News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 24, 2010

Rub of the Green: Was 1960 really the ‘Greatest Year in Golf’?

Bob Arnett
Tribune-Star Correspondent

TERRE HAUTE — Listening to Willie Nelson warble the lyrics, “Ain’t it funny how time slips away?” reminds this writer that those words are incorrect on two counts. One, it is not funny to get old. The late Bob Bundy often stated, “Old age is not for sissies.” And two, time doesn’t just slip away, it tends to streak on at a full gallop. At least, that’s the felling you get when you qualify for the Methuselah Flight of your club championship.

“Golf World” magazine called 1960 “The Greatest Year in Golf”, and the reasoning behind that assertion is evident. Seldom do four of the most outstanding players of the past, present and future all congregate during one particular year on the golf calendar as they did in 1960. I’m referring to Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

Although his best golf was behind him, Snead still managed to win his seventh Greensboro Open in 1960 at the age of 48. Slamming Sammy was reputed to put his money in tin cans and bury them in his back yard. Known to be ultra thrifty, someone once said Sam won a million dollars in professional golf and saved two million.

Hogan was a man of few words but his ball striking spoke for itself. In the 1960 U.S. Open played at Cherry Hills in Denver, the Hawk was tied for the lead when he found the water on each of the last two holes. It was a balky putter that forced Hogan off the tour after winning all four of the majors, which included four U.S. Open titles. With 1960 as the dividing line, Hogan joins Snead as two of the most heralded professional golfers of the past.

The present era was ushered in by arguably the most charismatic player ever to hit the PGA Tour. Palmer, the son of a professional golfer in Latrobe, Pa., epitomized the blue collar golfer. He was the“everyman golfer”. His face demonstrated joy or despair with every swing of the club.

With the arms of a blacksmith and a slam bang style of play, he captivated his galleries who were quick to become enlistees in Arnie’s Army, as he charged to victory after victory.

Actually, Palmer has been a student at Wake Forest when his fellow teammate, Buddy Wonsham was killed in an auto accident. Palmer left school and joined the Coast Guard.

Not much was heard from him until he won the U. S. Amateur in 1954.  Turning professional shortly thereafter, he won a total of seven tournaments during a three year period leading up to his first Masters championship in 1958. Arnie added another green jacket to his collection in 1960, a year in which his army grew in astronomical numbers. Talk of a “Grand Slam” would be heard, but that would never happen. Ken Nagle would beat Arnie by a single stroke in the British Open.

With a personal magnetism unrivaled by any other golfer, the gregarious Palmer has always been in a class by himself. Terre Haute resident, Bill Doan, can readily attest to that by recalling a golden day in his past. Doan, now a retired Ford dealer was invited to play Bay Hill by Bob Hoff some 18 years ago. The game, played almost daily, was called “The shoot Out”. Scorecards were printed accordingly. Teams were picked with anywhere from 10 to 14 foursomes taking part.

Doan remembers, “Luckily I got to be on Palmer’s team. Each team member contributed about $60 for an entry fee with the entire pot going to the winners. I was fortunate to be on the winning team. After I shot 75 from the tips that day, Arnie came over and congratulated me on my round and asked if I could play the following day.

“Business pursuits precluded that so I expressed my regrets, but that did not diminish my best day in golf.”

Palmer’s victories in the U. S. Open drew much attention. The final 36 holes of the Open at that time were played on the final day of the tournament. Palmer remarked during the lunch break before starting his final 18 hat he thought he would shot a 65 on the last 18, and that would win the tournament. Bob Dum, a golf writer who also could be described as a curmudgeon told Palmer “65 will do nothing for you. You’re too far back.” With the help of a 30 on the front nine Arnie got his 65 for a 280 total and a one shot victory over Jack Nicklaus at Cherry Hills C. C. In Denver (CO), this would be one of eight tournaments Palmer would win in the year, 1960.

Now, back to the “present” insofar as 1960 was concerned, there were other outstanding players who were ready and willing to make their respective names available to be etched on 1960 championship trophies.

Diminutive Jerry Barber won the Tournament of Champions along with a whopping payoff of 10,000 silver dollars. Canadian Stan Leonard captured the Western Open and Jay Hebert won the PGA championship to match his brother Lionel’s PGA win in 1957. Nicklaus shot 66 to lead the U.S. to the World Amateur Team title at Merion C. C. in Ardmore, Pa.. Billy Casper established himself as a player not to be overlooked as he won three straight PGA tour tournaments.

Not to be overlooked are the ladies who performed admirably in 1960. Betsy Rawls won the Women’s Open and was named to the Women’s Golf Hall of Fame. Mickey Wright won her third tournament of the year, the LPGA Championship held at French Lick. Many have felt that Wright possessed the best swing in golf and that included men or women.

What would be ahead for those who relished 1960? Judging from past performances an overweight Nicklaus looked as though he was ready to “throw his weight around”. After all, Arnie was the only one to beat Jack, still an amateur, in that 1960 U. S. Open.

Arnie’s army went to battle stations when their “general” was threatened. They called Nicklaus “Fat Jack”, and they made noises when he putted. He countered by losing weight and letting his hair grow out of his “flat top” and presto, he became the “Golden Bear”, ready to join Arnie and Gary Player to become known as the “Big Three”. The rest, of course, is history.

• In the “omissions department”, we thank Sullivan’s Jim Hartman for the following information. Both Jerry Kunkel and Jim Berger played basketball for John Wooden at Indiana State. Both were Jasper natives.

We recall that Kunkel was a successful basketball coach at Carlisle.

• Chad Collins continues to do well on the PGA Tour.  Chad made the cut in the Heritage at Harbour Town and stood 12 shots out of first, but didn’t get to play the fourth round. Another dumb move by the PGA in trying to appease the television people! A Bronx cheer for the PGA and the television industry.

• The Masters was good theater, however, Bobby Jones didn’t want the name to be “The Masters” because it was too pretentious. Bobby liked “The Augusta Nations Invitational Tournament”. Cliff Roberts and the media liked “The Masters”, and guess who won?

• TIP OF THE WEEK: If your putter is not working, try some new styles of holding the flat stick. There must be dozens of variations you might try. When you get right down to it, golf is one big experiment. If not, how do golfers explain rounds of 64 followed by 86?

Keep your head down and your shoestrings tied. We’ll be back.