With a fresh breeze brushing the back of his bare, blond head, Jack Nicklaus succumbed to temptation. Taking off his yellow sweater, he handed it to his caddie and proceeded to smash a drive through the 18th green at St Andrews, more than 358 yards away.
It was Sunday, July 12 1970, 50 years ago today, and Nicklaus was about to beat Doug Sanders in a play-off for the Open Championship. We're told that he had hesitated before choosing the driver instead of a three-wood. In the event, he dug the ball from rough, fringe grass, got it to six feet from the target and then holed the putt for a winning birdie.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this famous display of Bear muscle was the extent to which he had slimmed down following a diet the previous winter. In fact his book, Jack Nicklaus' Playing Lessons, informs us that he had "lost 20 pounds in weight and six inches off his hips" since the end of the 1969 season.
So it was that Fat Jack faded into history, to be replaced at the 1970 Masters by the commercially more appealing Golden Bear, Beatle hairstyle and all.
The contrast could hardly be more stark with the regimen employed by Bryson DeChambeau towards achieving the spectacular power-hitting he displayed en route to victory in the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit last Sunday. DeChambeau did it the opposite way to Nicklaus, by putting on 30 pounds of muscle during the recent lockdown, culminating in a huge drive of 367 yards on the 72nd hole.
Among others, it made a stunning impact on Dublin's Gavin Moynihan, who watched incredulously the exploits of a former American college rival whom he played twice in the Walker Cup at Royal Lytham five years ago. "Obviously the length is one thing, but how straight he's hitting it is absolutely amazing," he said.
In the last week, we've had predictable bleating about a great old Donald Ross layout being destroyed by DeChambeau's power, yet there's nothing new about long hitting in golf. What makes this latest exhibition so interesting, however, is the personality behind the power.
Back in the 1930s, North Berwick native, Jimmy Thompson, won a long-driving competition in the US with a smash of 386 yards. And in regular tournaments, Thompson was hitting average drives of 270 to 280 yards, which were evident in a 1938 victory in the Los Angeles Open.
We know that Joe Carr also liked to hit the ball a long way, a skill which regularly commanded the admiration of the great Nicklaus. Especially notable was Carr's own exploit at St Andrews in the 1958 British Amateur, when he drove the green of the par-four 12th hole and then holed a 20-yard putt for an eagle two in the final against Alan Thirlwell.
When considering these exploits from another era, it is important to note the difference in equipment, certainly with the modern golf ball. Frank Thomas, once head of testing with the US Golf Association, claimed that the Tourney ball used by Nicklaus for several of his 18 Major triumphs, was so poorly constructed as to make the player's achievements with it border on the miraculous.
"During the late 1970s, I took balls out of Jack's bag and they were sometimes as much as 30 yards off-line with a mechanical golfer," Thomas recalled. "With a better ball, I guess he would have won at least a couple more Majors."
From a general standpoint, however, top players are always looking for an edge, though it may come as a surprise to find John Daly among them. In his book The Killer Swing (CollinsWillow) Daly informed us that Kevin Mitchell of baseball's Seattle Mariners, adopted the habit of taking a hot shower before each game.
"He believed that a steady 10-minute burst of warm water hitting his back and neck muscles really relaxed him, with the result that his baseball swing was noticeably looser and more flowing during the game," said Daly. "I'm in favour of anything that promotes smooth, rhythmic movements in the golf swing."
Moynihan is currently in Austria for back-to-back tournaments with fellow Irish professionals Robin Dawson and Niall Kearney. And not for the first time, DeChambeau has made a huge impression on him.
Before dealing with the American, however, I first wanted to know about the sparkling round of 58 which the Dubliner carded at Corballis GC, two weeks ago. "I really love practising there, it's so well maintained," he said of the compact north Dublin links, which has seven par-threes in an overall par of 66.
Interestingly, he birdied none of the par-threes, but chipped in on the seventh for an eagle two. He also birdied the par-four second, fifth, 11th, 14th and 16th and the par-five 12th. "It was the first time I can remember not having a bogey there," he said.
Picking up on Daly's point, he went on: "DeChambeau is obviously very flexible. Nick Faldo was saying on TV that if he didn't clear his left foot at the correct time, he could have sustained a serious injury. I got to know him during my college days (University of Alabama) and every year, he seems to be doing something new."
In the Walker Cup, Moynihan and fellow Irishman, Jack Hume, lost by 3 and 2 to DeChambeau and Robby Shelton in the Sunday morning foursomes. The Island member then lost by 6 and 5 to DeChambeau in the afternoon's singles.
"He wouldn't have been the most popular player," Moynihan went on. "Like Patrick Reed to my eyes. Not a team man was the feeling we got from most of the American lads. But he could play. In a three-club wind, I was one-under when he reeled me in."
He continued: "Some of his shots last Sunday were unbelievable. Having planned it all, the lockdown gave him the opportunity of working the physical changes into his game.
"I can see Americans picking up on what he's done, but not so much in Europe. Courses in the US are a lot more open, more forgiving, where 20-under-par seems to be the regular winning target. But DeChambeau wouldn't have the same freedom over here."
Meanwhile, addressing the so-called mad scientist of golf as "an intense guy", Faldo seemed generally baffled by what he was witnessing from NBC's commentary booth. "That ball-follow was courtesy of the International Space Station," he remarked on an overhead camera angle of a 333-yard DeChambeau drive.
The winner of six Major championships had been a lot more comfortable when delving into the complexities of world number one, Rory McIlroy's remarkable technique. "Rory's got this physical anomaly, if that's the right word, in the way he can move his hips," he said.
"When they go on computers now, they show that he can move his hips 717 degrees per second [or 70 degrees of rotational movement in the time Usain Bolt covered one metre]. This is literally twice as fast as anyone else. In fact Rory has twice as much range of motion and twice the hip action of his rivals. That's why he belts it so far."
There are wonderful life lessons in DeChambeau's declared objective to "show people that if you work hard enough and give your absolute best, if you give everything you got, you can achieve amazing things."
When Pádraig Harrington first observed him as a gifted amateur, using a set of irons all with the same length shaft, natural curiosity caused him to take a closer look. His verdict? "He's just a special talent, and if he used a normal set of clubs you'd find that he'd perform equally well. He's a very talented guy, he really is."
Often controversial, invariably fascinating, his name alone seemed to ensure a future in the public eye. As it happens, he is currently proving himself worthy of all the attention.
Sunday Indo Sport