Golf history is being made this year at Pinehurst No. 2 with the first-ever hosting of the U.S. Open and U.S. Women's Open at the same course in consecutive weeks. Over the years, a number of U.S. Opens have served as backdrops for defining moments in golf. Here is one such select classic moment.
Arnie sat, chewing his cheeseburger, staring out the window, pondering the next four hours. He had no idea how much golf history would be played out this afternoon at Cherry Hills Country Club, nor what his role in it would be.
Arnold Palmer turned to Bob Drum, his friend and golf writer for The Pittsburgh Press, Arnie’s hometown paper. “I might shoot 65. What would that do?” he asked.
The large, red-faced and ever-gruff Drum growled back, “Nuthin’. You’re too far back.”
Arnie retorted, “It would give me 280, and that wins Opens.”
“Yeah, when Hogan shoots it,” responded Dan Jenkins, another writer and wit. Everyone lunching laughed.
Annoyed by the group’s lack of enthusiasm, Arnie marched out the door to the first tee and, possibly, the beginning of the best finish ever by an impressive cast in a U.S. Open.
Arnie was already King of the Fairways, winner of 18 tour events since 1955 and five events already in 1960. He was the tour’s leading money winner in 1958 and had every blue-collar golf fan and nearly everyone else on his side.
Arnie the King tugged decisively at his britches, drew hard on his cigarettes, wore his heart on his face: His famous charges energized not only him but all of Arnie’s Army. He was a hero, only 31 years old, ruggedly handsome; and he was good.
He took the 1958 and 1960 Masters Tournament titles and was in position, at the start of this week, to go for a professional Grand Slam, claiming all four major championships this year: The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and U.S. PGA Championship.
Arnie had an extraordinary 1960 spring season. In addition to winning the Masters Tournament, in which he came from behind to beat Ken Venturi by one shot, he claimed the Palm Springs Classic, Texas Open, Baton Rouge Open and Pensacola Open.
When the U.S. Open went to the Mile High City, Arnie’s game became indifferent while Mike Souchak was hot, taking the lead by one after the first round, by three at the halfway point and by two with a round to go.
Souchak was a big, strong bear of a man who turned professional a couple of years before Palmer. He was gifted with a lovely swing and a penchant for streaks. He shot 27 on the back nine in a 1955 tour event in Texas. He shot 68-67-73 to open at Cherry Hills.
Arnie shot 72-71-72, seven behind big Mike. No one had ever made up seven shots in the last round of a U.S. Open.
Even more formidable was the leader board of names between Mike and Arnie: Ben Hogan, Julius Boros, Dow Finsterwald, Jerry Barber and the 20-year-old amateur sensation from Ohio, Jack Nicklaus.
Unfolding, if Souchak faltered the last afternoon, would be a battle among the best players of the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, multiple generations of golf stardom.
Another Palmer ‘Charge’
Palmer started his fourth round at 1:42 Saturday afternoon, 18 minutes before Souchak would tee his first shot. Vitalized by his lunch conversation, Arnie cracked his tee shot onto the green of the 346-yard first hole. He two-putted from 20 feet for birdie.
At the second, he chipped in, again for birdie. He sank birdie putts at the third and fourth holes, his third birdie only a tap-in putt. He made a 25-footer on the sixth and a six-foot putt at the seventh. He was six under par after seven holes.
As Arnie gained momentum, so did the size and volume of his gallery. They wanted to see another of Arnie’s “charges,” and this might turn out the best of them all.
He bogeyed the tough 233-yard eighth and made the front-nine turn in 30 shots, five under par.
But he was not the only player looking at birdies that afternoon.
Nicklaus, two groups ahead of Palmer, eagled the par-five fifth and birdied the ninth for 32. He was five under far and three ahead of Arnie. Jack Fleck was four under par. Souchak took double-bogey 6 at the first hole but recovered for a front-nine 36, also four under par for the championship, as were Hogan, Boros, Finsterwald, Barber and singer-amateur golfer Don Cherry.
Hogan won four U.S. Opens between 1948 and 1953, and he had been competitive in the championship ever since. He lost a playoff in 1955, was one shot out in 1956 and had been among the top 10 each year he competed in the ’50s.
At Cherry Hills, Hogan was better than anyone else from tee to green. He hit every green in regulation Saturday morning and shot 69. He hit every green on the front nine in the afternoon and was only even with par for that magnificent effort. He made a 20-foot birdie putt at the 14th to tie Palmer. Through 34 holes that day, he had 34 birdie attempts.
At the 17th, hopeful of a record fifth Open title, he went for the green of the par-5 hole with his second shot. His ball hit and spun of the green into a water hazard; he took bogey. At the 18th, needing a birdie, Hogan hit his tee shot in water, only inches from its goal. He finished at 284, sharing ninth place.
Hogan, ironically, was paired this last day with the future of golf, Nicklaus. “I played 36 holes today with a kid who should have won this thing by 10 strokes,” Hogan surmised. He had a good eye.
After his amazing front-nine performance, Nicklaus wandered into territory he would handle better in future years. But this time, 20-year-old nerves showed. He three-putted the 13th from a mere 12 feet and three-putted the 14th. He finished with 282. The man who next would win four U.S. Opens (the last was Hogan) got a taste of last-day pressure.
Other players began to falter under back-nine U.S. Open pressure. Souchak faded to 75 and tied for third place with a 283 total. Fleck shared the lead briefly on the back nine but missed some short putts that gained him another share of third place.
Palmer birdied the 588-yard 12th and parred the remaining holes to take a two-shot win from Nicklaus. He saw both of Hogan’s watery shots, relieving some of the pressure before he played the closing holes. Arnie had 65 for a 280 total, beating Nicklaus by 2.
Nicklaus’ finish was the best by an amateur since Johnny Goodman won the 1933 U.S. Open.
Palmer’s 65 was a last-round record, and no one has equaled his seven-shot comeback in a final round of the U.S. Open. His front-nine 30 tied another record.
Denver’s fans were rewarded with a fantastic final day. The three-day total of more than 43,800 fans was another record. As a result, the USGA bumped the announced purse of $50,000 to $62,720. Palmer won $14,400, an amazing sum 39 years ago.
Arnie was halfway to his professional Grand Slam goal, a concept that Hogan might have theorized but Palmer popularized. He flew to Scotland for the 100th playing of the British Open at St. Andrews. Arnie needed one of his patented charges to overtake Kel Nagle, leader by seven with 36 holes to play. He made up six of those shots and finished second.
His personal Holy Grail was out of reach for another year.
Michael Dann is a staff member with the Carolinas Golf Association and a former writer for Golf World Magazine and editor of Virginia Golfer Magazine.