In the age of long and daunting par 4s on the PGA Tour, a drivable two-shotter is always a source of excitement. But the short par-4 opening hole at Cherry Hills Country Club outside Denver -- site of this week’s BMW Championship -- will offer players more than just a chance to open the event with a birdie. A drive that finds the first green will invoke memories of a certain historic shot that sparked one of the greatest and most popular victories in all of golf.
Cherry Hills’ opening par 4 will be 346 yards, the same distance it played during the 1960 U.S. Open, Arnold Palmer’s lone U.S. Open victory. The hole has not played that short in a PGA Tour event since Palmer’s remarkable win, and usually measures 389 yards.
Rory McIlroy gave it a go from the "Arnie tee" during Tuesday's practice round (see below).
A combination of factors made Palmer’s third major victory an instant classic, not the least of which was the seven-stroke deficit that separated The King from leader Mike Souchak after 54 holes. The win preserved Palmer’s quest for the Grand Slam, the 30-year-old having birdied the final two holes at Augusta National to win the Masters by one stroke earlier that year.
Adding to the lore were Palmer’s prior struggles on the opening hole, which he played three-over-par through the first three rounds. His first tee shot of the tournament came to rest in a creek right of the fairway and led to a double bogey. After 54 holes, Palmer was angry he had failed to drive the first green. He said during a press conference, “If I drive that green, I could shoot a hell of a score. I might even shoot 65. What’ll that do?”
“Nothing,” replied Bob Drum, who covered Palmer for the Pittsburgh Press. “You’re too far back.”
But in Saturday afternoon’s closing round (the final 36 holes of the U.S. Open were held on Saturday until 1965) Palmer drove the first green and two-putted for birdie from just over 20 feet. He would birdie six of the first seven holes, shoot six-under 65 and outduel Jack Nicklaus (an amateur at the time), Julius Boros, Dow Finsterwald and Ben Hogan for a two-stroke victory.
“Well, I hit it as hard as I could,” said Palmer of his opening drive. “And it had a good trajectory, and it carried to the front fringe and bounced on. And I got pretty excited about that -- so excited that I almost three-putted! Then I chipped it in at the second hole for another birdie, and all of a sudden the things I thought should have happened in the first three rounds started happening.”
Any tee shot that finds the first green at Cherry Hills this week will fail in comparison to Palmer’s fateful blast over 54 years ago -- let alone the legend surrounding it -- but it will give 70 players and thousands of fans a chance to relive history. The “Palmer Tee” will be used during all four rounds of the BMW Championship.
“We’ve got a fairly unique opportunity that we don’t have very often to allow almost all our players to emulate what Palmer did,” Tour official Stephen Cox told the Denver Post. “It’s going to be a really cool atmosphere around the first tee.”