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.
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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.
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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.”
Burris: In those days the National Open was a three-day deal, you had to play the final 36 holes in one day. On Saturday I walked the whole 36 with Hogan. Actually, I walked it with Charlie Nicklaus, Jack’s father. Jack played so great, and I couldn’t get over how a 19-year-old could stand up under that kind of pressure. Because Hogan just never missed a shot. He was putting for birdie or eagle on every hole. Anyway, Jack led at one point and then fell back, and Mr. Nicklaus said, “Well, I suppose it’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t win, but it would sure be nice.”
Nicklaus: Hogan was terrific to me, and when he said, “Good shot,” you knew you’d hit a good shot.
The Saturday morning round ended with Souchak (73-208) two strokes ahead of Barber, Finsterwald and Julius Boros. Hogan (69) and Nicklaus (69) shared fifth at 211. Palmer (72-215) languished in a tie for 15th, seven strokes behind.
Sue Chamlee, longtime Cherry Hills member: My [late] husband Howard was a marshal that week, and I worked in the hospitality tent. The tent was by the 10th tee, so I could see players coming up nine and then teeing off on 10. The last day, Howard came to get me after the morning round. He said, “Come with me if you want to see who’s going to rule golf for the next decade.”
McClintock: I had a friend, a great admirer of Palmer, who came all the way from Pittsburgh to spend the week with me. But Palmer was so far behind on Sunday that my friend said, “No sense in me staying. Arnie has no chance.” So he left — and missed one of the greatest finishes of all time.
Palmer: You know, I felt like I had played very well, but nothing had happened. I was spinning my wheels. I enjoyed hitting the ball a little farther at that altitude, and I had just finished second in Oklahoma City. That’s why I was so disappointed after three rounds. I won’t blame it on any particular thing, mostly putting, but things just weren’t happening.
With another round to play, the players had only a few minutes in the locker room to change shirts and grab a bite. Palmer’s break was enlivened by a couple of convivial sports writers — Dan Jenkins of the Ft. Worth Press and Bob Drum of the Pittsburgh Press.
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Gaquin: Drum was a character — flamboyant, loud, a hail fellow well met. And nobody was closer to Arnie.
Palmer: Drum was a good friend of mine — I had even written a book with him — but he was also a friend of Mike Souchak. So when I said, “Wonder what a 65 would bring this afternoon?”, he gave me one of those Drumisms and said, “It won’t do you any good.” Well, that burned me up. I was so hot that I couldn’t finish my hamburger. I went outside and hit a couple of tee shots on the driving range until I heard my name called. And then I went to the first tee.
Thinking he had little to lose, Palmer tried yet again to get home with one mighty swipe — and this time he delivered a shot that would resonate in golf history.
Chamlee [who witnessed Palmer’s drive]: The crowd went crazy. We just screamed when it went on the green. It still excites me.
Palmer: Well, I hit it as hard as I could, 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. I birdied six of the first seven holes, and on the 8th hole, here comes Drum, walking down the fairway with all the press corps. I remember looking at him — I was still pissed off — and I said, “What are you doing out here?” And they all laughed.
Harney, Palmer’s playing partner: Arnie played great, and he got a couple of breaks. On the third hole, where most of us were hitting 2-iron off the tee, he tried to drive the green and pushed it into the trees. But he almost holed out from the trees and got his third birdie. On the ninth hole, his second shot hit someone in the gallery and bounced close to the green. He made 4.
Palmer: I bogeyed the 8th and then parred the 9th, shot 30 on the front nine. Then I birdied the 11th. I didn’t know how I stood, but there was a lot of excitement and my gallery got big. Paul was encouraging, he said I was making a pretty good move.
Nicklaus: I don’t remember much about the front 9 — I shot 32 and got myself the lead at 5-under — but I can go through the back nine club for club, shot for shot. Was I aware that Arnold was charging? I didn’t even know he was in the tournament, to be honest. I was leading, and I was playing with Ben Hogan. I had my hands full worrying about that.
Burris: On 17 Hogan asked, “Who’s leading?” and I said Palmer. He said, “Palmer?” He kinda shook his head. “How could that be?”
Gaquin: Hogan was taciturn, kind of aloof, but after the crash people were rooting for him. He won the ’53 British Open at Carnoustie and came back to a hero’s welcome.
Harney: We were standing back on the tee, waiting for Hogan to play his third shot on the 17th hole, a par-5. He had laid up right in front of that brook guarding the green.
Burris: Ben hit his third shot in the water. He hit the ball perfectly, he hit it right up by the cup, but it sucked back into that little stream.
Palmer: I was watching Hogan play the 17th hole, and I saw him take his shoes off and step in the water to play his fourth. And that’s when I knew that I was in pretty good shape.
Burris: Ben made 6, and there went his fifth Open. Nobody had ever won five. Then on 18 he hooked his tee ball into the water and finished with a triple-bogey. I think it was because he was so aggravated and frustrated over what happened on 17. But maybe the writers were right about his legs not holding up for 36 holes. I hate to give them credit, but Ben was limping noticeably when he played 18.
Hogan was out of it — his final-round 73 would drop him to T9 — but the sunburned amateur from Ohio still had a chance.
Nicklaus: I remember Joe Dey picking up paper and cigarette butts for me on the 18th green. He was so excited, having an amateur in contention. I chipped to 5 feet, but I missed the putt. If I’d made the putt, Arnold would have had to make par [to avoid a playoff]. Afterward, Hogan said, “I played 36 holes today with a kid who, if he had a brain in his head, should have won by 10 strokes.” I three-putted 13, I three-putted 14, I missed a short putt on 16, and I bogeyed 18. Outside of that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
Palmer: Seventeen, I was disappointed I didn’t make a birdie there. I only had a little wedge into the green. And then 18, I hit a good tee shot up the right center of the fairway, and then I hit a 4-iron and pulled it into the rough left of the green. I thought I needed a par to win. My chip wasn’t bad, I left it three or four feet short. Anyway, I made the putt, and I felt like I had won the Open. I whirled and threw my visor up in the air.
Harney: I just remember Arnold throwing his hat up in the air and dancing around. The U.S. Open was the tournament he most wanted to win, and he was elated that he had won it.
Rick Collier, longtime Cherry Hills member: I was just inside the ropes on 18 when Palmer finished. He made the putt, he threw the visor. Then he either handed or tossed the ball to his caddie, I don’t remember which. My dad said, “Can I have that for my son?” The caddie said, “Sure,” and handed it to my dad, who handed it to me. I was really excited. We had that ball at our house for a long time. Now it’s in a display case at the club, along with Arnold’s visor and driver.
The Open ended with Palmer at 280, Nicklaus at 282, and six frustrated pretenders, including Souchak, at 283. The payoff for Arnie: $14,400 and lifetime bragging rights.
Palmer: It turns out that was the only U.S. Open I won. I’m disappointed, frankly, that I didn’t win two or three more — particularly when I lost, what, three playoffs? But winning at Cherry Hills felt pretty damn good. Afterward, I went to catch a plane to New York to meet my wife and fly to Dublin for the Canada Cup. And that was fun, too, because Bob Drum was flying with me, and I got to return some of those barbs.
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