The Forecaddie: The victory in Houston that got away from Jack Nicklaus

The Forecaddie: The victory in Houston that got away from Jack Nicklaus

Forecaddie

The Forecaddie: The victory in Houston that got away from Jack Nicklaus

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The Man Out Front can hardly wait for next year’s Houston Open and the return of Memorial Park to the PGA Tour rota. But let’s hop into the DeLorean and set the date for April 23, 1962, and a moment in tournament lore that shouldn’t be consigned to the dustbin of history.

At least that’s the opinion of Duke Butler, who directed the Houston Open from 1978 through 1991, and mentored many other events while serving as senior vice president of PGA Tour tournament relations from 1992 to 2007. He remembers that day like it was yesterday. After all, it was the first pro tournament he ever attended.

Butler’s junior high golf team coach, B.B. Holland, drove the squad to Memorial Park to watch the 18-hole playoff of what was then called the Houston Classic between Bobby Nichols, Dan Sikes and a heralded rookie seeking his first title.

Nichols and Sikes shot 71, while the rookie staggered home in 76. On the 91st hole, Nichols, a Texas A&M alum and idol of Butler’s, eagled to win.

“A teammate of mine rushed onto the green, grabbed Sikes’ ball and snatched the cap off the champion’s head. I thought we were going to jail,” Butler tells The Forecaddie. “At that point, it was the greatest day of my life.”

Experiencing that playoff in Houston might have been a break for the rookie. Seven weeks later, he won the U.S. Open at Oakmont in a playoff over Arnold Palmer. His name? Jack W. Nicklaus, and great things were in store for him.

Inspired, Butler played for Texas A&M, worked on his game, became a PGA member, and was paired with Nicklaus for the third round of the 1977 Atlanta Classic.

“You wouldn’t know it, but I was nervous,” Butler says. “We shot the same numbers, Jack scoring 67 to my 76.”

Back in the DeLorean we go to 2000 and the Tour Championship in Atlanta. Nicklaus was in attendance and all these years later, Butler finally got a chance to tell Nicklaus that he had watched him nearly win his first pro title. Next thing Butler knows, Nicklaus breaks into his sad story of why he didn’t win that week in Houston.

“You know that par three on the front nine, No. 7, which plays about 230 yards?” Nicklaus asked.

Butler didn’t know it but he had picked at an old scab as Nicklaus recounted how he poked a long iron to the front right of the green in Saturday’s third round. With his ball about 35 feet from the hole, he asked his caddie to tend the flagstick.

“The putt rolled straight for the cup, but my caddie panicked,” Nicklaus said. “He couldn’t get the flagstick out of the hole, and jerked it upwards, pulling the cup liner above ground.”

Nicklaus’ ball struck the liner, bouncing eighteen inches away. Tournament director Joe Black ruled a two-stroke penalty. Instead of a birdie two, Nicklaus tapped in for five.

Knowing his misfortune pre-dated Angelo Argea, Jack’s longtime Greek caddie with the silver mane and perma-tan who started on the bag at the 1963 Palm Springs Classic, Butler asked if he remembered the name of his caddie.

“The hell I can’t,” Nicklaus said. “It was Billy Ford.”

Some things one never forgets.

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