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Battle For The Amateur

So Patton went out, and so ended one of the most remarkable chapters in the entire history of golf. It was the first time over a stretch of four and a half months—since his sudden emergence in the Masters—that Patton had been outscored by any golfer he had been paired with, and he had been paired in the Masters with Byron Nelson, Lloyd Mangrum, and Jimmy Demaret and in the Open with Claude Harmon, Lew Worsham, and Ben Hogan. "It was just one of those things, that streak, and nobody knew it any better than I did," Patton remarked as he packed up his bags. "I could practically feel that little man riding right on my shoulder. Well, now it's over and my feet are back on the ground, just where they were before this all started." Then Billy Joe Patton, the best thing that has happened to American golf since the invention of the wooden tee, headed home to Morganton, N.C.

The loss of Patton and Ward, so early in the week, was one of the hardest blows, gate-wise and otherwise, inflicted on the Amateur since 1929 when Bobby Jones was eliminated in the first round at Pebble Beach. It was doubly calamitous since so many other "name players" had already been defeated over the hazardous 18-hole route. Charley Coe, Sam Urzetta and Ted Bishop, all former champions, went out in the first round. So did Rex Baxter, without a doubt the most impressive young golfer in the country; through the vagaries of the blind draw, Baxter had the misfortune to meet Patton and lost on the first extra-hole. Willie Turnesa, Bruce Cudd and Joe Conrad were eliminated in the second round, Jimmy Jackson and Hobart Manley in the third, and Doe, Patton's conqueror, in the fourth. On Thursday morning, when the wreckage had been cleared away and the fifth round got underway, Frank Stranahan, who has taken 8 unsuccessful cracks at the Amateur, was installed as the sentimental favorite. That morning Frank was outplayed by Palmer and lost 3 and 1. Then perhaps it could be Bill Campbell's tournament, and that would be popular; Bill, who is getting to be the Craig Wood of amateur golf, had lost in the final of both the British and Canadian championships earlier this year. No, not Campbell either. Out he went in the fifth round, too, soon to be joined after the sixth by Dale Morey, last year's runner-up, and the last of the Walker Cup players, Don Cherry, the crooner. Cherry's stamina in lasting that long was rather wondrous in itself. Don makes it a habit to parlay night club appearances with his tournament appearances—a nice habit it is, too, at around $850 a week—and each morning, at 12:45 a.m., when the other competitors were sleeping, or trying to, Don was playing a floor show at one of Dearborn's smarter clubs. In any event, Don was eliminated by Palmer on Thursday afternoon, and this ruined any chances of a meeting between him and Ed Meister which could have been billed as the Meister-singer engagement. Things had come to such a pass by this time that, in the groggy atmosphere of the locker room, this was received as a fairly bon mot.

Then, just when the tournament seemed most formless, it began to take shape. Arnold Palmer, who had started the week as the leading dark horse, logically became the favorite on Friday, morning of the semifinals. Palmer had been killing giants all week in very tight matches; 1 up over Frank Strafaci in the first round; 3 and 1 over Stranahan; 1 up over Cherry after standing two down with seven to play. A medal player by disposition who even in the throes of a match gauges himself by the number of strokes he is above or below par, Palmer is a puzzling golfer to assess. There is no faulting him as a striker of the ball, but his swing is definitely on the flat side, and he compensates for a tendency to come into the ball with a slightly closed face by riding his right-hand grip well on top of the shaft. Throughout the tournament, Palmer would play four or five holes in a row with great authority. Then he would erase the impression that he is almost as finished a shot-maker as Gene Littler was a year ago by smothering a drive or bumbling unsurely with an explosion shot. He is a sound putter and above all a player of tremendous determination.

On Thursday night when the word that he had gained the semifinals reached Palmer's parents in Latrobe, they climbed into their auto and headed for Detroit. They stopped at a motel in Lodi, Ohio for three quick hours of sleep, then resumed their all-night drive and arrived at the course just as their son was teeing off on his 39-hole marathon with Ed Meister, a solid golfer who captained the Yale golf team in 1940 and now, at 38, publishes trade papers for the fruit industry in Cleveland. Four times—on the 35th, 36th, 37th, and 38th greens—Meister had victory at the tips of his fingers, but failed to hole successive putts of 10, 14, 5 and 16 feet. On the long 39th, after these multiple close calls, Palmer was in a mood to appreciate an opportunity and to seize it. He played one of his best shots, two-iron to the back edge of the green, and was down in two safe putts, and the longest semifinal in Amateur history was over.

In the meantime, in the other semifinal, Sweeny had taken care, 5 and 4, of Ted Lenczyk, the brother of Grace Lenczyk, the 1948 national women's champion. No one seemed precisely certain just how Lenczyk had ghosted his way to the semis and, for that matter, no one had paid much attention to Sweeny. Round by round, he was expected to fall, and round by round he had advanced, defeating first-rate men like Eddie Merrins and Dale Morey, putting beautifully and stroking his shots from tee to green with a lyrical swing that has altered very little if at all since his days at Oxford and his first attempts in the British Amateur. Reaching the final and playing so well in it was a heartening accomplishment for Sweeny. He has never managed to play nearly so well in American tournaments as in Britain and has been extremely well aware that he has always been regarded in this country as slightly less than a topnotch golfer. That should bother him no longer.

On top of this, Bob Sweeny scored another sizable victory. Since the life he leads is quite remote from most Americans—few of whom have the wherewithal to harden themselves for competition in $500 Nassau matches at Seminole—and since his David Niven manner embodies distance as well as charm, American golfers and golf fans have never warmed up to him. They did at Detroit, and one of his staunchest admirers was Arnold Palmer. After the final was over and Palmer had been piped to the clubhouse to the strains of To the Victor—supplied by that Detroit institution, Mr. Finzel's 12-piece military band—a friend inquired what Sweeny had said to him in the morning when he had thrown his arm over Palmer's shoulder as they walked off the fourth green, the scene of Sweeny's third consecutive birdie putt. "Oh," Palmer recollected with a smile. "He told me, 'Arnie, you know there's one consolation. You know I can't keep doing this.' "

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