When he was shown the statistics charted on the opposite page, Arnold Palmer, the man who has won two of the last four Masters championships, said: "Well, it certainly proves one thing, my short irons and my putting are the weakest part of my game. It's always been that way, and this shows it. When I play the 3s at Augusta in even par, I'm in good shape. The short par 4s always give me trouble because of my short irons. But the long par 4s and the par 5s are where I can make up ground because of my fairway woods and my long irons, which are my strong point.
"The trouble is," he went on with a faintly worried look, "right now I'm not hitting my fairway woods the way I should. I don't know what it is exactly, because I seem to be swinging the way I always have. Maybe I just need more practice. My short irons are way off, too, and I don't know what's happened to my putting, but I'm sure using a funny stroke."
"What are you going to do about all that between now and the Masters?" Palmer was asked. "After all, you've got only three weeks to get ready."
"I've just got to practice and play my way into shape," Palmer replied. "I'm out there on the practice tee as much as possible every day, and I'm hitting hundreds of short irons, and I also try to get in at least nine holes of actual play. I'll go up to Augusta early and get in as much practice there as I can. If 1 feel I need still another tournament, I'll play at Wilmington. That's about all I can do."
To indicate that finding time for the necessary practice would not be easy, Arnold Palmer, the most successful golfer of the last few years, gestured expressively at the litter in his office at the newly organized Country Club of Miami. Leaning helter-skelter against the walls were several dozen golf clubs—new and old, woods, putters and irons in every state of repair and disrepair. On a shelf in the corner was a pile of new Arnold Palmer hats and caps in many hues and styles. Arnold is anything but a clean-desk man, and that piece of furniture was buried under a jumble of correspondence, checkbooks, old magazines, telephone messages and just plain office miscellany.
The human traffic in and out of the office that is GHQ for the $400,000-a-year big business that is Arnold Palmer was characteristically heavy—a secretary, the club manager, somebody's cousin from Keokuk, one of the teaching pros on Palmer's club staff, interviewers from the press and George Low, a skillful golf-club fabricator who is helping Palmer prepare his clubs for competition. All of these people bring questions that Palmer must deal with.
In spite of the huge demands on his attention, Arnold Palmer is the kind of person who always has plenty of time to tell stories or listen to someone's latest joke. When he got to reminiscing about the Masters, the conversation turned to that horrendous final hole of last year's tournament, the hole that cost him a third championship by a single stroke.
"What really happened there, Arnie?" he was asked.
"I just went to sleep on my second shot," he said with the candor that always makes this particular champion a delight to talk to. "It was a perfectly easy one, just an ordinary seven-iron to the green, but I came up off it a little when I hit and pushed it into that bunker on the right. If it had just been a couple of inches more to the left, it wouldn't have rolled in the way it did.
"Before I hit that shot," said Palmer, in sudden self-reproof, "I remember standing there thinking that all I needed was a 4 to win—just get it up there on the green and then down in two putts. That's where I made my mistake, thinking about something besides hitting the ball. If I'd just kept my mind on swinging the club properly, there wouldn't have been any problem."
That better hole
Palmer turned his attention back to the statistics spread out on the cluttered desk. "You see," he said, "I actually played the course well enough to win last year if it weren't for that last hole. I was two under on the par 3s for the tournament and even on the short par 4s. That's the best I've ever done on those holes. In fact, my 281 for the tournament was the best that I've ever shot at the Masters."
Palmer opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a small green booklet containing records of past Masters tournaments. "Look," he continued, "except for 1956 and 1959 I've always improved my score at Augusta. I'm determined to break 280 on that course."
If Arnold Palmer is determined to break 280 at the Masters, it is almost a foregone conclusion that he will—if not this year, then sometime. For determination is a factor in Palmer's golf that counts just as much as his powerful, all-out manner of hitting the ball. It has been said of him often enough to become a cliché that when he needs to win he simply "wills the ball into the hole."
When the 1962 tour started in Los Angeles in early January, Palmer was playing, for him, quite mediocre golf. In the first four tournaments he won a mere $1,825 and stood 33rd on the money list. However, anyone who kept even a casual eye on Palmer during that period could see a change coming over him. By the time the tour reached Pebble Beach for the Crosby, Arnold had begun spending long, sweaty hours on the practice tee. He wasn't just banging the ball out to his caddie like a man keeping his swing in the groove; he was tearing at his shots with a fierceness that bespoke a purpose: to get out of the ruck of golfers and back into the dominating position he has occupied ever since he came charging to the front in 1958.
There was more of the same kind of practice the following week in San Francisco (where he finished in a tie for 34th, his worst performance to date) and more still the week after at Palm Springs. "I had had my mind on a lot of other things besides my golf," Palmer has since explained, "and I decided I had to get back to business."
On the Sunday when he started the fifth and final round at Palm Springs Palmer was in third place, three strokes behind Gene Littler, who was leading. For the previous 10 days Littler had been playing superb golf, winning at San Francisco with rounds of 65-68-68-73 and covering the first four rounds at Palm Springs in 67-71-64-68—a total of 27 under par for eight rounds. Against such brilliant consistency, Palmer's prospects of overcoming Littler's lead were indeed gray. But that was not taking into consideration the Palmer determination.
Palmer and Littler were in the same pairing for this final round at Palm Springs, and starting at the fifth hole Palmer threw five straight birdies at Littler. The effect was conclusive. All of a sudden, Gene ceased to play with the precision he had been showing over such a long streak, and Palmer went on to win the tournament by a comfortable three strokes. He won the next one at Phoenix by a stupendous 12 strokes. He then felt justified in leaving the tour for a couple of weeks to attend to other matters in his new office in Miami.
The statistics say that Arnold Palmer will have to work hard to win at the Masters, and Arnold agrees. But once he puts his mind to it this champion can shatter a statistic as abruptly as he overcame Gene Littler's lead at Palm Springs.