Arnie's '60 victory to be relived on Masters Sunday
It's a month away, but I can already tell you that Masters Sunday will be special. I know this because it's going to begin with Arnold Palmer winning the Masters.
The 1960 Masters, that is. "I wanted two generations to see what the magic was all about," said CBS golf commentator Jim Nantz, the man who made this resurrection possible.
We'll be able to re-live the '60 Masters, one of the more exciting finishes in history, because Nantz pried the original broadcast footage loose from the Augusta National vault, went to the incredible time and expense of having it colorized, and turned it into a one-hour show that CBS will air as the lead-in to its Sunday final-round Masters coverage.
This is footage that has never been aired since its original broadcast. The best part is, it's not presented in a highlight package with talking heads. It's shown as if it was a live telecast, featuring host Jim McKay (who left CBS later to join some upstart show known as ABC's Wide World of Sports -- wonder what ever became of him?) with coverage of the last four holes.
I watched a screening of the finished product and offer this advice: Don't miss it. The 1960 Masters had it all. A classic Arnold Palmer charge and Ken Venturi's agony of defeat. The old guard -- Hogan and Snead -- and a young gun -- some amateur named Nicklaus. There was a minor rules controversy. There was an innovative new scoring system for television invented by CBS director Frank Chirkinian. And there was the great man himself, Bobby Jones, the legendary founder of Augusta National and the Masters Tournament, holding court as the host of cabin festivities.
This show is a slice of golf history and a classic piece of broadcast history. If you hate goose bumps or nostalgia, don't watch. This show, a labor of love for Nantz, is one "Wow!" after another. Here's a short list of reasons to watch:
• The gaffe that almost cost Palmer the Masters. I had read about, but never before seen the incident at the 16th hole. Palmer is one stroke behind Venturi, who has already finished. At the par-3 16th, he's got a 30-foot uphill putt to a back pin placement. He chose to leave the pin in when he putted -- yeah, that was still legal then. He rolled a superb putt that was dead-center but hit the pin flush and kicked out six inches. Watching the footage, I'd rate it a 90 percent chance that without the pin, Arnie's putt is in. You can see from his reaction that he realizes his tactic backfired and just might cost him the Masters.
• Arnold Palmer at 30 is a lot like Tiger Woods. He bashes the ball amazing distances and putts like a genius. At the 17th, Arnie's got a 20-foot uphill birdie putt. It looks as if he's left it short but the ball rolls out and barely topples in while announcer Jim McArthur makes a Verne Lundquist-type call: "It's up and up and up and up ... and in!" Palmer half runs, half dances to the cup to pull out the ball, like Tiger after that putt at Valhalla only without the finger-pointing. At 18, Palmer stiffs his 5-iron approach, spinning behind the hole and stopping it about five feet away. He makes the putt, of course, for the win.
• More about Arnie. He is repeatedly seen puffing like a chimney with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. It looked cool in 1960, now it makes you cringe. Palmer was paired with Billy Casper, who played first from the 18th fairway and hit a shot to three feet. Before Palmer hit, Casper walked over and said something encouraging, like knock it close. Can you imagine Tiger doing that to, say, Chris DiMarco? On the green, Palmer let Casper putt out first while he walked over just off the green and -- I'm not kidding, you'll see it on the video -- spread out on the grass.
• Ken Venturi comes through. Venturi makes a clutch par on the 18th to finish at five under par. When he taps in a testy two-footer, he holds his pose and pauses for a moment because he thought he had finally captured his Holy Grail, the Masters.
• 'Old' Ben Hogan. Hogan is seen playing to the 18th green, a pretty good shot. McKay refers to him as "old Ben Hogan" because he's the ancient age of 47. Unfortunately, CBS never shows him putting out.
• The scoring flap. McKay earns bonus points for bringing up a scoring issue regarding Dow Finsterwald, who was paired with Venturi in the final round and in the thick of contention. Finsterwald dropped a ball and hit some practice putts after putting out on a green during the first round, an error he confessed to the next day. Instead of being disqualified for signing for an incorrect score, as he would be today, Masters officials assessed him a two-shot penalty and let him finish the tournament, which he nearly won.
• Two for the show. Groups weren't paired Sunday by score. So there were six pairings behind Palmer. The next group was Sam Snead and amateur Jack Nicklaus. Snead holes a 40-foot putt from the fringe. Then Nicklaus walks by the camera and McKay introduces him to viewers as the national amateur champion from Columbus, Ohio, and says he's been told this kid "has a great future." The myth about Nicklaus always making his putt on the 18th green? He sinks an 18-footer for birdie here, too.
• Pass the hedgeclippers. Augusta National looks surprisingly mangy compared to the way it's maintained now. Even on shots from the fairway, you wonder, "Didn't they mow the grass?" The areas around the bunkers were intentionally left rough and uncut, a very different look from the sharp-edged, perfectly manicured conditions today. The greens were still Bermuda grass and much, much slower.
• Ken and Mr. Jones. The post-round ceremony held in the cabin is presided over by Jones and you get to enjoy his thick Southern drawl. He actually isn't bad, much less stilted than some of his predecessors who froze up on camera, like Hord Hardin and Jack Stephens. Jones calls Venturi's effort "lion-hearted" and both Palmer and Venturi get to say a few emotional words.
• Six under. Chirkinian, who went on to direct 38 Masters telecasts for CBS, devised a new scoring system to keep track of what was going on in the past. Previously, the scoring was aggregate. So someone would finish at 279 and a player on the course would be said to be at 258 and you'd have to do the math in your head. Chirkinian came up with the score in relation to par -- plus or minus -- and it quickly became the game's standard. CBS also devised rudimentary graphics showing the scores.
• Don't tell Ted Turner. The colorizing, which had never been done to a sports telecast before, was remarkable. I thought it would've been fine in black and white but the show opens with black and white footage and then Nantz announces the colorization and when the screen changes from gray to green and Augusta's colors come to life, it's a true goose-bump moment.
Nantz showed the telecast to Palmer and Chirkinian in December and said both men were pretty emotional watching it again. Nantz brought cameras to film Arnie's reaction and interviews the obviously choked-up Arnie at the end. In February, Nantz premiered the finished product at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles. Bel-Air members attended, along with Palmer and Venturi, who is recovering from heart bypass surgery. Palmer and Nantz met with reporters the next day to discuss the telecast.
"I can't tell you how important it is what Jim has done here," Palmer said. "We really had one of the great evenings of all time."
Nantz said the project came about when he was being wooed by another network. In a meeting with CBS president Les Moonves, he was asked what else he wanted. Nantz pitched him his idea about doing a show leading into the final-round Masters telecast, and what he wanted to do with the show, which was resurrect footage from Augusta National's archives. "Do it," said Moonves.
Nantz hopes to do a whole series of similar flashback shows. He kicked it off last year with a one-hour review of the 1986 Masters won by Nicklaus. Next year, he's planning to feature one of Gary Player's wins. This April, however, the spotlight belongs to Palmer. And plenty of good seats are still available.