For 50 years people have been talking about that most amazing climax of all U.S. Open golf championships, in which an unknown 20-year-old Bostonian named Francis Ouimet finished in a tie with the famous British champions, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Now it may be another 50 years before anyone forgets the wild events at last week's 1963 Open Championship, played over the same course to commemorate the golden anniversary of Ouimet's eventual victory in his three-way playoff. Fittingly enough, there was another three-way tie at the end of 72 holes, but only after some of the hairiest, slap-happiest tournament golf since the demise of the gutty ball and the hickory shaft.
This time the playoff winner was 43-year-old Julius Boros, the antithesis of young Ouimet. Boros is a hardened pro with the dimensions (6 feet and 210 pounds) of a linebacker and the temperament of a turtle. Facing Arnold Palmer and young Jacky Cupit in last Sunday's playoff, Boros was the least likely man in the world of golf to be panicked by the 18 holes of awesome competition that lay ahead. To some spectators it looked more as if his main problem was just staying awake until the end of the afternoon.
As the three players started down the first fairway, the landscape of Brookline was finally in a calm and beneficent mood after three days of violent winds that blew golf shots and golf scores every which way. All week birdies had been as scarce as live redcoats on Bunker Hill, but that was just past history as far as phlegmatic Julie Boros was concerned. Firing three birdies on the first nine for a two-under-par 33, he built up a three-stroke lead over Palmer and four over Cupit, a 25-year-old Texan whose four brothers are also golf professionals. On the back nine Boros just kept ambling along, dropping in another birdie on the 17th and finishing with a one-under-par 70, while Palmer, fighting an upset stomach and playing some of the most erratic golf of his spectacular career, blew to a 76 despite four birdies of his own. Cupit, taking the middle road, plodded to a 73, beating out Palmer for second place. For hefty Boros, it meant a hefty purse: $17,500.
As befits the disposition of the winner, it was a placid climax to a hectic weekend. Not since an unknown pro named Sam Parks sneaked in a winner of the Open Championship at Oakmont in 1935 with a score of 299 had the winning score of a major U.S. tournament been so high. The 293 strokes that Boros, Cupit and Palmer took over The Country Club's 72 holes and the other money-winning totals, that climbed as high as 320, caused touring pro Mason Rudolph to muse, "They look like the scores at a caddie tournament."
June 30, 1963
Subpar golf has become a matter of pride among modern professional golfers, and nothing bugs them quite so much as an uncooperative golf course. All last week The Country Club was just that, and it was abetted by the unpredictable winds. "They ought to draw a white line around the course and call it ground under repair," whined one golfer. Former Open Champion Ed Furgol said they should proclaim it a disaster area. When Samuel Wolcott Jr., the president of The Country Club, went into the locker-room bar for a drink, Doug Ford advised him, "If you're sensitive about your golf course, you'd better put plugs in your ears."
Most Country Club members were too polite to answer back, although at least a few of the indictments of the course were either routine gripes or just bad information. One widespread complaint had it that The Country Club had dyed the grass to make the course look presentable. So it had, on three of the greens only—two that had been burned out by winterkill and one on which vandals had painted obscene words just before the tournament began. The strongest public response to all the mutterings came from a Boston sportswriter who blurted in print, "These golfers talk as if they wanted to go big game hunting at the zoo."
Bostonians should not have been surprised at the furor, for it is axiomatic that several days before the Open begins, the columns of the nation's sports pages will carry painful outcries from the contestants about the brutality of the Open course. The rough has been allowed to grow into the fairways to the point where the ball can only be kept in play with a rifle. The greens are as slippery as a ballroom floor. The bunkers are as unplayable as Grand Canyon. The USGA is a monster.
But this year's din of complaint was perhaps the loudest ever. The Country Club is an old-fashioned course in its natural state, shorter than the younger courses where most of the modern championships are played. To make it suitable for the Open, it had to be tightened. Then along came a severe New England winter which burned out patches of fairway grass with a disease known as winterkill. When the golfers arrived at The Country Club for their practice rounds they found spots where even their best shots lodged in tight and difficult lies.
Chick Harbert, a former PGA champion, took one look at Brookline and called it the "Cadillac of golf courses—1911 model." Palmer, trying his nice best to be nice Arnie, refused to be critical until somebody asked about the 470-yard 12th hole. "It's ridiculous," he said. On and on went the comments, like a Greek chorus in full cry.
Nobody, however, was prepared for the kind of resistance that The Country Club actually put up once the tournament began. At the end of Thursday's play only two of the 136 pros and 14 amateurs in the field had broken the par of 71. The 12th hole had lived up to its advance notices. Just five birdies were scored on it the whole day—one of them by Palmer. But the 11th, a 445-yard par-4, had made the 12th seem like a pitch and putt hole. There were seven birdies on 11, but there were also 21 double bogeys or worse as the pros slapped shot upon shot into Horseshoe Pond, an otherwise inoffensive body of water guarding the front of the green.
The wind throughout Thursday had been about 30 knots, the sort of freshening breeze that once gladdened the hearts of Boston sailing captains but does nothing to stimulate Brookline golfers. Nor was it merely the wind and the heavy rough that was responsible for the high scores. The fairway grass was about hall an inch longer than normal. Consequently, iron shots hit to Brookline's tiny greens could not be stopped as sharply or held on line as well as usual. Thus, there were already signs of the trouble yet to come.
By nightfall nobody had much to boast of on the scoreboard, not even the Big Three. Palmer was at 73, Gary Player at 74 and Jack Nicklaus at 76—and every player in the Open was telling himself that he had already gotten his bad round out of his system.
The second day was no better. Palmer, with a magnificent 69, one of his finest rounds of golf this year, was at even-par 142, tied for the lead with Cupit and Dow Finsterwald, who also had a 69. No one was to wring a better score out of this stubborn golf course all week. Meantime, most of the nation's finest golfers were stumbling from tee to green, hacking through the woods and rough. Among those who failed to qualify when the field was cut to the low 50 for the final day was Nicklaus himself, the defending champion. Seldom in his brief career as a pro had Nicklaus made quite such a dismal showing in an important tournament. His driving was erratic, his approach shots off line, and his usually unfaltering putter went completely berserk. Nicklaus had a great deal of distinguished company as he packed his equipment and left Brookline on Friday afternoon. There was Tommy Bolt, the 1958 Open champion; Doug Ford, one of the alltime money winners among the pros; Dr. Cary Middlecoff, twice an Open champion; and Labron Harris Jr., the current National Amateur champion. In fact, not one of the 14 amateurs in the tournament survived the cut. At this point 299 rounds had been played in the Open, and only five of them were under par.
There are certain shocked pros who now contend that those who escaped Friday night were the lucky ones, for U.S. golf has never seen anything to equal what happened during Saturday's 36 holes of play. The day belonged more to March than to June, with a cloudless blue sky and a wind that made the one of the previous day seem like a gentle sea breeze. Some gusts neared 45 knots, and these were swirling blasts that varied across one whole quadrant of the compass, making the planning of a shot more an occult art than a science. At certain holes the wind was actually sucking the sand out of traps and blowing it like a miniature Sahara storm across fairways.
"It was the most difficult wind I have ever played in," Palmer said later. Nonetheless, he started off like a man who intended to put the championship on ice without further ado. Wearing a bright red sweater and light gray slacks, he bounded down the fairway as if he could scarcely wait to hit the ball. He was spraying his shots, to be sure, but for the first time at Brookline his putter was really working. He sank a four-footer for his par at the first, a 30-footer for his par 3 at the 2nd, another four-footer for his par at the 3rd. At the 4th he chipped from the back edge of the green to within an inch of the cup for another par, sank a 15-footer for his par at the 5th and was down in the standard two putts at the 6th for another par. Now, for a brief minute, Palmer had the tournament lead. He was never to have it again.
When he arrived at the 7th hole, a 200-yard par-3, the tee shot was almost dead into the wind that was then blowing out of the southwest. Arnold hit his shot short, into the long rough. He pitched the ball eight feet past the hole and took three putts to get it down from there—a double bogey 5 that put him two over par for the round.
"That's when I found out how fast the greens were," he brooded afterward. "Up until then I hadn't noticed, because all my putts had been going in. Suddenly I realized the wind had dried out the greens, and they were about as slick as any I had ever seen." Many of them, in fact, were faster than Oakmont's famed speedways of last year's Open. Thus, another factor had developed that would raise scores.
Even so, Palmer conceded nothing more to par until he reached the treacherous 11th. Here he hit a two-iron out of the short rough at the edge of the fairway for his second shot, but the wind caught it and plopped it into the pond. By the time Arnold had taken his penalty stroke and three-putted the small green for a triple bogey, he was five over par. He lost another stroke to par on the 14th and finally finished his morning round with a horrendous 77.
In any other Open of modern times, a 77 would cook your goose. But not at Brookline. Palmer was still in a tie for second, only a stroke behind Cupit, who had taken a 76. Also tied for second were Tony Lema, the effervescent young Cali-fornian, and Walter Burkemo, a 44-year-old former PGA champion who nowadays spends most of his time as a club pro. Two strokes further back at eight over par were Paul Harney, Billy Maxwell, Bruce Crampton, Dow Finsterwald and one final fellow, Julius Boros, who was getting some deserved attention.
Why Boros, more than the other four? There was a good reason. In 1952 Boros had won the Open in Dallas, for one thing. But there was more than that. The Open had always been Boros' special challenge, and it always had stimulated his best golf. A Connecticut native of Hungarian extraction, Boros did not turn professional until 1949, at the relatively advanced age of 29. Since then, he had compiled an Open record that far excelled his general performance on the tour. In addition to winning in 1952, he had a second place, two thirds, two fourths and a fifth. His 1952 win in Dallas came in weather and under playing conditions that had the rest of the field fuming. When everyone, including Ben Hogan, wilted in the 98° heat Boros marched coolly on. "You are a magician," said Hogan, who thereafter called him Mandrake. But a large part of the Boros magic was his refusal to get upset about the ever-tough playing conditions of U.S. Open courses. (Boros claims that his serene appearance belies a certain amount of inward tension. "Inside I was pretty nervous during that playoff today," he said Sunday, "although I may not always show it. But I'm human like everyone else. I guess it's just that my personality makeup is a little different than other people's.") Since his 1952 victory, Big Jay, as some of his friends call him, had plodded his quiet way along the tournament trail, earning a good income with his lazy, fluid swing but never making much of a splash. All of a sudden he started playing winning golf again at the Colonial National Invitation in Fort Worth in early May, scored another victory three weeks ago at the Buick Open in Flint, Mich, and was hitting the ball so well there that Jack Burke Jr. said, "If Julius doesn't win the Open this year it will be because somebody cheated."
The clubhouse during the lunch break on Saturday was more a cyclone's eye than a place to get a bit of Brookline's beef hash before attempting the last 18 holes of a U.S. Open. Somebody tried to congratulate Jacky Cupit on his round. "A 76!" stormed Jacky, ignoring the fact that he was the leader. "You're in a good position, Dow," a reporter said to Finsterwald, who turned on a glower that would have wilted grass and, as he exited, he slammed a screen door. "I'm running out of jokes," said Palmer, with that 77 in mind. Jay Hebert had an 83 to brood about, Gene Littler an 80, Mike Souchak an 82, and Tommy Aaron a grotesque 91. George Bayer, an 8 and a 9 on his scorecard, said, "I don't care. I just want to get out of here alive." So it went, an entire Open field cursing itself, the elements, the whole state of Massachusetts and anything else that was handy.
In that mood, everybody went back to the bullying wind, determined to make up ground. This is understandable in a touring professional who has just shot in the high 70s. He feels he needs a string of birdies to return to contention. Many of the leaders seemed to press for the birdies, but birdies were not really required at all, it turned out. Par golf would have won.
Cupit bogeyed the first hole of the afternoon but quickly settled down and parred his way through the rest of the first nine for a 36. At one point Lema was even with Cupit, but he bogeyed the 8th and the 10th holes to drop two strokes behind. Palmer bogeyed three of the first nine holes to drop three strokes back and seemingly fall out of contention.
Yet when Palmer arrived at the 10th hole he sank a long birdie putt that brought an ear-splitting scream from his enormous gallery, and the anticipation that this volatile man generates grew intense. People dashed from all over the course to join Arnie's army.
"Daddy," a Boston teen-ager said to his father, "aren't you and mummy going to the wedding this afternoon?"
"We can't," his father replied. "Too exciting here."
He was right. Boros, who seemed to have lost all chances when he dunked a shot into Horseshoe Pond, unemotionally birdied the 70th and 71st holes and finished with a score of 293—nine over par. He then sauntered into the locker room, ordered a glass of beer and began reading his mail.
Next it was Palmer's turn. Thanks to a couple of bogeys by Cupit, Arnold arrived at the par-3 16th only a single stroke out of the lead. Palmer's tee shot here left him a curling 20-foot putt to the hole and, as he stepped up to it, one of his army remarked, "He's due for one of these long ones. He's been putting so well these last few holes." Palmer thereupon stroked the ball firmly into the center of the cup, and by all odds the loudest cheer of the tournament came from his army. Now Arnold was tied with Cupit for the lead—at eight over par.
At just that moment Cupit was looking over a 25-foot chip shot from the long rough at the edge of the 15th green, not 200 yards from where Palmer's roar had emerged. He heard the noise, and he knew what had happened. Yet he took out his sand wedge and chipped this difficult shot into the hole for a birdie of his own. He was once again in the lead—seven over par.
It was the 17th hole, a relatively simple dogleg to the left of 365 yards, that finally brought the championship into a three-way tie. One of the major criticisms of The Country Club course was the four weak finishing holes, and the 17th was among the weakest of these. A well-placed tee shot with a three-wood left only an easy wedge to the green for the strong hitters.
Here Lema took a bogey 5 by hooking his second into a trap and thus fell out of contention.
Here Palmer three-putted a few moments later, missing an 18-incher, to slip two strokes behind Cupit and apparently lose all hope.
And here Cupit, playing just behind Palmer, took a double-bogey 6 to set up the Sunday playoff that made Boros the new Open champion.
Old men sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch of The Country Club and watching all this remembered that 50 years ago Harry Vardon came to grief at this same 71st hole, thus bringing about the three-way playoff between himself, Ray and Ouimet. Saturday made the 1963 Open almost as memorable as the one 50 years before, and it is certainly to be hoped that the excitement will linger long after the controversy about the golf course. To be sure, there were fairways that were far from ideal, but everyone—as the cliché goes—was playing the same course.
Also, there were never better hosts than the Bostonians, who worked so hard to make this tournament a success. New England charm and courtesy, so evident in the galleries, was a welcome treat to those who must spend a good deal of time in other parts of the country. In the long run, the visitors to Francis Ouimet's country club will recall the environment and forget their scores. And what is so wrong with a 293? It was good enough for Big Jay.