When artist Francis Golden was sent by SI to the 1966 U.S. Open at San Francisco's Olympic Club, he thought he would be covering just another golf tournament. "I photographed whatever I wanted to," recalls Golden, who used the photos for reference when he painted. "Mostly I meandered, looking for good background stuff."
Golden's trip turned out to be anything but ordinary, and by Sunday he was focusing not on background stuff but on front-and-center action in one of the greatest collapses in sports history, as Arnold Palmer squandered a seven-shot lead over the final nine holes to force a playoff with Billy Casper. In the playoff, Palmer blew a two-shot advantage with nine holes to play, and Casper won his second Open. Golden produced a series of watercolors of the duel for a preview story for the 1967 Open.
This year the Open returns to Olympic, and for the occasion we offer Rick Reilly's story on Palmer's dramatic loss to Casper (page 62) with new illustrations by Golden. Design director Steven Hoffman hoped Golden could make his second look at the '66 Open as fresh as the first, and the artist cheerfully accepted that mission. "It was like old home week, going back to those 21-year-old Kodachromes, and painting Arnie and Billy the way I used to," Golden says. "But it did feel fresh to me. We picked different moments and—if there's a major difference—I probably simplified the scenes this time to zero in more on the golfers and what they were feeling."
A native of Adams, Mass., Golden, now 70, got one of his first jobs in New York as part of a crew of artists painting backgrounds for a Salvador Dali mural at the 1939 World's Fair. He has done more than 250 golf illustrations for us, including those in our series of golf tips by Jack Nicklaus.
June 14, 1987
Through his work on that series, Golden came to know almost as much about the Golden Bear's swing as Nicklaus did, but the artist never took up the game himself. "I just never got around to it," he says. "Fishing appealed to me more. When I went to see Jack, we'd finish our work and he'd ask, 'Do you want to play golf or go fishing?' I always had him take me fishing." SI took Golden fishing, too; many readers will recall his paintings that accompanied articles on trout fishing and surf casting, as well as those on falconry and grouse hunting.
Golden has given up the boat he once used for pursuing bluefish and bass in Long Island Sound, but he still fishes for trout near his home in Weston, Conn. And he still paints every day. But he doesn't play golf.