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A SLUGGER WINS THE WORLD SERIES

Sept. 17, 1962
Sept. 17, 1962

Table of Contents
Sept. 17, 1962

Point of Fact
The Giants
1963 Autos
Preview: The America's Cup
Tennis
Horse Racing
Cards
The Monster Fish
Baseball's Week
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

A SLUGGER WINS THE WORLD SERIES

The three best golfers of this era met at Akron's Firestone Country Club last weekend for a 36-hole showdown match. The event was a television extravaganza with a huge purse—$50,000 to the winner—at stake. Competing were Masters and British Open Champion Arnold Palmer, U.S. Open Champion Jack Nicklaus and PGA Champion Gary Player. Here they tell a Sports Illustrated reporting team (Alfred Wright, Gwilym Brown and Kaye Kessler) their problems, decisions and actions during a unique encounter that ended with Nicklaus proving once again that he is a rightful challenger to the great Palmer

This is an article from the Sept. 17, 1962 issue

THE PROLOGUE

PLAYER: I feel fine. I'm very satisfied with my game. But this is the kind of course you can shoot a 76 on one day and a 66 the next. Jack did that the last two days. So you need a lot of luck out here. Now you might think this is nonsense, but I'd rather win this and get $10,000 than lose it and get $50,000. I can't think of a tougher match than playing Arnold and Jack.

NICKLAUS: I'm not happy. I'm not driving well. I'm trying to work up a gentle hook. You need it for the 2nd, 4th and 6th holes on this course. But I can't seem to get it. I don't intend to be thinking about that $50,000 until the last few holes Sunday. All I'm thinking now is that I've got just two guys to beat. It's like match play. You can watch what your opponents are doing. That's an advantage. But they can watch you, too.

PALMER: I just don't know what's happened to my driving. The timing is off. I've been playing a lot of TV exhibitions, so I've had plenty of practice. I don't understand what the trouble is. The course is fine, except for the 3rd and the 16th. They call the 16th [625-yard par 5] The Monster. But it isn't a very good hole. You can't use any imagination on it. Unless you hit your second wood shot way to the left and away from the water you have no chance for a birdie. That's what I'll do. This whole event is more like a playoff than a tournament. There's no room for a bad round, or even a few bad holes. If you get behind there is so little time to catch up. You can't start easily. You've got to start off with a bang.

AFTER NINE HOLES

Palmer 31 (4 under)
Nicklaus 33 (2 under)
Player 35 (even par)

NICKLAUS: I was determined I was going to start well. I suddenly realized on the first tee that my back was hurting. That's good. When I'm swinging through the ball strongly my back hurts. It hasn't hurt for a long time.

PLAYER: Arnold's second shot on the first hole was bad. It would have gone well over the green, but it hit a man right in the stomach. The man comes up to me afterwards and tells me. That stopped the ball, and Arnold chipped it in for a birdie. I think "Gee whiz, there is a break that may very well have saved him two strokes. It will really charge him up." And Arnold takes advantage of breaks, that's why he's great. [Palmer went on to birdie the next two holes.]

NICKLAUS: When Arnie chipped in I thought, "Well, I've just got to make my birdie putt." It was 15 feet and I sank it. On the 3rd hole my tee shot is off to the right, toward a bunch of trees. As I walk up I am hoping I can hit over a tree in front of me. I try the shot with a wedge. I hit a heck of a wedge: 130 yards. I get another birdie. Two under par after three holes and yet I'm a stroke behind. Am I worried? No. If I stay one stroke behind I won't worry until I'm on the 36th tee tomorrow.

PALMER: Three straight birdies. I could end up with a pretty good round if I don't have any horrible mishaps, like what almost happened on the 4th. I hit a very bad drive there. The ball ended up on the bank of a gully. I couldn't get a level stance. I finally took a three-wood, because nothing else would have reached the green. I tried a few practice swings to see if I was going to be able to keep my balance. I told the gallery: "I have to see where I'm going to fall."

PLAYER: When Palmer took out a wood I was certainly surprised. I thought, "My gosh, that takes tremendous courage." I would have used a six-iron and just knocked the ball out into the fairway.

PALMER: The moment I hit the three-wood I knew it was going off to the left. I hit right under it. It didn't go very far. Then I hit a three-iron over some trees onto the green, and sank a 12-footer for the par.

NICKLAUS: Incredible par! Arnie had played the 4th hole like I did during our practice round yesterday. When I finally got my par yesterday he laughed and said, "Nice 6." Arnie could have had a 6 today. When he sinks the putt for his par 4, Gary says, "Nice 5." So I said, "Don't you mean nice 6?" Arnie smiled.

PALMER: On the whole, I am driving better now—not particularly well, just better.

NICKLAUS: On the 8th I made the first bogey in the threesome. My right foot slipped forward on me just as I came down into my tee shot. I ended up in the rough at the left. The grass was laying flat from left to right in the rough, and I knew it would cause my second shot to go to the right as the ball took off. But a tree prevented me from allowing for this. I figured there was nothing to do but hit it at the right side of the green, which I could just see, and hope the shot wouldn't fade. But it did, into a trap on the right. I had been there before. I thought the sand was thin in there, but it wasn't, so my explosion shot was short and I missed the putt. After nine holes I'm a little surprised my 33 didn't have me in a better position, but I figured, "What the heck, it's still a good score."

PLAYER: I thought, "I've played as well as they did, and I'm four shots back. What can you do?" It was like a shock going through me. I was just two-putting every green. I told myself, "Some days you hole putts. Some days you don't."

AFTER 18 HOLES

Palmer 65 (5 under)
Nicklaus 66 (4 under)
Player 69 (1 under)

NICKLAUS: Along about the 11th hole I begin to think that Gary is playing very, very good golf, but that he is having no luck at all. Finally he makes a putt (of 18 feet) for a birdie on 11.

PLAYER: The putt on 11 made me feel real good. I knew it was a straight-in putt when I lined it up. I hit it good and waited to hear it drop into the cup. Now I was only three strokes behind. When Arnold bogeyed the 13th I felt even better.

NICKLAUS: On the 13th tee we came on camera. They announced we were on television. I didn't even think about it. On 14 (a par 4) my drive was in a trap and my second in the rough to the left of the green. The question: How good is the lie? I knew I was going to have to hit it over the trap and stop it quickly to stay close to the pin. Good lie. Now I'm thinking about getting it as close to the hole as possible. In fact, I am sort of thinking about hitting it into the hole. I got it close, but had to putt it in.

PLAYER: On that 3-par 15th I hit a two-iron that ran right through the green and over. That's 230 yards! I could stand there all day with a bag of balls and never hit another two-iron that well.

NICKLAUS: You've got to be a little scared standing on the 16th tee. It is one of the most dangerous holes in golf. And it isn't a good hole. The fairway is in poor condition—a lot of clover and bad grass—and the green is not only hard, it slopes the wrong way. This hole sure surprised me today. I hit a big 300-yard drive and then played my second with a one-iron to be safely short of the pond on the right. So what happens? I hit that one-iron about 280 yards, 50 yards farther than I figured. Fortunately, it stayed up on the left side and just missed the water. Then I hit the only shot that really made me mad all day, a chip that went 15 feet past the cup. When I got over the putt I remember telling myself: "Don't leave this one short, you idiot." So I left it short.

PLAYER: The putt I ended up with on 18 must have been 90 feet. I said to myself, "If you can two-putt and have a 68 on a course this hard, you should be as happy as a man can be." My first putt was eight feet past. I was about to hit the second putt when I heard "thump-thump-thump." Somebody was rapping on the television tower. I stepped back and the noise stopped. Then as I started to putt again, "thump-thump-thump." I missed it.

PALMER: Only one birdie while on camera. I must be a bad TV actor. I didn't play particularly well from tee to green, but I putted well. I can't recall ever taking fewer putts on a tournament round (25), but my putter didn't feel unusually good. The 3rd, the 4th, the 8th, the 12th and the 16th were my only putts of any consequence. The others were mostly short ones. And the greens here are perfect. Remember, nobody else has been walking on them, so there are no spike marks to throw a putt off-line. That helps your score, plus having everyone play so well. It's very unusual when three players have only three bogeys. Very unusual. Tomorrow I want to hit the ball just a little bit better.

PLAYER: I probably shouldn't be saying this, but when did you ever see better golf than you did today? Honest, this golf course isn't that easy; there isn't a tougher one in this country. The fast start by those other two made it especially hard for me. Those guys were holing out putts all over the place. I'm even par and playing well after three holes, and I'm 3 down. It's that old story, you've got to have breaks. I think Arnold had them today. The putting is the problem. They were both outhitting me 30 to 50 yards off the tee, but big hitting doesn't ever bother me, ever. On six holes here I hit a four-wood off the tee. I want to play up short of the trouble. And I think I stay out of trouble better than they do. [Player missed only four fairways, Palmer five, Nicklaus six. He missed four greens, as did Nicklaus. Palmer missed six.] All I want to do is play as well tomorrow as I did today, and have some putts start dropping.

NICKLAUS: I'm happy to have that 66. It was easily my best round since the Open. I've been working hard. I figured my game had to fall into place sooner or later. I guess it was about time.

PLAYER: You know, there is tremendous pressure in a match like this. It isn't like a tournament; more like an exhibition. But no tournament ever made me feel that I was under more pressure.

AFTER 27 HOLES

Nicklaus 103 (2 under)
Player 104 (1 under)
Palmer 104 (1 under)

NICKLAUS: This morning I felt that unless Gary was going to win, the difference between the winner and the runner-up would be about three or four shots. And I honestly thought the winner would be Arnie. I played bridge last night with Arnie, Forest Evashevski and Charlie Goren, and I didn't get to bed until 1 a.m. Then I got so worked up thinking about the bridge game [Nicklaus won when he played with Goren, lost when he played against him] that I didn't fall asleep for another three hours. I was feeling pretty frozen when I woke up. Right away on the first hole I got a bad break. I hit my second into a trap and buried it so deep that as soon as I saw it I knew I could just barely get it out. By the 3rd hole I was having so much trouble I hardly noticed that Arnie had started out bogey, bogey, bogey.

PALMER: I had a good shot at a birdie on the first hole. My approach shot left me only about 12 feet away. But I hit the putt so bad that I ended up three-putting. Right there I lost a little of my confidence. When I three-putted the next green it really shook my confidence.

PLAYER: It kind of burned me up when a reporter asked me after the round yesterday if I thought Jack or I could catch Arnold. Damn, Jack was only one shot behind, and I was just four. Golf's a strange game and people don't seem to realize it. I felt pretty confident starting off today. I picked up a stroke in a hurry on the first hole. On the 2nd I've got a five-footer for a birdie. Arnold already has a bogey 6. If I make my putt I get two strokes back on the leader. But I miss the bloody thing. That hurt. Believe me, it did.

PALMER: Things got worse. I had a six-iron to the green on the 3rd hole. I tried to draw it a little and ended up hooking it. This was partly because of a bad lie, but I didn't hit the shot right at all. It hit the branch of a tree and fell into the water. There I was, 3 over par on the first three holes, and a stroke behind Jack. As you know, I never like to play safe, but now I had to gamble all the way. Yet it wasn't going to do me much good to gamble if I couldn't start banging some putts into the hole.

PLAYER: All at once I feel maybe this isn't Arnie's day and that I can come on strong. I get in real trouble on the 3-par 5th hole, but Arnie's in bad shape again and Jack's a long way from the pin. I hit my shot out of the rough and it stops no more than two feet from the hole. I blow the putt! I thought to myself, "Man, it's really going to be tough!" I can't keep waiting for these guys to make mistakes. I birdie 6 and I'm in business again. My par on 8 gets me another stroke back on both of them. And yes sir, I danced the twist on the 9th hole—sure I did. Why not? That was at least a 75-footer I knocked in for my birdie 3. I'm thinking to myself, "We're going to be all even starting the last nine." Jack obviously thought differently. He had been in trouble, but he sank an eight-foot putt to end up with a tremendous par.

NICKLAUS: On the 9th hole I probably hit the most important putt of the whole round. It may just have made winning possible. As I stood over the ball it occurred to me that I'd needed 17 putts on the first eight holes. That's bad. You can't imagine how relieved I felt when this one went in.

PLAYER: Well, so he made the putt. It didn't bother me any. It was the first one he had made today.

AFTER THE 36 HOLES

Nicklaus 135 (5 under)
Player 139 (1 under)
Palmer 139 (1 under)

NICKLAUS: The putt on 9 set me up. I'm feeling good. I birdie 10 and 11. Then on the 12th hole I get a real good break on a real bad chip shot. I had a good lie back of the green after my tee shot had gone over. But as soon as I hit the chip I figured, "Oh, oh, it's going to stop way short." When I dared look up the ball was scooting much closer than I thought it would. I ended up with a six-footer instead of the 12-footer that I had expected, and sunk it.

PLAYER: Four straight one-putt greens for Jack. That's what took care of the old situation, believe you me. Not that I was giving up right here. I was still only three strokes behind.

PALMER: I was 4 down at the 14th when I sank a 20-footer, my only real good putt of the day. "Maybe I've got it going again," I said to myself.

NICKLAUS: On 15 I got another break. My tee shot went way to the left, but it hit into the crowd and kicked back to the edge of the green. I got an easy par 3. Well, yesterday Arnold got the breaks. Today I'm getting them. It occurred to me that only Gary wasn't getting any breaks at all. Not yesterday. Not today.

PLAYER: I wasn't thinking much about Arnie anymore. Not that I wasn't worried about him. But Jack was leading. He was the guy we had to catch.

NICKLAUS: My second shot on 16 was the first time I began to think about playing it safe. I could afford a 6, but I sure couldn't afford a 7 or 8 by hitting into the water. So I hit the second shot way to the left and short, and the third to the left side of the green, away from that water.

PALMER: My approach on 16 was an excellent shot. I figured maybe Jack had oversafed himself and I could pick up some ground. But that approach shot that had looked so good rolled 35 feet past the hole. I had taken chances all day. I certainly didn't quit, you can be sure of that. But you know how it is sometimes when things won't work. To be honest, I didn't play particularly well either day. I guess I've got to blame my putting.

NICKLAUS: I'm still playing safe on 17, so I use a one-iron off the tee to be sure I am well short of the two fairway traps. I hit the shot quite well, not "fat" the way I heard Bob Rosburg, who was doing the television announcing, describe it on the air.

PLAYER: Right up to the 17th I honestly felt I could still do it. If I birdie it and he bogeys it I am only one stroke behind. But Jack played so well. He's the longest hitter in the world, and I mean it. He plays like there isn't any rough. Jack just slammed the door on me and Arnold on 17 with a great four-iron to the green after his good tee shot. I hit what I thought was a wonderful shot that stopped about 12 feet from the pin, but again I couldn't make the birdie putt. Now I was playing for second money—that $15,000—and I knew it. And let me tell you, I certainly did want to finish second instead of in a tie with Arnold. I felt, well, if you can't win, be second.

NICKLAUS: I didn't really think I had it won until I stepped up on the 18th tee with a three-shot lead. When Arnie hit his second shot on that hole I turned to somebody and said, "Did you think he was going to sink it?" Then you saw what Gary did. He almost did sink his iron shot. By the time I got to the green I knew I'd have to take an awful lot of putts to lose, so I decided that I might as well try to sink my 15-foot birdie putt, and I did sink it. That was that.

THE EPILOGUE

PLAYER: The three of us were talking before the exhibition started, and we agreed that a score of 140 ought to win. The fact that I finished with a 139 pleased me. I played good golf. At least I was satisfied. And let me tell you, it makes me very happy to get a nice $12,500 check like this.

PALMER: I gambled all day long, but it didn't work out for me. I don't really know how to explain it, and I don't want to sound like I'm trying to make excuses, because I'm not. But somehow I just lost the feel in my hands. It happens now and then, but you don't like it to happen at this kind of tournament. It started on the back nine yesterday, and I just never got the feel back. My plane's ready at the airport. I've got to get headed home. Winnie's waiting. I'll be seeing you sometime soon, I hope.

NICKLAUS: Yesterday I said I wouldn't start thinking about that $50,000 until the last few holes today. But just plain winning, beating these two guys, has turned out to be so important and exciting to me that I'm not thinking about the money yet.

View this article in the original magazine

THE BOX SCORE OF GOLF'S $75,000 GAME

HOLE

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

YARDS

400

500

450

465

230

450

225

450

465

3,635

405

365

180

460

410

230

625

390

465

7,165

PAR

4

5

4

4

3

4

3

4

4

35

4

4

3

4

4

3

5

4

4

70

Nicklaus

3

5

3

4

3

4

2

5

4

33

3

4

3

4

4

3

5

3

4

66

Player

4

5

4

4

3

4

3

4

4

35

4

3

3

4

4

3

4

4

5

69

Palmer

3

4

3

4

3

4

3

3

4

31

4

4

2

5

4

3

4

4

4

65

Nicklaus

5

5

4

4

3

4

3

5

4

37

3

3

3

4

4

3

5

4

3

69

Player

4

5

4

5

4

3

3

4

3

35

4

4

3

4

4

3

5

4

4

70

Palmer

5

6

5

4

3

4

3

5

4

39

4

4

4

4

3

3

5

4

4

74