From the Golf Journal Archives - A Long Look Back At The 1960 Open

Jun 11, 2010

In the final round of the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills in 1960, Arnold Palmer came from seven strokes behind, and passed 14 other players, to win his only Open Championship. Here, Palmer reflects on his famous “charge” – and tells how it led to one of his greatest disappointments.

By Arnold Palmer

(Note: This article originally appeared in the May/June 1978 issue of Golf Journal.)

Arnold Palmer became a professional in 1954, shortly after winning the United States Amateur Championship. In 1955, his first year on the professional Tour, he won the Canadian Open; he won twice more in 1956, four times in 1957. By 1958, when he won his first Masters Tournament, Palmer was the biggest attraction in the game, with success or failure for a given tournament projected on whether or not he entered it. He played with a slashing elan which appealed to spectators both on the course and in the rapidly growing television audiences. The latter, especially, were quick to identify with Palmer because of the way his facial expressions mirrored his emotions – people instinctively shared his broad smile when he hit a good shot and agonized with him when he missed a putt. His personal following (named “Arnie’s Army” by an Augusta, Ga., newspaper reporter) numbered in the millions. Palmer won his second Masters early in 1960, with a typically spectacular birdie, birdie finish, but he still felt something was missing: Every great player feels he must win the United States Open Championship to assure himself a place in golf history. By June, Palmer had won five of the 18 tournaments he had entered that year; he was playing superbly and was all but expected to win the Open. After 54 holes, however, seven strokes behind Mike Souchak and with 14 players between him and first place, Palmer seemed hopelessly out of contention.

I SUPPOSE one of the first things people remember about my winning the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills in 1960 is that I started the final round by driving the green on the first hole. It was a 346-yard par 4 then.

Looking back on it now (the details of that Open are so clear in my mind today, it’s hard to realize it happened 18 years ago), I can remember that drive, too. As a matter of fact, I can still feel it – everybody who plays golf will know what mean.

But what I can remember even more clearly is the way I played that hole in the first round: just rotten!

I’d had five days of practice at Cherry Hills and had decided that if I really caught a driver just right, I could reach the green. So I stepped up there on the first day of the Open, swung about six times faster than I had any business swinging, and pushed my drive squarely into the little creek that runs along the right side of the hole. To make matters worse, the stream was fairly swift, and it washed the ball a good distance downstream. Fortunately, a forecaddie was alert enough to mark the spot where the ball entered the hazard, and the USGA’s Joe Dey made a ruling on where I had to drop.

The spot turned out to be deep rough, which left me with a really tough shot. I proceeded to hit short of the green and into some more rough. Then I hit the ball again, and this time I flew it clear over the green. So there I was, on the very first hole of the greatest championship in the world – a hole I should have been on or very close to in one shot – lying four (including a penalty stroke for dropping out of the water) and not even on the green yet!

I could feel the steam starting to come out of my ears, but I chipped back to about five feet and managed to hole a very twisty putt for a sparkling six.

THERE WAS a time, when I was younger (I was 30 years old then), when a start like that would have finished me for keeps. Again, anybody who has played golf will know what I mean. You get so angry with yourself. I don’t mean slamming a club on the ground, or throwing it – my father had cured me of that kind of foolishness years before. I mean those surges of anger that rise up in almost everybody in almost every round, and tempt you to do something foolish.

But I managed to settle myself down – I remember being very pleased with myself about that – and played really well for the rest of the round, although I didn’t putt well. I finished with 72, one over par and four strokes behind the leader, Mike Souchak.

I wasn’t too happy about starting with 72, but I wasn’t really distressed, either. I was playing very well that year, and was confident that on any given day I was capable of really tearing things up. I’d won five times already in 1960, including three in a row (at Texas, Baton Rouge, and Pensacola), had finished birdie, birdie to win my second Masters, and should have won at Oklahoma City the week before the Open. (I lost my temper in the third round at Oklahoma City and shot 75 after opening with 68-66. I calmed down and shot 67 on Sunday, but by then it was too late.)

Not that I was “dominating the game” as the sportswriters like to say. Nothing like that. Ben Hogan was only playing in the Open and a few other tournaments then, but he was still playing awfully well. So was Sam Snead, and so were people like Cary Middlecoff and Billy Casper. Mike Souchak was on a hot streak, too, and there was a kid amateur named Jack Nicklaus none of us knew very much about yet except that he could really play. And Don Cherry, who was an amateur then (an amateur golfer, that is, but a professional singer – he was the voice in the “Mr. Clean” commercials, I remember).

Still, even though there were quite a few players capable of winning the Open, I had to like my own chances. For one thing, the Open – along with the Masters – was one of my primary goals. Winning the Open was absolutely vital to me during my early years on the Tour (just as it is today), and I had come to realize that I was likely to play my best golf in championships I was really excited about.

I liked Cherry Hills, too, even though I had never seen it until just before the Open, A friend in Oklahoma City had an airplane (that was before I got my own), and he flew me up to Denver for two days of practice before the Oklahoma City tournament, and then again right after Oklahoma City, so I got in three more days. The air was a little thin, of course, and took a while to get used to, but it was so clear and clean and fresh, and you felt like you could hit the ball a mile!

It was a little lonely, maybe. I had no friends or family with me at Cherry Hills. Winnie was at home in Pennsylvania, getting things ready for us to leave for Britain right after the Open. At the start of the 1960 season I had decided I was going to play in the British Open that year, for the first time. The British Open had been tailing off since 1953, when Hogan won it and got the ticker-tape parade in New York; after that, most of the American players had pretty well passed it up. But I wanted to play there, and of course when I won the Masters and the Open and had two legs on what they were then calling the Modern Grand Slam, wild horses couldn’t have kept me away from St. Andrews.

In Denver I kept pretty much to myself. I stayed in a hotel downtown and rode back and forth to Cherry Hills in courtesy cars all week. I really worked quite hard, practicing well and spending a lot of time doing it, including playing 36 holes on some days. So, as I said, I felt confident.

IN THE SECOND round, on Friday, I played well again, but still couldn’t get the birdie putts to go in. I finished with 71, one over par for the two rounds. That’s not bad for a U.S. Open, normally – but this was not shaping up as a normal championship. Mike Souchak had started like a crazy man, with 68-67, so I was already eight strokes out of the lead. And there were something like 12 or 13 other players between us.

On Saturday morning I knew I had to make a good move if I was going to get into it, and for the third time in a row I tried to drive the first green. A good many players were hitting 3-woods off the tee, playing for position, but I was still convinced I could drive it. As of Saturday morning, though, my batting average was a brisk .000. On Thursday I hit it in the water and made six. On Friday I came up short in the rough, but made birdie. And on Saturday morning I was short in the rough again and made bogey. By and large, that first hole gave me fits, and I’m glad they’ve lengthened it for this year’s Open and I won’t be tempted to try to drive the green this time.

The rest of the morning was a carbon copy of Friday’s round – I hit the ball very much the way I wanted to, but couldn’t coax the putts into the hole.

I was trying very hard to be patient and to control my anger, but when I three-putted the last green for a 72 – still seven strokes behind Mike and with the championship just sort of dribbling away from me – I was about ready to explode. I stomped into the locker room intending to have a hamburger and be alone for a few minutes, but Bob Drum followed me in and we got to talking.

Bob was the golf writer for the Pittsburgh Press, my “hometown” newspaper. We’d been friends for a long time, and I felt comfortable talking with him. He started needling me about the mediocre scores I’d posted, though, and I got a little angry with him. Still, in a way, it made me feel better. Maybe it was because being angry with somebody else helps you stop being angry with yourself.

I could see the scoreboard through the clubhouse window. There was Souchak’s name at the top, with 208 beside it. Far below (there were 13 players between me and Souchak after 54 holes, and I was tied with eight others) was my own name, at 215. I did some mental arithmetic and turned to Drum.

“What do you think 65 will do this afternoon?” I said. “I’m going out and shoot 65.”

“It won’t do you any good,” he said. “You’re out of it.” Bob was never what you’d call famous for his diplomacy.

“A 65 will give me 280,” I said, “and that’s the number that wins the Open. Why don’t you come out and watch me do it?”

He just laughed. “I don’t want to walk with you,” he said. “What good would that do?”

THAT MADE ME really hot. I got up and went out to the practice tee and hit a few balls. Then I went out to the first tee and this time, finally, I caught my drive absolutely right. The ball wound up on the green, about 20 feet from the hole, and I got down in two putts for a birdie. On the second hole, a 410-yard par 4, I ran in a 35-foot putt for another three. On the third, a tricky little 348-yard par 4 with a sharp dogleg left, I hit a wedge to about a foot and made another three. And on the fourth, another dogleg left but something like 425 yards long, I holed a birdie putt of maybe 18 to 20 feet.

Well, now! Four holes played, and I’d gone from two over par to two under.

The fifth at Cherry Hills is a par 5 of 538 yards, which can be reached with two good shots, and I was thinking birdie there, too. But I drove into deep rough and had to work hard just to make par. On six, though (it’s a par 3 of about 175 yards), I hit a 7-iron to the center of the green and holed a sidehill putt of about 25 feet for birdie number five. And on seven, a little par 4 of just over 400 yards, I hit a wedge to six feet and made a birdie again. That put me four under for the championship.

Along about then, Drum showed up. “What are you doing here?” I asked him. “I thought I was out of it and you didn’t want to walk with me.”

He just laughed. “If you keep this up, I’ll follow you all the way,” he said.

I couldn’t expect to keep up that kind of pace, of course. And sure enough, on the eighth I missed a three-foot putt and made a bogey (back to three under for the championship), then parred the ninth.

That gave me 30 for the first nine, which tied the Open record for nine holes. More important, though, after that first nine I knew I was either in the lead or very close to it. It was impossible to know exactly where I stood at that point, because this had developed into one of the wildest closing rounds in Open history. Souchak, Nicklaus, Hogan, Boros, Fleck, Finsterwald – all of them, and possibly some others I didn’t know about, were three or four or five under par at one time or another that afternoon.

I was very aware of my position, though, and I didn’t get conservative at all on the second nine. I probably played that one just as well as the first nine, but the only birdie putt I managed to hole was on the 11th. That put me back to four under again, and I made solid pars the rest of the way in.

At 17 I watched Hogan step into the water and try to hit out and save par. He ended up making six, and I figured that took him out of contention. Then I started hearing all kinds of rumors – that Dutch Harrison was in contention, for example. I didn’t know that Nicklaus was close until after I finished, so naturally I wasn’t worrying about him. Mostly, I was concerned about Souchak. He was behind me, and he was still close enough that he could have won with a really strong finish.

On the last tee I remember thinking that all I needed to do was to make four to finish with 280 – and that 280 would win the championship. I hit a good drive, then a 4-iron to the left of the green in some fairly heavy rough, chipped to about three or four feet, and knocked it in. I guess it was pretty obvious that I knew I had won, because when I saw the ball drop into the hole I let out a whoop and threw my visor into the air as hard as I could. Somebody took a picture of all that. I’ve always liked that photo – I have it on the wall of the grill room at the Bay Hill Club in Orlando, for instance, and there’s a replica painting of it in the clubhouse at Latrobe.

IT’S ODD, but while winning that Open in 1960 was one of the really high points in my life, it also led to one of my biggest disappointments. With both the Masters and the U.S. Open won, I had a chance to do what Hogan had done – win the British Open the first time I played in it, and win the Masters and both Opens in the same year. I’d have done it, too, if I had ever figured out how to get the ball into the hole on the 17th green at St. Andrews. In four rounds, I took 10 putts on that confounded green, while Kel Nagle, who beat me by one stroke, was taking only four.

There have been other frustrations, of course. I feel I could have won the PGA at least once, and maybe twice (in 1968 and 1970). And I feel my chances were pretty good in at least three more Opens – I lost playoffs at Oakmont in 1962, The Country Club in 1963, and Olympic in 1966; and I was in contention in the last rounds at Winged Foot in 1959, Congressional in 1964, Baltusrol in 1967, Pebble Beach in 1972, Oakmont in 1973, Winged Foot in 1974, and Medinah in 1975.

But that’s the way it goes in any competitive sport. You can't (as several million people have observed from time to time) win them all. I regret not having won more major championships over the years, but I’m very proud to have won eight. And I’m proudest of all of that win at Cherry Hills in 1960. The U.S. Open was the premier championship then, and it’s the premier championship today.

The characteristic burst of exuberance as the winning putt dropped safely into the hole. (USGA Museum)

The 18th green at Cherry Hills. “All I needed to do was make four.” (USGA Museum)