff I have never dared use it!

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