On the morning of Thursday, June 13, the 57th edition of the United States (or National) Open Golf Championship will get under way at the Inverness Club on the outskirts of Toledo, Ohio. Some 57 hours later, shortly before twilight on Saturday afternoon, the thousands of spectators lining the fairways and the millions watching on television will witness the conclusion of an event that is almost annually so brimful of drama that it takes hours to uncoil from the tension of the final hours. Down the concluding holes of the 72-hole grind come the contenders, looking both larger than life and as lonely as orphans as they walk the roped-off fairways, fighting to stave off their weariness and to retain their poise, their concentration, their "feel," so that they can play the shots that can win for them. Perhaps the World Series and an occasional championship fight pack an equal dramatic voltage, but few other sports events do, and an exciting Open can hit so hard that those who have seen it, either first-or second-hand, never forget it the rest of their lives.
If what has happened the two times previous when the championship has been held at Inverness is any indication of the shape of things to come, the 1957 Open should be a memorable one. In 1920, when Inverness first staged the event, five extremely colorful golfers came down the stretch with an excellent chance to win it. Eventually, Ted Ray, the huge, mustachioed, long-hitting Englishman, won by the margin of one stroke over Jack Burke Sr., Leo Diegel, Jock Hutchison and the immortal Harry Vardon (see page 42). Looking back at it, that tournament signified the passing of one era and the advent of another. It marked Vardon's last great effort to win yet another major crown, and it also marked the first time that Bob Jones and a swarm of other youngsters, nameless kids like Gene Sarazen, Tommy Armour, Leo Diegel, Johnny Farrell and Bill Mehlhorn, competed in the Open. In 1931, the second (and most recent) time the Open was held at Inverness, a record marathon playoff ensued. Tied at 292 at the end of 72 holes, Billy Burke and George von Elm played an extra 36 and were still tied. So, another 36 were decreed, and at the end of this second playoff—at the end of 144 holes, in fact—Burke was the winner by a single shot. Von Elm lost 15 pounds over the long haul. Burke, an incredibly pacific fellow, gained three.
Since the Open has long been a measure of greatness, the men with a good chance to win it practice and prepare for it as they do for no other tournament. In an effort to break out of his long and beleaguering slump, Cary Middlecoff, the defending champion, took himself home to the Memphis Country Club early in May. There he instituted an intensive daily regimen: at least two hours on the practice tee, at least a half hour on the practice green, a daily round with professional colleagues (golfers, not dentists) and lots of solid, uninterrupted rest. The bulk of Middlecoff's practice has been devoted to his short irons which are still far from satisfactory. "I think the rest of it is coming," he declared recently after a practice session, rousing a touch of the old Middlecoff assurance. "If I can get it wired together and make it hold for three days, I'm going to beat somebody."
For a final competitive tune-up, Middlecoff played in the Palm Beach Round Robin tourney. Ben Hogan did too. At Inverness, Ben will be making his fourth attempt to become the first man ever to win the Open five times. Hogan usually passes up all pre-Open events, but this year, following his disappointing showing in the Masters, he has played a string of tournaments, trusting that in the crucible of competition he will recover his old sureness on the greens and that essential knack of getting your figures during those unavoidable patches when you must get down in two from off the green for your par. The narrow fairways at Inverness will favor a pinpoint driver like Hogan, but the course, uniformly fair and untricky and responsive to steady shot-making, is, in truth, a layout on which any one of 30 golfers could win. It could be Sam Snead, entering his third decade in quest of his first Open victory. It could be the three-time British Open champion, Peter Thomson, the sound young Australian who led the field at the halfway mark last June. It will probably be, as it historically has been on such courses as Inverness, a good, solid golfer for whom the putts start dropping. It should be a wide-open Open.
57TH U.S. OPEN
PLACE—Inverness Club, Toledo, Ohio
TYPE OF TOURNAMENT—72 holes, stroke play
PURSE—total $25,000; first place, $6,000
DEFENDING CHAMPION—Dr. Cary Middlecoff
TELEVISION COVERAGE—Saturday, June 15 (NBC, 4-7 p.m. EDT)