They were the most astonishing four hours in golf since Mary, Queen of Scots, found out what dormie meant and invented the back nine. And now, given 18 years of reflection, they still seem as significant to the game as, for instance, the day Arnold Palmer began hitching up his trousers, or the moment Jack Nicklaus decided to thin down and let his hair fluff, or that interlude in the pro shop when Ben Hogan selected his first white cap.
Small wonder that no sportswriter was capable of outlining it against a bright blue summer sky and letting the four adjectives ride again: It was too big, too wildly exciting, too crazily suspenseful, too suffocatingly dramatic. What exactly happened? Oh, not much, Just a routine collision of three decades at one historical intersection.
On that afternoon, in the span of just 18 holes, we witnessed the arrival of Nicklaus, the coronation of Palmer and the end of Hogan. Nicklaus was a 20-year-old amateur who would own the 1970s. Palmer was a 30-year-old pro who would dominate the 1960s. Hogan was a 47-year-old immortal who had overwhelmed the 1950s. While they had a fine supporting cast, it was primarily these three men who waged war for the U.S. Open title on that Saturday of June 18, 1960.
The battle was continuous, under a steaming Colorado sun at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Things happened to the three of them and around them—all over the place—from about 1:45 until the shadows began to lengthen over the elms and cottonwoods, the wandering creek and yawning lake of Cherry Hills, host to our grandest championship.
June 12, 1994
In those days there was something in sport known as Open Saturday. It is no longer a part of golf, thanks to television—no thanks, actually. But it was a day like no other: a day on which the best golfers in the world were required to play 36 holes because it had always seemed to the USGA that a prolonged test of physical and mental stamina should go into the earning of the game's most important title. Thus, Open Saturday lent itself to wondrous comebacks and horrendous collapses, and it provided a full day's ration of every emotion familiar to the athlete competing under pressure for a prize so important as to be beyond the comprehension of most people.
Open Saturday had been an institution with the USGA since its fourth annual championship, in 1898. There had been thrillers before 1960. Saturdays that had tested the Bobby Joneses, Walter Hagens, Gene Sarazens, Harry Vardons, Francis Ouimets, Byron Nelsons, Sam Sneads—and, of course, the Ben Hogans—not to forget the occasional unknowns like John L. Black, Roland Hancock and Lee Mackey, all of them performing in wonderfully predictable and unexpectedly horrible ways, and so writing the history of the game in that one event, the National Open.
But any serious scholar of the sport, or anyone fortunate enough to have been there at Cherry Hills, is aware that the Open Saturday of Arnold, Ben and Jack was something very special—a U.S. Open that in meaning for the game continues to dwarf all of the others.
The casual fan will remember 1960 as the year that old Arnie won when he shot a 65 in the last round and became the real Arnold Palmer. Threw his visor in the air, smoked a bunch of cigarettes, chipped in, drove a ball through a tree trunk, tucked in his shirttail and lived happily ever after with Winnie and President Eisenhower.
And that is pretty much what happened. But there is a constant truth about tournament golf: Other men have to lose a championship before one man can win it. And never has the final 18 of an Open produced as many losers as Cherry Hills did in 1960. When it was over, there were as many stretcher cases as there were shouts of "Whoo-ha, go get 'em, Arnie!" And that stood to reason after you considered that in those insane four hours Palmer came from seven strokes off the lead and from 15th place to grab a championship he had never even been in contention for.
Naturally, Palmer had arrived in Denver as the favorite. Two months earlier he had taken his second Masters with what was beginning to be known to the wire services as a "charge." He had almost been confirmed as The Player of the New Era, though not quite. But as late as noon on Open Saturday, after three rounds of competition, you would hardly have heard his name mentioned in Denver. A list of the leaders through 54 holes shows how hopeless his position seemed.
The scoreboard read:
MIKE SOUCHAK 68-67-73-208
JULIUS BOROS 73-69-68-210
DOW FINSTERWALD 71-69-70-210
JERRY BARBER 69-71-70-210
BEN HOGAN 75-67-69-211
JACK NICKLAUS 71-71-69-211
JACK FLECK 70-70-72-212
JOHNNY POTT 75-68-69-212
DON CHERRY 70-71-71-212
GARY PLAYER 70-72-71-213
SAM SNEAD 72-69-73-214
BILLY CASPER 71-70-73-214
DUTCH HARRISON 74-70-70-214
BOB SHAVE 72-71-71-214
ARNOLD PALMER 72-71-72-215
Right up until the last hole of the first 18 on Saturday, this Open had belonged exclusively to Mike Souchak, a long-hitting, highly popular pro who seldom allowed his career to get in the way of a social engagement. His blazing total of 135 after 36 holes was an Open record. And as he stood on the 18th tee of Saturday's morning round, he needed only a par 4 for a 71 and a four-stroke lead.
Then came an incident that gave everyone a foreboding about the afternoon. On Souchak's backswing, a camera clicked loudly. Souchak's drive soared out of bounds, and he took a double-bogey 6 for a 73. He never really recovered from the jolt. While the lead would remain his well into the afternoon—long after Arnold had begun his sprint—you could see Souchak painfully allowing the tournament to slip away from him. He was headed for the slow death of a finishing 75 and another near miss, like the one he had experienced the previous year in the Open at Winged Foot.
Much has been written about Arnold Palmer in the locker room at Cherry Hills between rounds on Open Saturday. It has become a part of golfing lore. As it happened, I was there, one of four people with Arnold. Two of the others were golfers—Ken Venturi and Bob Rosburg, who were even further out of the tournament than Palmer—and the fourth was Bob Drum, a writer then with the Pittsburgh Press. It was a position that allowed Drum to enjoy the same close relationship with Palmer that The Atlanta Journal's O.B. Keeler once had with Bobby Jones.
It was too hot to believe that you could actually see snowcaps on the Rockies on the skyline. As Palmer, Venturi and Rosburg sat in the locker room, there was no talk at all of who might win, only of how short and inviting the course was playing, of how Mike Souchak, with the start he had, would probably shoot 269 if the tournament were a Pensacola Classic instead of the Open.
Arnold was cursing the first hole at Cherry Hills, a 346-yard par-4 with an elevated tee. Three times he had just missed driving the green. As he left to join Paul Harney for their 1:42 starting time on the final 18, the thing on his mind was trying to drive that green. It would be his one Cherry Hills accomplishment.
"If I drive the green and get a birdie or an eagle, I might shoot 65," Palmer said. "What'll that do?"
Drum said, "Nothing. You're too far back."
"It would give me 280," Palmer said. "Doesn't 280 always win the Open?"
"Yeah, when Hogan shoots it," Drum said, laughing heartily at his own wit. Drum was a large Irishman with a P.A. system for a voice and a gag writer's knowledge of diplomacy.
Arnold lingered at the doorway, looking at us as if he were waiting for a better exit line.
"Go on, boy," Drum said. "Get out of here. Go make your seven or eight birdies and shoot 73. I'll see you later."
Drum had been writing Palmer stories since Palmer was the West Pennsylvania amateur champion. On a Fort Worth paper I had been writing Hogan stories for 10 years, but I had also become a friend of Palmer's because I was a friend of Drum's.
Palmer left the room, but we didn't, for the simple reason that Mike Souchak, the leader, would not start his last round for another 15 or 20 minutes. But the fun began before that, when word drifted back that Palmer had indeed driven the first green and two-putted for a birdie. He had not carried the ball 346 yards in the air, but he had nailed it good enough for it to burn a path through the high weeds the USGA had nurtured in front of the green to prevent just such a thing from happening. Palmer had in fact barely missed his eagle putt from 20 feet.
Frankly, we thought nothing of it. Nor did we think much of the news that Arnold had chipped in from 35 feet for a birdie at the second. What did get Bob Drum's attention was the distant thunder, which signaled that Arnold had birdied the 3rd hole. We were standing near the putting green by the clubhouse, and we had just decided to meander out toward Souchak when Drum said, "Care to join me at the 4th hole?"
I said, "He's still not in the golf tournament."
"He will be," Drum said.
And rather instinctively we broke into a downhill canter.
As we arrived at the green, Palmer was drilling an 18-foot birdie putt into the cup. He was now four under through 4, two under for the championship, only three strokes behind Souchak, and there were a lot of holes left to play.
We stooped under the ropes at the 5th tee and awaited Arnold's entrance. He came in hitching up the pants and gazed down the fairway. Spotting us, he strolled over.
"Fancy seeing you here," he said with a touch of slyness.
Then he drank the rest of my Coke, smoked one of my cigarettes and failed to birdie the hole, a par-5. On the other hand he more than made up for it by sinking a curving 25-footer for a birdie at the par-3 6th. At the 7th he hit another splendid wedge to within six feet of the flag. He made the putt. And the cheers that followed told everybody on the golf course that Arnold Palmer had birdied six of the first seven holes.
It was history-book stuff. And yet for all of those heroics it was absolutely unreal to look up at a scoreboard out on the course and learn that Arnold Palmer still wasn't leading the Open. Some kid named Jack Nicklaus was. That beefy guy from Columbus paired with Hogan, playing two groups ahead of Palmer. The amateur. Out in 32. Five under now for the tournament.
Bob Drum sized up the scoreboard for everyone around him.
"The fat kid's five under, and the whole world's four under," he said.
That was true one minute and not true the next. By the whole world Drum meant Palmer, Hogan, Souchak, Boros, Fleck, Finsterwald, Barber, Cherry, etc. It was roughly 3:30 then, and for the next half hour it was impossible to know who was leading, coming on, falling back or what. Palmer further complicated things by taking a bogey at the 8th. He parred the 9th and was out in a stinging 30, live under on the round. But in harsh truth, as I suggested to Bob Drum at the time, he was still only three under for the tournament and two strokes off the pace of Nicklaus or Boros or Souchak—possibly all three. And God knows, I said, what Hogan, Fleck and Cherry were doing while we were there talking.
Fleck had put almost the same kind of torch to Cherry Hills' front nine holes that Palmer had. Fleck had birdied five of the first six, with a bogey included. He would wind up in what would look like a 200-way tie for third place at 283. Cherry, the other amateur in contention, was the last man with a chance. There was a moment in the press tent when everyone was talking about Palmer's victory, and somebody calculated that Don Cherry could shoot 33 on the back nine and win. Cherry was due to finish shortly after dark. He quickly made a couple of bogeys, however, and that was that. But meanwhile we were out on the course thinking about Palmer's chances in all of this when Drum made his big pronouncement of the day.
"My man's knocked 'em all out," he said. "They just haven't felt the shock waves yet."
History has settled for Bob Drum's analysis, and perhaps that is the truth of the matter after all. The story of the 1960 Open has been compressed into one sentence: Arnold Palmer birdied six of the first seven holes and won.
But condensations kill. What is missing is everything that happened after four o'clock. The part about Mike Souchak losing the lead for the first time only after he bogeyed the 9th hole. The part about Nicklaus blowing the lead he held all by himself when he took three ghastly putts from only 10 feet at the 13th. This was the first real indication that they were all coming back to Palmer now, for Nicklaus's bogey dropped him into a four-way tie with Palmer, Boros and Fleck.
But so much more is still missing. Nicklaus's inexperience as a young amateur cost him another three-putt bogey at the 14th hole, and so, as suddenly as he had grabbed the lead, he was out of it. Then it was around 4:45, and Palmer was sharing the lead with Hogan and Fleck, at four under. But like Nicklaus, Fleck would leave it on the greens. Boros had started leaving it on the greens and in the bunkers somewhat earlier. He was trapped at the 14th and the 18th, and in between he blew a three-footer. In the midst of all this Palmer was playing a steady back side of one birdie and eight pars on the way to his 65. And until the last two holes of the championship, the only man who had performed more steadily than Palmer, or seemed to be enduring the Open stress with as much steel as he, was—no surprise—Ben Hogan.
It was close to 5:30 when Hogan and Palmer were alone at four under in the championship, and the two of them, along with everybody else—literally everyone on the golf course—had wound upon the 17th hole, the 71st of the tournament.
The 17th at Cherry Hills is a long, straightaway par-5, 548 yards, with a green fronted by an evil pond. In 1960 it was a drive, a layup and a pitch. And there they all were. Hogan and Nicklaus contemplating their pitch shots as the twosome of Boros and Player waited to hit their second shots, while the two-some of Palmer and Paul Harney stood back on the tee.
Hogan was faced with a delicate shot of about 50 yards to a pin that was sitting altogether too close to the water for him to try anything risky. Ben had hit 34 straight greens in regulation that Saturday. He needed only a par-par finish for a 69, which would have been his third consecutive subpar round in the tournament. He had to think this might be his last real chance to capture another Open. And nobody understood better than Hogan what it meant to reach the clubhouse first with a good score in a major championship.
Armed with this expertise as I knelt in the rough and watched Hogan address the shot, I brilliantly whispered to Drum:
"He probably thinks he needs another birdie with Arnold behind him, but I'll guarantee you, Ben'll be over the water." At which point Hogan hit the ball in the water.
He made a bogey 6. And in trying to erase that blunder on the 18th with a huge drive, which might produce a birdie, he hooked his tee shot into the lake and suffered a triple-bogey 7. Only 30 minutes after he had been a co-leader with just two holes to go, Hogan finished in a tie for ninth place, four strokes away.
Second place then was left to the 20-year-old with the crew cut, and Nicklaus's score of 282 remains the lowest total ever posted by an amateur in the Open.
All in all, these were tremendous performances by an aging Hogan and a young Nicklaus. The two of them had come the closest to surviving Palmer's shock waves.
It was later on, back in the locker room, long after Palmer had slung his visor in the air for the photographers, that Ben Hogan said the truest thing of all about the day. Ben would know best.
He said, "I guess they'll say I lost it. Well, one more foot, and the wedge on 17 would have been perfect. But I'll tell you something. I played 36 holes today with a kid who should have won this Open by 10 shots."
Jack Nicklaus would start winning major titles soon enough as a pro, of course. But wasn't it nice to have Arnold around first?
This is one of 40 classic Sports Illustrated stories to be presented during 1994 as a special bonus to our readers in celebration of our 40th anniversary.
"The fat kid's five under," Drum said, "and the whole world's four under.