The 1960 U.S. Open was the best ever. Better than 2008 (Tiger winning with a slightly-broken leg). Better than 1999 (Payne over Phil at Pinehurst). Better, even, than the "greatest game ever played" Open of 1913 (Ouimet toppling Vardon and Ray). You might disagree, but you would be wrong. The '60 Open at Denver's Cherry Hills Country Club gave us the greatest ballstriker of all time in the twilight of his career, the best golfer of all time at the dawn of his career, and the most charismatic and beloved player of all time at the peak of his career, and it delivered a riveting finish that had the three future Hall of Famers within a stroke of each other with only two holes to play. The story has been told many times and many ways. This version comes straight from the mouths of the surviving headliners and a handful of insiders who were on the scene. And because our tale turns on an epic feat Arnold Palmer driving the green on the 346-yard par-4 first hole in the final round let us begin with that man and that hole.
Arnold Palmer, 7-time major champion: I tried to drive the green in the first round, and I hit my drive so poorly that it went into the trees on the right. My ball fell in a ditch, a fast-running stream, and started rolling down the hill. [USGA Executive Director] Joe Dey was on the tee, and I thought I'd be funny. I said, "Joe, I think I'll just let that run on down to the green." And he looked at me in a typical Joe Dey fashion, kinda screwed up his face and said, "Now Arnold, you know better than that." So that was that. I lifted my ball out of the ditch, dropped it, and made a double-bogey 6. I can laugh about it now, but it wasn't funny at the time.
Jim Burris, former president of the American Association baseball league: I was publicity director for the 1960 National Open, and I'd been to a party with Palmer that week. He was pleasant, a real gentleman; he walked clear across the room to say goodnight to my wife. But I remember how strong he was, too. He'd crush those old Coors beer cans with one hand, and those were really tough cans.
Jim Gaquin, then-press secretary for the PGA Tour: Everybody had a great deal of respect for Cherry Hills. Ralph Guldahl won the 1938 Open there [by six strokes with an even-par total of 284], and it had hosted a PGA Championship. Everybody felt it was a real gem, probably the best course between the Mississippi and the West Coast.
Dr. Homer G. McClintock, retired neurosurgeon and prominent amateur golfer: My job was to take care of the medical facilities we'd set up which wasn't too difficult, because there were no injuries to speak of and we had good weather. The galleries were big, but we had ropes to keep people back. The USGA said it was one of the best-controlled Opens they'd had.
Ben Hogan, looking older than his 47 years, shot a first-round 75 seven off the lead, but decent enough for a nine-time major champion with aching legs. Nicklaus shot an even-par 71; Palmer a 72.
Burris: I followed Hogan because I had been following him just about all my life. He'd been in a terrible car accident, and first they said he wouldn't live, and then they said he wouldn't walk, and then they said he wouldn't play golf again. He won three National Opens and a British Open after they said that. He wasn't exactly Mr. Personality, he was kind of shy, but he would stop and talk when I asked him questions. On the practice range he was some kind of machine. Hogan just never, never hit any bad shots.
Paul Harney, winner of six Tour events between 1957 and 1972: I knew Ben quite well, actually. He called me 'Sonny.' But he was going through that stage where he couldn't putt a lick. He never missed a fairway, and every ball he hit from the fairway looked like it was going in the hole. He had completely mastered the game of hitting the ball. Unfortunately, Ben forgot that the game of putting was just as crucial.
THRU 18 HOLES
Gaquin: Nicklaus wasn't the lovable Golden Bear back then. He was the "anti-Arnie," a frowning, burly kid. Somebody wrote that he looked like a German bus driver.
Harney: Jack's thighs were as big as my waist, and he could hit it a long, long way.
Jack Nicklaus, 18-time major champion: Woody Hayes [the legendary Ohio State football coach] came out to the tournament from a coaching conference in Colorado Springs. Woody was a customer at my dad's pharmacy, and he was appalled that the Columbus newspaper had not sent a reporter. So Woody phoned in a story every day from Cherry Hills. He was so taken with that tournament that he went to the Open at Oakland Hills the following year and to Oakmont the year after that, walking all four rounds.
Palmer: I was disappointed that I didn't shoot better than 72. I hit a lot of good shots, but I didn't get the ball close enough to the hole, and I missed some putts. I got behind the 8-ball right away.
The first-round leader, at 3-under-par 68, was 33-year-old Mike Souchak, who had played golf and football at Duke University.
Gaquin: Souchak was powerful and rugged, a very amiable guy. He won quite a few tournaments, and for a long time he held the 72-hole record for a tour event [27-under 257 at the 1955 Texas Open]. The only blot on his career was that he never won a major. He came close [11 top-10s] but he never won the big one.
Friday saw Souchak shoot 67 for 135, extending his lead to three over Doug Sanders and five over Jerry Barber, Dow Finsterwald and Jack Fleck. A bit farther back, with a 67 of his own, was the sentimental favorite, Hogan, at T-11 and 142.
Burris: Ben played awfully well the first two days, but hardly anybody thought he had a chance to win. I summoned up the courage to approach him, and I said, "Mr. Hogan, may I ask you a question? The writers are saying you can't win this tournament because of the problems with your legs." Well, he looked a little annoyed. He said, "I'm going to tell you something I've never told anybody before. Never in my life, where I've had to play 36 holes in one day, have I failed to play the final 18 better than I did the first." So I wrote that down, and the next day it was in bold text in the paper. When Hogan saw me on Saturday, he waved and said, "Thanks, Jim."
The amateur on the second-round leader board was not Nicklaus. It was crooner Don Cherry, tied for sixth at 141 with Billy Casper, Bruce Crampton and Ted Kroll.
THRU 36 HOLES
Nicklaus: I don't remember a whole lot about the early rounds. I don't even know who I played with. But I shot 71-71, and when I came out of the press tent somebody said, "Guess who you're playing with tomorrow? Ben Hogan."