Of the 184 golfers who moved into Akron last week for the 42nd Professional Golfers' Association championship, not more than two dozen seriously thought that they had a chance to win. The rest—and no doubt a majority of the 22,000 spectators who watched the opening two rounds of the four-day tournament—came with lively expectations of eye-witnessing a historic event. They hoped, and in many cases presumed, they would see Arnold Palmer, who had already won the Masters and the U.S. Open, become the first golfer ever to win all three of these tournaments in the same year.
On his opening round Palmer seemed determined to leave no one in suspense. Playing as close to faultless golf as could be expected of a human under pressure, he turned in a 67 on one of the longest, tightest, most trying courses that the pros have ever encountered. On that day, despite ideal temperatures and scarcely a hint of wind, only three others among the very best playing professionals in the business managed to break the par 70. They were Sam Snead, with a 68, and Paul Harney and Fred Haas Jr., each with 69.
That night, in the rooms where the golfers gathered, they were saying that unless the sniff of one more championship (and his fourth PGA title) provided an adrenalin solvent for Snead's 48 years, Palmer should win easily without having to stage one of those breathless finishes that brought him home first in the Masters and the Open. The course seemed suited to his big drives and his relentless, often fearless golf attack.
But it was his very boldness that destroyed Palmer. The flaw in the Palmer method appeared as early as the second day. Whenever he was in trouble, as he so often was throughout the first nine holes, he played from the rough or behind trees as if he expected every shot to go into the hole. It is the only way he knows how to play golf, and it is the quality that makes him one of the truly dramatic athletes of our time, but his daring did not work for him on this stubborn course on Friday. He was four over par at the end of the first nine, and though he held par for the rest of that round, his 74 put him into a position where he constantly had to gamble against increasing odds.
Meanwhile, on that second day, Jay Hebert produced a remarkable 67 to go with his two-over-par 72 of the first day. Lest such a score look somewhat pallid next to those one is accustomed to reading about when the touring pros are at work, it is worth noting that in the entire four days of this tournament, and through more than 500 rounds of golf at the Firestone Country Club, par was broken only 13 times.
If Hebert was still not taken too seriously at the end of the second round, it is only because this tall, lean 37-year-old Louisiana Cajun with the Sunset-and-Vine looks has so often played brilliantly during his five full years on the pro tour—and has so seldom won. Though not a tremendously bold hitter like Palmer or Mike Souchak, he is a graceful and finished golfer much along the style of Dow Finsterwald. He wins a lot of money on the tour (nearly $35,000 in 1958, more than $27,000 last year and more than $30,000 so far this year), but he is the type who usually finishes second or third.
It was to be a different—and also happier—story for Hebert at this tournament. On Saturday he added another most respectable 72 to his earlier scores and went into Sunday's final round tied for second place with Snead and Jim Ferrier, just one over par and but one stroke behind young Doug Sanders, the leader.
That final round on Sunday was reminiscent of the last round of the Open at Denver five weeks earlier. Four players in the last and next to last threesomes to tee off—Sanders, Hebert, Snead and Ferrier—were within a stroke of one another when they started. Throughout the afternoon, as their fortunes fluctuated, one or another of them would either own or share the lead. With Snead and Ferrier playing down the 16th hole and Sanders and Hebert starting the 14th, they stood this way: Snead, Hebert and Sanders were two over par for the tournament and tied for the lead. Ferrier was in second place, three over par.
On the par-5 16th Snead hit a remarkable approach with a wedge and tapped in his short putt for a birdie, putting him in the lead at one over. But on the par-4 17th, Snead hit a slightly errant second shot into the rough alongside the green and chipped out poorly. His subsequent two putts gave him a bogey 5. Meantime Ferrier hit a superb second shot to within a foot of the hole and sank his putt for a birdie. Now all four of them were tied at two over par. On the 18th Snead, after a good drive, hit a loose second shot off to the side of the green. Again he chipped poorly and two-putted for his second bogey in a row. Ferrier played this same hole perfectly for his par and finished one stroke ahead of Snead.
All this while Hebert and Sanders had been staying close to par until they too reached the 17th. Each needed par 4s on the last two holes to tie Ferrier. Both used irons from the 17th tee to avoid the fairway traps. Sanders, hitting his second shot, was too long and by the green. It took him three shots to get back and into the cup—for a bogey 5. Hebert was now playing excellent golf. He hit a lovely five-iron for his second to within eight feet of the pin and holed his putt for a birdie 3. He was one stroke ahead of Ferrier, and he seemed to sense the victory, for he couldn't take the grin off his face as he waited for the other players to finish putting. A well-played par on the difficult 18th was all that Hebert needed for his championship, and he made it with what he later described as "the most commercial putt you'll ever see."
Inasmuch as Arnold Palmer was not to have his triple slam, or whatever label the three victories would have acquired, this particular tournament could not have produced a more popular victory if it had been prearranged. Junius Joseph Hebert, whose name is pronounced "A-bear," is a man of great charm and modesty, so much so that one wonders how he has remained a bachelor all these years. Just before he was to start his final round on Sunday, Al Laney of the New York Herald Tribune said to him: "Jay, you'll make a lot of people happy if you win this." Hebert seemed genuinely surprised and said: "Do you really think so?"
A wounded veteran
Of course, it should be remembered that Hebert, despite his youthful good looks, is somewhat more mature than most of his friends on the tour. In the early 1940s his college education at Southwestern Louisiana Institute was interrupted by the war, and he eventually served as a lieutenant platoon leader with the Fifth Marine Division at Iwo Jima. A Japanese bullet through the left thigh hospitalized him for a year, but he fully recovered. At a victory press conference last Sunday after the tournament, a young reporter asked him facetiously, "Jay, is the 16th hole here tougher than Iwo?"
Hebert looked at the reporter seriously and said, "Nothing is."
Throughout the four days of the PGA, there was a good deal of carping about the severity of the Firestone Country Club course, which Robert Trent Jones, the architect, had redesigned over the past couple of years at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars. Art Wall Jr., last year's golfer of the year, who is currently in the midst of a hot streak after some early-season infirmities, said at one point, "It's just too much for me. All you can do is get out there and slug, slug, slug. You're always on the defensive. You can't ever attack it." Many, like Wall, felt it was not quite fair to put the home pros on such a course. They will have to explain to their members why they shot 82 or 85 as soon as they met the touring pros.
But looking at it in another way, such a demanding course is just what the PGA needed to restore the prestige it began to lose during the postwar years. This year, promoted smoothly by Firestone and the people of Akron, the tournament had the polish of the Masters. The total prize money of $63,130 was second only to that of the Masters. It is argued by PGA officials that it would downgrade the tournament at this stage to play it on just any old patsy course. Hebert, for one, put the cause for the affirmative when he said, "If I could keep my sense about me when I play every shot, I would say this is the perfect golf course. You've just got to stay out of those bunkers and out of the rough if you ever want to break 75 around here."
Although Arnold Palmer failed last week to win the PGA, and also last month to win the British Open, there can be no doubt about his overwhelming new stature in American sport. Even in losing he is the thrilling and appealing new figure that golf has been awaiting since Ben Hogan saluted the inevitability of age some half dozen years ago.
Man of the people
Golf being the game of imponderables and inconsistencies that it is, Palmer will not win more than a minority of the tournaments he will play in as time goes on. But he will be the player the people come to see wherever he competes. Every shot Palmer plays is executed with such determination and confidence that not only he but his opponents and audience and friends are sure it will succeed. Neither as self-absorbed as the earlier Hogan, nor as acquisitive as Snead, Palmer enjoys the sympathy and affection of his fellow players. If they can't win, they hope he will, and none begrudges him his sudden prestige and success. As a top PGA official said of Palmer last weekend: "He is very good for golf. He has character."
With a triple bogey 8 on the par-5 16th hole at Akron, Arnold Palmer lost his chance for the PGA championship. During the third round, he pushed his drive (1) into a trap on the right of the fairway. Using a wood out of the sand instead of a safer iron, he pushed his second shot into trees on the right (2), then pitched his third shot into the ditch parallel to the fairway (3), took a penalty stroke (4) before hitting onto green (5). He putted to within four feet of pin (6), missed cup by inches (7) and holed out (8). Rattled, he finished with bogeys on the 17th and 18th.