PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Walking along the back of the 17th green with wedge in hand, Aaron Baddeley dropped a few balls into the nest of tangled rough under his feet.
His target wasn’t the pin placed on the lower-tier of the hourglass-shaped green during a morning practice round. He was aiming at a white tee implanted near the back, just a few paces from the edge of the putting surface.
It wasn’t a shot Baddeley needed to practice at the time. It was a shot he tried because of the history of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Sometimes lost among the other great holes and picturesque views of Pebble Beach, the par-3 17th and its 200-plus yards of history is forever defined by the 1-iron of Jack Nicklaus in 1972 and the wedge of Tom Watson in 1982.
It’s not worth arguing which was better. Most simply agree that each was remarkable.
“It’s like twofold, because … when you’re sitting there hitting that tee shot, you look over there to the left I always remember seeing that shot on TV that Nicklaus hit the pin,” Steve Stricker said. “And then when you get up on the green, I mean it’s nine times out of 10, I’ll look over there in that spot where (Watson) chipped in from. So you remember both those shots, at least I do, equally.”
Watson and Nicklaus, rivals a generation apart, have yet another link by what they did on the 71st hole of the U.S. Open at Pebble.
Both shots came in the final round. Both are lauded for their remarkable degree of difficultly – Nicklaus pinging the flagstick with a club Lee Trevino once said “not even God can hit,” and Watson telling caddie Bruce Edwards he was about to sink a chip from off the green when bogey seemed inevitable.
Above all, both shots clinched the U.S. Open.
Asked what goes through his mind standing on the 17th tee, Baddeley didn’t bring up the bunkers framing the front and right sides of the green, the distracting Pacific Ocean in the background or the huge mound dividing the green that television shots fail to do justice.
“Tom Watson’s chip-in. Jack Nicklaus hitting the pin with a 1-iron,” he said without hesitation.
Aesthetically, the 17th doesn’t hold the same grandeur as Pebble’s finishing hole, or the others that hug the Pacific coastline. The deep bunkers surround a green that hides a contoured ridge creating two tiers.
If trying to hit the correct tier of the tiny green from more than 200 yards isn’t difficult enough, the prevailing wind is often hidden by the grandstands near the green.
Nicklaus still remembers that wind – angry and in his face – that made it a challenge to even find the green in ’72, let alone nestle his shot just inches from the cup. With the club slightly off in his backswing, Nicklaus made an adjustment as he reached impact. The result was a shot that wrapped up his fourth and final U.S. Open title.
“The shot I performed, I don’t think I could ever do again,” Nicklaus said this week at a clinic for wounded veterans in Washington state. “I had a shot where the wind was howling from left to right and into my face. I didn’t know if I could get it there or not.
“I laced a 1-iron and I was quite content to be in the front bunker because I thought I had a good chance to make a three from the front bunker. I had a couple-of-shot lead. But the ball carried the bunker.”
Watson received a special exemption to play in this Open at age 60. While it wasn’t a condition of his ticket back to Pebble Beach, Watson has spent a few moments standing around the 17th green for pictures with some of his practice partners looking to capture a bit of history.
Watson admitted Wednesday he’s tried to replicate his “lucky shot” – as part of an instructional video he’s creating. He holed the shot again, although he wouldn’t say how many takes it took.
“Nostalgia, I guess it comes at 17th tee or 17th green and 18th tee,” Watson said. “Everybody wants to take a picture, so it kind of reminds me of what happened, what occurred here before. It’s pretty sweet, pretty nice.”
Young and old alike, everyone knows the history of the two shots at 17 that won the first two Opens played at Pebble Beach. Amateur qualifier Andrew Putnam was nearly two decades from being born when Nicklaus hit the stick in ’72.
Baddeley was barely a year old when Watson hit his tee shot over the green, confidently relayed his plan to Edwards, then followed through with a birdie that left Nicklaus stunned in the clubhouse in the middle of a TV interview.
During his practice round Monday, Fred Funk asked the gallery at 17 if anyone saw Nicklaus’ shot in person. Funk saw just a bunch of shaking heads, but everyone knew what he was asking.
The 17th failed to be a factor in 1992 and 2000. Tom Kite’s magical moment came on the seventh hole, while Tiger Woods needed no luck running away with his 15-shot win.
Video archives help keep alive the history of what the 17th meant for Nicklaus and Watson. For the duo, the two shots remain vivid. Nicklaus considered it one of three great 1-irons in his career.
“It was a pretty good shot,” he said.
AP Sports Writer Gregg Bell in Seattle contributed to this report.