The Cut : The Cut - Summer 2017
GOLF & LEISURE 29 It is probably stretching the truth too far to say Arnold Palmer saved the Open with his appearance in 1960, but just as a dash of lemonade helped make a rather bland iced tea taste a little sweeter and more refreshing, a sprinkling of The King’s swashbuckling charisma certainly helped rejuvenate what had become a somewhat tired championship. Prior to Palmer making the journey across the Atlantic to compete at St Andrews, the Open had fallen off the radar for American professionals. Despite the likes of Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Tommy Armour, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan winning the championship throughout the 20s, 30s and 40s, in 1959 not a single American player showed up at Muirfield. The reasons were purely economic. Thanks largely to Palmer’s surging popularity, golf stateside was booming. Most American pros (as they largely still do today) simply did not see any good reason to venture beyond their borders, especially when the purses at home dwarfed those in the UK ten-fold. There are conflicting accounts as to what exactly was the catalyst for Palmer’s inspired journey across the Atlantic that year. Palmer’s father, Deacon, is said to have strongly encouraged his son to venture abroad, while others claim the American was influenced by his agent Mark McCormack, who saw the commercial benefits of restoring the Open to its former glor y. The most likely scenario, however, was that Palmer wanted a shot at immortality. Having already won the Masters and US Open that year, Palmer admitted he wanted to be the first player to win all four professional majors. “Now my sights are fixed on winning the four biggest tournaments open to a pro — the Masters, the US Open, the British Open and PGA,” Palmer stated in an inter view in June, 1960. “No golfer ever has taken all four in the same year. The odds against it must be at least 1,000 to 1. Yet I feel confident that, with a little luck, itcanbedone.Iwanttobethe man to do it.” Palmer didn’t win the 1960 Open, finishing runner- up to Australia’s Kel Nagle, but having learned the skills required for links golf, he returned to Royal Birkdale a year later and won by a shot. Palmer would then defend his title at Royal Troon in 1962. What was most important for The Open’s global appeal was that wherever Palmer went, American media attention followed. All of a sudden, a whole new continent was aware of an historic championship played on quirky, dramatic seaside terrain. Palmer’s two Open wins paved the way for a future wave of American successes on British fairways that continues to this day. PALMER’S APPEARANCE AT ST ANDREWS IN 1960 HALTED THE SLOW DECLINE OF THE OPEN AND HELPED TRANSFORM IT INTO THE GREAT CHAMPIONSHIP IT IS TODAY, ARGUES NICK WRIGHT. ARNIE’S BRITISH LEGACY Palmer escapes sand during the 1960 Open at St Andrews. and his high-profile mistakes and defeats only seemed to make him more endearing, even more of an everyman who could draw people into what can be an exasperating game. Despite his great success at the Masters, Palmer had his heartbreaks at Augusta. Trying to successfully defend in 1959, he made a triple-bogey on the 12th in the final round and lost by two to Art Wall Jnr, who birdied five of the last six holes. Going for another repeat in 1961, he came to the 72nd hole leading by a shot. After hitting a good tee shot into the fairway, Palmer accepted what turned out to be premature congratulations from his friend George Low, who was in the gallery. His concentration dented, Palmer hit his approach into the right greenside bunker, blasted his third over the green and made a double-bogey to fall into a tie with Player, who beat him in an 18-hole playoff. In frustration after the loss, Palmer dented a silver cigarette case given by the club that year and for years it sat on his office desk in Latrobe, a painful reminder to focus on the job at hand. Palmer’s most infamous defeat came in the 1966 US Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, where he suffered a reverse fate of his Cherry Hills heroics. He was leading by seven with nine to play but squandered the advantage as Billy Casper played his way into a tie. Palmer lost the 18-hole play-off the following day – his third playoff loss in the US Open, following defeats to Nicklaus at Oakmont in 1962 and to Julius Boros in 1963 at The Country Club. Nicklaus’ win over Palmer at age 22 in his rookie year on tour was a harbinger of what would follow as he became, with Palmer and South African Gary Player, part of golf ’s ‘Big Three’ and would usurp Palmer as its best player even though his older rival and friend would always be nicknamed ‘The King’. Nicklaus and Player each trumped Palmer in competitive longevity, with Nicklaus winning three of his 18 majors after age 40, including an historic Masters at 46 in 1986, while Player earned the last of his nine in the 1978 Masters at 42. In contrast, Palmer’s last major title came when he was only 34, a six-shot victory over Nicklaus and Dave Marr at the 1964 Masters. He would, though, contend frequently thereafter, finishing in the top 10 in 19 majors, the last occasion in the 1977 Open at Turnberry, where he was seventh. Palmer had a strong late-career run in the US Open, finishing third, tied for fourth, tied for fifth and tied for ninth from 1972 to 1975, when he was in his early to mid-40s. His last, best chances to win a PGA Championship came in 1968 and 1970, when he tied for second. As Palmer’s game ebbed and flowed through the years, he became an iconic figure whose business interests and endorsements sprawled far from the golf course. His handshake agreement with International Management Group founder Mark McCormack – whom he had met when they were college golfers – resulted in the most successful athlete-agent pairing in sports history.
The Cut - Spring 2016
The Cut - Autumn 2017