Destiny's New Favorite: Palmer beats Nicklaus and Hogan at Cherry Hills

Arnold Palmer wins 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills
John Zimmerman/SI
Palmer's late charge capped a comeback win for the ages.

This article first appeared in the June 27, 1960 issue of Sports Illustrated.

For the first three rounds of the National Open last week at Cherry Hills in Denver, Arnold Palmer's name was scarcely mentioned. In an ordinary tournament this would have been surprising, as Palmer—the golfer of the year and the pretournament favorite—had not played badly at all. He had started with a 72, one-over-par, added a 71 and another 72, but the 1960 Open was no ordinary championship. From the beginning the scoring pace had been so hot that Palmer had never been up among the leaders. When he began his final round at about 1:45 p.m. on Saturday afternoon under a hot mountain sun, he trailed Mike Souchak, the front-runner, by seven full shots and seemed hopelessly out of the running. At 3:15 p.m., after the most explosive stretch of subpar golf any golfer has ever produced in the championship, Arnold Palmer was deep in contention and his name was heard everywhere on the course.

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Because of its historic dimensions, Palmer's start on his fourth round is worth describing hole by hole. He birdied the first, a short par-4, 346 yards long, driving the green and getting down in two putts from 20 feet. He birdied the 2nd, a 410-yard par-4, holing a little run-up of 35 feet from off the edge of the green. On the 3rd, another abbreviated par-4 which, in the thin air a mile above sea level, played even shorter than its yardage, he picked up his third birdie in a row by wedging his chip a foot from the cup. On the 4th, 426 yards, he stuck his wedge approach about 18 feet from the cup and got the putt for still another birdie. After driving into the rough, he had to be satisfied with par on the long 5th. But on the 6th, a par-3, 174 yards long to an upward sloping green, he was off again. He hit the center of the green with a seven-iron and rolled in a curving 25-foot sidehiller. On the 7th, another short par-4, he played a superb wedge approach to six feet, and when he ran that putt in he had made his sixth birdie in seven holes.

Palmer stopped his own rush on the 8th when he missed the three-footer he had for his par, but with this incredible burst he had succeeded in turning the tournament almost inside out. It was now his for the winning and win it he ultimately did. A conservatively played in-nine of 35—only one birdie but all the rest solid pars—gave him a 65, the lowest final round ever shot by the winner of the Open. His four-round total was 280, two shots lower than that posted by the runner-up, Jack Nicklaus, the 20-year-old National Amateur champion who had played a tremendous tournament from the beginning to the end.

A mild case of murder
At the risk of confusing the issue to some extent, it should be made explicit that it was not until very late in the afternoon that Palmer's victory was assured or even apparent. This was, to put it mildly, the wildest Open ever. Only one previous championship can be compared to it, the 1925 Open, in which eight players came to the 72nd tee with a mathematical chance of winning. But that tournament became hectic only at the very end. This 1960 Open was a hurly-burly all afternoon long. For four unbroken hours there were so many contenders performing such fantastic things that it was impossible to keep track for very long of who was leading and who was falling back and who was coming on.

At 2:45 p.m., for example, Mike Souchak was still out in front, five-under-par for the tournament; Julius Boros, Dow Finsterwald and Jack Nicklaus were four-under; Ben Hogan was three-under; Jack Fleck, Jerry Barber and Palmer were two-under. This accounting did not take into consideration Dutch Harrison, who was out very early, or Bill Casper, Don Cherry and Ted Kroll, who had barely teed off on their final round. Kroll was to roar off with five birdies (and one bogey) on the first seven holes, but this caused hardly a stir after Palmer's feat and a similar sprint by Jack Fleck, who birdied five holes (and bogeyed one) out of the first six.

As the afternoon and the pressure wore on, the scoring quieted down, but not the whirligig of shifting positions among a dozen-odd contenders. A few minutes before 4 o'clock, for instance, three players each were five-under-par for the distance traveled. Shortly after 4, Souchak, after a bogey on the 9th, was out of the lead for the first time. A few minutes later, Jack Nicklaus alone was five-under, and he was out in front by himself. At 4:15 p.m., after Nicklaus had taken three putts from 10 feet on the 13th (or 67th), four players were tied four-under-par—Nicklaus; Boros, playing one hole behind him; Palmer, two holes behind; and Fleck, four holes behind. Half an hour later three men shared the lead, Hogan (paired with Nicklaus), Palmer and Fleck, each of them four-under. And so it went until in the closing holes only Palmer was able to hold on to what he had wrested from par. If all this seems hopelessly confusing, then it is an accurate representation of the most unbelievable jam-up the Open has ever seen.

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