David Selznick had high hopes for his 1946 movie western titled Duel in the Sun. The iconic ‘Golden Age’ producer envisaged that his tale of family civil war and lustful, forbidden attraction would surpass even the record-breaking success of his 1939 global blockbuster, Gone with the Wind. However, the film’s complex and controversial script proved something of a turn-off in such politically correct times and despite its box-office success, Duel in the Sun would soon slip into screenplay obscurity.
Some 31 years later, the drifting legacy of Selznick’s work was given a revamp in the most thrilling of sequels when its title was used to describe the head-to-head battle of Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson at the 1977 Open Championship. The stage was Turnberry and the now infamous Ailsa course, and the movie star charms of Nicklaus and Watson meant there would be no shortage of public interest second time round. For four days, it became a slugfest between the king of the ring and the heir apparent. And, while it wasn’t by any means a love affair as per the original, the genuine affection and respect the two players had for one another proved just as stirring as some of Selznick’s steamy material that was deleted for censorship reasons. Golf, indeed sport, now had its very own ‘Duel in the Sun’.
THE YOUNG AND THE OLD
Despite still being the number one golfer on the planet and recognised as the greatest ever, Jack Nicklaus’ reign as the game’s hottest property had been under threat in the build-up to the 1977 Open Championship. In Europe, the emergence of the dashing young Spaniard, Seve Ballesteros, suggested a new dawn was rising. But it was the Kansan-native, Tom Watson, who was perceived by most as the head boy from a list of players to take the Golden Bear’s crown. Watson had it all: he was long and accurate, with the creative know-how to complement his savvy short game. He was also a good, clean guy. There had been suggestions earlier in his career that he was a ‘choker’, a consensus that came as a result of him frittering away a position of dominance at the 1974 US Open when he shot a final-round 78. But after winning his first Major at the 1975 Open at Carnoustie, Watson was creating a stir among his peers – especially with his reputation as a links specialist.
I’M THE BOSS
Three months before Turnberry, Watson had shown further signs of his mental strength as he held off the Bear’s charge in the final round of the US Masters. The 14-time Major winner had the 27-year-old Watson in his sights with a back-nine sprint. But Watson stepped up the pace to card four birdies over the last six holes to win by two. His game was becoming characterised by a determination to scramble his way out of trouble, making what became commonly known as ‘Watson pars’. His ball-striking was arguably the best in the business and his putting absolutely fearless, often steaming birdie efforts well past the hole with his aggressive style. Come July he had won four times on the PGA Tour. However, such was the overflow of public adoration for Nicklaus that many could not accept Watson was the long-term answer, just as Jack had been to Arnold Palmer some 14 years earlier.