Professional golfers are in a high-stepping frame of mind as the 1963 tour gets under way. Arnold Palmer (left) cavorted on the 18th green after sinking the winning putt in the Los Angeles Open. So did Phil Rodgers (right), delighted to be tied for fourth. There is good reason for the joy, as Alfred Wright explains on the next page—never have the pros had so much to play for, or such crowds to watch them.
This is an article from the Jan. 21, 1963 issue
JACK'S JANISSARIES JOIN ARNIE'S ARMY ON A GOLDEN MARCH
When it comes to good old stretching-in-the-sun euphoria, there are few things that equal the opening of the professional golf season. No matter who you happen to be—spectator, player, PGA official, press or the policeman at the parking lot—this is one of those rare times in the sports year in which everything's coming up spring. That's the way it has been in California the last fortnight, where the world's best golfers almost boyishly went to work on the most lucrative chase in the game's history.
At stake in Professional Golfers' Association events alone is the unprecedented total of more than $2 million. The prize money during the first five weeks of the tour in California sounds like a foreign-aid program: 550,000 at Los Angeles, $25,000 at San Diego, $50,000 at the Bing Crosby pro-amateur in Pebble Beach, $50,000 at the Lucky International in San Francisco and another $50,000 at Palm Springs. But even this vista of riches is expected to be dimmed by another five-week period beginning in late May: $50,000 at Indianapolis, $50,000 at the Buick Open, $100,000 at the Thunderbird in New York, more than $80,000 at the U.S. Open and $111,-000 at the brand-new Cleveland Open. Right from the beginning, as the touring pros arrived at Rancho Municipal Golf Club for the Los Angeles Open, it was obvious that this was a new season, and every man there thought a considerable chunk of this money would soon be his.
Take Art Wall Jr., for instance. Ever since he was voted Player of the Year at the end of the 1959 season, Art has been trailed by trouble. First it was a kidney ailment that spread to other parts of his body and gave him a lame knee. Later he had a bout with hepatitis. He hadn't played in a tournament since September. But at Rancho on opening day, Wall could say cheerily, "I really feel better than I have in a long time."
He then shot rounds of 68, 70 and 67 to lead the tournament by two strokes. A wobbly 74 on the final day dropped him five strokes back—that old rust showing—but he finished in a tie for ninth and picked up a nice check for $1,358.34.
Ken Venturi is another of the tour's big names who has had his share of dismay. Last February, while playing in the Palm Springs tournament, Venturi leaned over to pick up the ball and pulled something in his back. Cortisone shots and heat treatments seemed to clear up the trouble, and Ken rejoined the tour in Florida a month or so later, but it was no good. There was a pinched nerve in his back. Then Doc Bauman of the St. Louis baseball Cardinals prescribed ultrasonic treatments, and now the muscle spasms are gone. "I never felt better," Venturi exulted one day at Rancho. "I'm hitting the ball as well as I ever did when I was going my best."
A lengthy layoff from the tournament grind has given Mike Souchak a new lease on golf. "I've had three months away from the tour," Mike explained. "I've kept in shape hunting and fishing at home, and had some time to think about things. When you knock off for a long stretch, you get a chance to look at your problems from the outside in rather than the inside out. It gives you a new feeling of confidence."
The golfers who had been enjoying the best of times were not above bringing something new and hopeful to the tour. Billy Casper, for example, brought along a new putting style, his feet almost touching, his stance slightly open and his body more nearly over the ball—this from the man conceded to be the best putter in the business (see chart). Always exuberant Gary Player, apparently relaxed from weeks of travel and exhibitions, was showing an even bigger smile and more vitality. "Maawk," he told his lawyer, Mark McCormack, "Aw am hitting the ball so well Aw am embarrassed." He didn't look embarrassed several days later while winning the San Diego Open.
Even the man one could most expect to be satisfied with the status quo, Arnold Palmer, had something new, a competitive keenness that he never before had shown this early in the year.
"I've been playing a lot of exhibitions with Gary lately," is the way Palmer explained it after shooting 69 on each of his first two rounds at Rancho. "I've got my own money at stake in those TV shows. When we play them we play hard. So I'm going better than I ever have at this time of year."
Palmer had something old, too—his clubs—and this in itself was unusual. He is a man who changes clubs as fast as an LA gallery changes Capri pants, but for perhaps the first time he is starting the tour with an old set.
Thus it seemed that everybody had hope, and everybody was going to be the big winner. This isn't true, of course, and the fans at Rancho showed they knew better. Arnie's Army was back in full fighting trim, and there was one other huge gathering on the course, Jack's Janissaries, almost as numerous, anticipatory and partisan as Arnie's Army. Judging by their behavior, the galleries have already decided that the 1963 golf tour is essentially a shot-by-shot duel between Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Customers who wanted to follow some of the other superb players in the early rounds could do so while enjoying the solitude of a man in a phone booth, a pattern of adulation that is likely to continue.
Perhaps the galleries are right, for at Rancho indomitable Arnie was certainly at it again. Three strokes behind starting the last day, he ran off a string of four straight birdies, jammed in a 50-foot downhill putt for a typical Palmer birdie on the 234-yard 17th and finished with a 66 for a three-stroke victory and $9,000.
The week was not nearly so satisfying for Jack Nicklaus, who almost came to the end of an awesome stretch of success he had begun on this same course a year ago. It had been Jack's first professional tournament and, playing erratically, he then managed to collect a check for only $33.33. Nevertheless, that started a streak, and afterwards Nicklaus never once finished out of the money. But after rounds of 71 and 74 during the first two days at the Los Angeles this year, he barely survived the cut.
Nicklaus was biting his nails on Saturday afternoon waiting to find out if he would be eligible to play on Sunday and Monday and saying his money-winning record was quite a strain.
"Maybe," he sighed, "it would be a good thing if I did miss the cut. I'm not playing well right now. Haven't touched a golf club since early in December, and you always learn something from this kind of thing."
"What have you learned?" someone asked Nicklaus. "That I'm not as smart as I thought I was," he answered with a grin. So that's what he brought to the 1963 tour.
Having just squeezed into the final two days of play, Nicklaus went out and shot rounds of 68 and 69—five under par—to finish in a tie for 24th and collect $525. There is no need to shed tears over his prospects for the coming months.
If 1963 is to be the year of Nicklaus vs. Palmer, 1962 was Palmer, period—a fact that becomes really plain now that the statistics can be analyzed in full. Nobody has a record that approaches Palmer's, nor has there ever been one in the long pageant of professional golf. Arnold's total official prize winnings of $81,448.33 surpassed his own previous alltime record by more than $6,000. He entered 21 tournaments and won seven of them, including the Masters. He tied with Nicklaus in the U.S. Open before losing in a playoff, and won the British Open. His average winnings per event amounted to almost $3,900. No one else in 1962 came within $ 1,400 of that figure.
Palmer also dominated the two other statistical categories that pro golf considers most important—the Vardon Trophy and Ryder Cup standings. In the former, based on the average number of strokes per round, Palmer won with 70.271, a half stroke better than Billy Casper, who was second. Palmer is also comfortably ahead in the Ryder Cup point standings, awarded on the basis of how the first 10 players finish in each PGA tournament. Here Palmer has 671.58 points and Casper 608.84. Dave Ragan Jr., who is in third place, is more than 200 points behind Casper.
This year SPORTS ILLUSTRATED again made its own addition to the statistics, polling the touring pros on their opinions of their fellow golfers. Palmer and Nicklaus were voted most likely to finish one-two among this year's money winners and it isn't difficult to discover why. Both were selected among those having the most effective golf swings, as being among the best drivers, the best long-iron players and the best putters. Perhaps the slight edge for Palmer is to be found in the one category in which he is named and Nicklaus isn't: best out of trouble.
In their poll answers the pros also warned of some younger players who can soon be expected to challenge for the big money. One of these, of course, is Phil Rodgers (SI, Jan. 14), who finished fourth at Los Angeles, but the most surprising is 28-year-old Tony Lema, whose handsome looks resemble those of his fellow San Franciscan, Ken Venturi. Tony won his first official PGA tournament last October at the Orange County Open and made himself an instant hit with the sportswriters by serving them champagne in the press tent immediately afterwards. "Champagne Tony," as they now call him, also won tournaments at Mobile, Mexico City and Las Vegas during the autumn, collecting in the neighborhood of $20,000 during the last three months of the tour.
As the 1963 season begins to unfold and the rewards of professional golf are creating a whole new set of millionaires, one can't help but wonder how popular the sport is destined to become. This year, at last, there will be a professional tournament every weekend except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. Eight of the tournaments—the Crosby, Palm Springs, the Masters, Las Vegas, the Buick, the Thunderbird, the U.S. Open and the PGA—will be televised live over national networks.
In addition, there will be more television exhibition matches this year than ever before. This month Arnold Palmer and Gary Player began a 13-week series called Challenge Golf that will appear on ABC every Saturday and Sunday afternoon until spring. NBC continues its All-Star Golf on Saturday afternoons, and on Sundays will show 11 weeks of Wonderful World of Golf, in which leading American pros play foreigners on the latter's home courses in glorious and fairly living color. All told, this is 50 hours of golf from January through April, and the point arises whether the golfers may not be flirting with overexposure.
At the moment they think not. "There are always more and more new fans, it seems," says Arnold Palmer. If he's right, and he probably is, 1963 is certain to be golf's biggest year.
HOW THE PROFESSIONALS SEE THEMSELVES
Last January we polled the country's touring pros to get their answers to the questions most often debated by galleries. New 150 of them have been asked the same questions. Compare their opinions:
•The most effective golf swing
1963: 1) Palmer 2) Littler 3) Nicklaus
1962: 1) Sanders 2) Snead 3) Bolt
•The best driver
1963: 1) Nicklaus 2) Palmer 3) Jay Hebert
1962: 1) Palmer 2) Jay Hebert 3) Bolt
•The longest driver
1963: 1) Bayer 2) Nicklaus 3) Bondeson
1962: 1) Bayer 2) Harney 3) Souchak
•The best long-iron player
1963: 1) Palmer 2) Jay Hebert 3) Nicklaus
1962: 1) Palmer 2) Jay Hebert 3) Snead
•The best middle-iron player
1963: 1) Littler 2) Rodgers 3) Bolt
1962: 1) Tie: Littler and Bolt 3) Maxwell
•The best short-iron player
1963: 1) Maxwell 2) Ford 3) Casper
1962: 1) Maxwell 2) Littler 3) Barber
•The best putter
1963: 1) Casper 2) Palmer 3) Nicklaus
1962: 1) Casper 2) Sanders 3) Barber
•The best player under pressure
1963: 1) Palmer 2) Nicklaus 3) Casper
1962: 1) Palmer 2) Player 3) Sanders
•The best teacher
1963: 1) Jay Hebert 2) Dickinson 3) Kroll
1962: 1) Kroll 2) Dickinson 3) Barber
•The best out of trouble
1963: 1) Palmer 2) Ford 3) Sanders
1962: 1) Palmer 2) Ford 3) Casper
WHO'LL LEAD THE MONEY WINNERS
1962 Actual Finish