Experience
Monday, September 22, 2014
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1960 US Open at Cherry Hills

The U.S. Open heralds the start of summer. It's the most important tournament in golf, and in 1960 it began poorly for Palmer. His first shot landed in a stream to the right of the fairway, and all he could salvage was a double bogey-6. That led to a first-round 72, four strokes behind Mike Souchak. And a second-round 71 left him eight strokes off the pace.

The final two rounds of the Open were played on the same day, known by tradition as "Open Saturday." It had been that way since 1895, and would continue as such until 1965, when the USGA shifted to the more conventional four-day format. Palmer began "Open Saturday" with a morning-round 72 that left him in 15th place, well behind established pros like Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, and Julius Boros. By any rational calculation, he was now out of contention. And Bob Drum, who had covered Palmer's career for the Pittsburgh Press since Arnold was 16 years old, told him so.

Drum's remarks came in the clubhouse during lunch. Palmer was talking about the par-4, 346-yard first hole. It bothered him that he hadn't been able to reach the green with his tee shot in any of the first three rounds. "It really makes me hot," he said. "If I drive that green, I could shoot a hell of a score. I might even shoot a 65. What'll that do?"

"Nothing," Drum told him. "You're too far back."

"Well, it would give me a 280. Doesn't 280 always win the Open?"

At 1:45 p.m., Palmer began his final round, seven strokes off the pace. On the first hole, he drove the green. And then he followed with seven of the most remarkable holes ever played in tournament golf.

  • No.1 Par-4: Two putts for a birdie.
  • No.2 Par-4: 35-foot putt from the frings of the green; birdie.
  • No.3 Par-4: Approach shot to within a foot of the hole; birdie.
  • No.4 Par-4: 18-foot putt; birdie.
  • No.5 Par-5: Recovered from a tee shot in the rough; par.
  • No.6 Par-3: 25-foot putt; birdie.
  • No.7 Par-4: Wedge shot to within six feet of the hole; birdie.

Now the U.S. Open was in chaos, with golf's greatest names trading places on the leaderboard. At 2:45 p.m., Mike Souchak held the lead at five under par; one stroke ahead of Julius Boros, Dow Finsterwald, and a 20-year-old amateur named Jack Nicklaus. Ben Hogan was three under; one stroke ahead of Jack Fleck, Jerry Barber, and Palmer. A few minutes before 4:00 p.m., Souchak fell into a three-way tie for first. Then he bogeyed the ninth hole, and Nicklaus got hot to lead the field. At 4:15 p.m., on the 13th hole, Nicklaus three-putted from 10 feet, and fell into a four-way tie with Palmer, Boros, and Fleck. At 4:45 p.m., Palmer, Fleck and Ben Hogan shared the lead. Then Fleck's putting soured.

Finally, at 5:30 p.m., Palmer and Hogan stood alone. It was as dramatic a moment as golf has ever seen. Ben Hogan, in the twilight of his career, desperately seeking a fifth Open crown. Arnold Palmer, the heir apparent, striving to ascend the throne. And on the par-5 17th hole, it was Hogan who faltered. Gambling for a birdie, he went directly for the flag on his third shot instead of playing safely away from a pond in front of the green. In the history of golf, no one ever hit more shots with near-total accuracy and control than Ben Hogan. But this time he failed. His pitch fell short, hitting near the top of the bank and spinning back into the water. All he could salvage was a bogey-6, followed by a triple bogey-7 on the final hole.

Now Palmer was alone, playing the last two holes in par for a 280 total and the 1960 U.S. Open crown. But more impressive than the fact that he'd won was the manner in which his victory had been achieved. Once again, he'd come frmo behind with what was fast becoming his trademark "charge." His final-round 65 was, at the time, the lowest ever for a U.S. Open champion. And he had become only the third man in history to win the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year.

Later, historians would look back on the 1960 Open as the moment when three eras and three remarkable carerrs collided. There, in full view for everyone to see, was the end of Hogan, the arrival of Nicklaus, and the coronation of Palmer. But to the public, it seemed as though only Arnold Palmer really mattered. And taking flight on the wings of his latest triumph, The Palmer Phenomenon burgeoned to extraordinary proportions.

~ From the book: Arnold Palmer - A Personal Journey by Thomas Hauser

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