It was another chapter in that continuing story of Arnold Palmer's efforts to find happiness in middle age and save professional tournament golf from these Dave Stocktons. And it was an episode with the same old ending. You know that one. Arnold hangs in, makes a slight move and the kid weakens. Arnold moves close, closer, and the thundering herds go mad, mad, mad. Arnold then stands still and Dave Stockton wins. Tune in next year.
So it went last week on an elegant but brutal course called Southern Hills in normally quiet and peaceful Tulsa. The crowds pulled and tromped and prayed and yearned and leaned in Palmer's behalf as the 40-year-old hero tried once again to win the PGA Championship, the one major title that has escaped him. But he didn't do enough apparently, because he lost it again.
Palmer bore down and went after it in the sort of "mood to win" that people have seen him in before in Augusta and other places of his past glories. He even had a club he seldom uses, a four-wood which would get him out of the thick Bermuda rough. He even had a "cheat sheet," a yardage and diagram chart of the course. And he even had lighter woods for swinging easier and keeping the distance. "I'm trying everything," he explained.
What he didn't have was the lukewarm putter he needed. And without that, even on a punishing track like Southern Hills, he wasn't about to overtake a young man as revved up and possessed as Dave Stockton. From tee to green, Stockton played the kind of golf that wouldn't win him much money in a municipal gangsome, but he had a charcoaled putter, as, indeed, he has been known to have on occasion. And, despite the thrust of the Tulsa Daily World, which had lumped him with the "unknowns" leading the tournament on the second day, he had the right attitude.
August 23, 1970
"Nobody can putt and chip better than I can," he said after Saturday's third-round 66, which put him five ahead of Palmer and all his sentimental legions from Tulsa. "I just feel like I'm going to win. I'm putting great, and the bad holes aren't bothering me. I've been in the woods and in the bunkers, and I've even shanked a shot. But it hasn't bothered me. I just bounce back."
And so he did. Stockton would listen to the plaintive calls for Arnie and only try harder himself. He'd flog one into the woods or into a bunker, but he would squirt it out one way or another and ram home a putt, and Palmer would get nothing.
He played a fascinating four-hole stretch on the front nine Sunday that told it all. With Arnold always lurking there over birdie putts that refused to fall, Stockton rolled in a 30-footer for a birdie at the 6th (seemingly his 1,000th 30-footer of the week), and followed this up by holing out a 120-yard wedge shot for an eagle deuce at the 7th, and he followed this up with a horrible double bogey at the 8th, whereupon he followed that up by coming out of a fairway bunker for a birdie at the 9th. This meant Stockton had gone birdie, eagle, double bogey, birdie and closed, opened, and then closed the door again on his bewildered playing companion, Palmer.
Stockton, a 28-year-old Californian who has won only three tournaments in his six years on the tour, staved off Palmer and a fast-closing Bob Murphy on the final nine holes on Sunday with a hectic and close to panic-stricken performance. He struggled inwardly to a final-round 73 and to a 72-hole total of 279, which won him the championship by two strokes. He even bogeyed the last two holes, which means that his lead was luxurious enough that he could afford so unglamorous a flourish. It was a whimpering finish to say the least, but it was all he needed.
The one moment of minidrama came at the 13th hole, an enormous par-4 of 470 yards with water in front of the green. There Dave hooked into the water, and Palmer had his usual 25-footer for a birdie. A Palmer birdie and a Stockton double bogey right here, folks, and it really might have been, finally, Palmer's year in the PGA.
Stockton, however, calmly and quickly hit a great pitch shot (his 1,000th of the week) to within two feet of the cup for a bogey, and Palmer settled for a par, so the one meager stroke Arnold got was of little consequence.
"I knew I had it then," Dave said later. "That was the shot."
You could total it up at that point. Palmer had finished second in the PGA for the third time in his career. (His Army may be surprised to learn that it was his 10th second-place finish in major championships. He has eight firsts.) And the PGA had another young man, like all of those Al Geibergers, for a champion. Name of Stockton. Friend of Geiberger.
In every way Southern Hills fretted and worked to see that the championship was run smoothly and better than any other PGA—and the club succeeded. The tournament didn't have the atmosphere of the tired old PGA Championship. It had more class than that. It was more like a U.S. Open in the look of the club and the course and in the general conduct of the tournament.
Southern Hills is simply one of the truly fine and beautiful clubs in the country. The large, elegant white clubhouse sits on a hill surrounded by elms, and the course swoops down below, winding through trees and creeks. From high points one can see the small but polished city of Tulsa popping up over the treetops. The mood of it all is old but not ancient—roomy, classy, quiet and, well, rich.
To people of the Southwest, Southern Hills has been famed as a great golf course and fine club since it was built in 1935. In 1958 it got national recognition as the host to the U.S. Open, the one Tommy Bolt captured. It got another boost in 1965 when it held the U.S. Amateur that Bob Murphy won. And now it has staged the PGA.
Southern Hills falls splendidly into the category of clubs that have marvelous courses and facilities, not to forget hardworking members who like to put on a good tournament. Clubs like Cherry Hills, Oakland Hills, Oakmont, Winged Foot and Merion. It does not yet have their prestige, but it should—and will.
Typical of Southern Hills" enthusiasm for the PGA Championship was the way the club tried to dazzle the visiting writers. When 10 straight days of over-100° heat in Tulsa had left the press—as well as real people—worried about the weather for this tournament, Southern Hills decided to change it. They hauled in 100 tons of air conditioning for the blue-and-white-striped press tent, decorated the posts and ceiling wires with Christmas icicles, placed huge cardboard snowmen outside the entrace doors and ran around serving champagne breakfasts to the literati. The club even gave considerable thought to how it ought to dress for the PGA. They hired Designer Bill Blass to outfit the lady scorers and the 400 other tournament volunteers in simple white dresses, trimmed in blue, with wide-brimmed hats.
The PGA Championship, which of course is one of the four major pro tournaments of the year, may one day be able to look back and see that in Tulsa it regained much of its faded importance. It has been rattling around on too many Columbines and Pecan Valleys for too long. Southern Hills marked a turn for the better.
The PGA has some other prestige places lined up for future championships. Oakland Hills in 1972, for example, and perhaps Canterbury in 1973. First, however, the championship must go to Palm Beach Gardens in Florida next February. That is the PGA's own golf club near Palm Beach, and it is a good one, if not the best that the late Dick Wilson ever designed. But February? It's interesting to consider what that means.
Among other things, it means that the PGA Championship in 1971 will be the first rather than the last of the Big Four, that it will precede even the Masters. The decision to play it then was not an attempt by the PGA to take any glory away from Augusta, as some at first believed, nor to explore the publicity possibilities of that earlier date. The fact is, it was written into the contract the PGA has with the owner of Palm Beach Gardens that the big championship had to be played there "sometime." February of "sometime" was the best month for the course, so six months from now there'll be another PGA Championship. Then things will return to normal again for '72 and thereafter.
One of the fascinating little problems created by the PGA being in February next year concerns the Masters. Which PGA champion would Augusta invite in '71—the one crowned at Southern Hills or the one crowned in Palm Beach Gardens? Well, it has decided to invite both—the low eight from Tulsa but only the winner from Palm Beach Gardens. On the other hand, the Palm Beach winner will have a longer ride as champion than any PGA champion ever. He will hold the title for a year and a half and be qualified for two Masters, U.S. Opens and British Opens.
At the same time, the Southern Hills champion will have the shortest reign of glory since President Garfield. For what everyone had to go through on the rugged Southern Hills layout, that hardly seems like enough. It was a course that could hold its own in any measure of what a great course is supposed to be. It had hills and dips, huge trees guarding entrances to old-fashioned bent-grass greens, and nearly every fairway had a bend, shaded creeks and ditches and ponds to look out for and matted Bermuda rough that was especially troublesome because the ball could sink down into it.
The course took its toll of many a good player, slowly putting Jack Nicklaus and Bill Casper and Dave Hill and the like out of contention. Those who didn't hit consistently straight last week could forget about their chances. What saved those who hung in there was the fact that the little greens did hold a good shot. The ball would bite into the bent and back up, as it did for Raymond Floyd and Dave Stockton on Saturday when they shot record-breaking rounds of 65 and 66 respectively.
Southern Hills, like most older courses, which seem always to be the best, offered the sort of variety in shotmaking that forced the golfer to think and plan and keep steadily busy. He would go from short approaches over trees to let-out holes where he had to reach for the three-wood and hammer the ball.
The 12th and 13th holes became crucial. At the 12th the golfer had to face a dogleg to the left off the tee, being fearful of a row of trees on the left and a slight hill on the right. Then his approach had to sneak down between some elms onto a small green that sat just behind a creek crossing in front. Here was the hole that destroyed Palmer on Friday when he was strolling around with a two-stroke lead on the field, acting like this was 1964 or something.
Arnold hit his second into the creek, but it didn't go all the way down. It hung on some soggy weeds. Up went his trousers to his knees, and he waded in to play it, perhaps unwisely. But he was leading and probably thought that, well, since this is obviously the old days, I'll just make a 3. He took a mighty slap at the marsh weeds, but to his surprise the ball moved only a few groaning feet. He made a double-bogey 6, a disaster from which he couldn't recover no matter how hard the Tulsa members of his nostalgic Army rooted.
As it turned out, those two shots could be called the two that Arnold lost by. Those two that the 12th hole took away from him on Friday, just when it had looked like the old days.
And in the end, the soap-opera stuff wasn't for Arnold at all. It was for Dave Stockton. There on the scenic 18th as Dave knelt down on the green, he looked at his short putt for a par and knew he could three-putt it and still win, and he thought: "I'm the PGA champion. I've done it." Then he looked across the green and saw his wife, Cathy, and he cried.
So did Arnie's Army. But, oh, well, they're used to it.