For pure drama year in and year out no golf tournament can rival the U.S. Open. One reason is that the stakes are high—the Open title is the most desired in the game. Another is that Open courses are the finest, and are specially toughened to afford an ultimate test of skill and nerve. These conditions set the stage for rare excitement, and the golfers usually provide it: four playoffs in the last five years, the lone exception being Ken Venturi's stunning victory in the heat at Congressional. But if every Open has a way of being memorable, few will be recalled longer than the one at The Olympic Club last year, where Arnold Palmer lost a seven-stroke lead to Bill Casper (see cover). Here are the vital moments of Casper's success and Palmer's defeat, and each man's recollection of what happened.
Not critical at the time
Casper was near the end of a trying second round on Friday, one in which he had been forced to scramble manfully to come into the 17th hole two under par. There he bunkered his second. "The ball was on the upslope, so I tried almost to pick it clean," he says. "It hit eight feet short of the pin and rolled right in. It didn't seem especially significant at the time." But two days later the stroke mattered.
The 16th: After a duck hook, a misjudged lie
Palmer was leading by three strokes late on Sunday afternoon when he hooked his drive sharply on the 16th, a par 5. His bail ended up deep in the rough, where he is inspecting his lie (above), and is about to make a mistake. "I just wanted to get the ball into position for a good third shot," Palmer says, "but the rough was thicker than I gave it credit for. I took a three-iron, more club than I should have, and I could not get the ball up enough for it to reach the fairway. It was still in the rough—thicker than hell—and I finally had to play a nine-iron out to the fairway." Casper, watching and getting his first real glimmer of hope, was "just thinking about my own game, of staying in the fairway. I was surprised when I saw Arnold take such a shallow club for his second shot, but nothing Arnold does really surprises me. When he is playing well he feels he can do anything. I hit my second shot with a two-iron, and when he was in the bunker with his fourth, I suddenly thought I might tie him right there. But he made a great recovery and a good putt." When Casper got his birdie the lead was down to one.
The 17th: It was in all the way, then it died
Now comes another decisive moment—and, if what Palmer did on the previous hole was characteristic of his golf, this shot definitely is not. It is the putt on the 17th for a par that he needed to protect his lead. Neither he nor Casper had played this hole with distinction, both failing to reach the green in two, with Palmer seven feet from the cup and Casper three. Palmer addressed his putt, stroked it and, recalling the moment, says, "I thought I made it when I hit it. I thought it was in the hole all the way. But it stopped, less than an inch short. There was no reason for it to be short. No excuse. I hit it exactly the way I wanted." The miss of the putt shook the gallery. It was not so much that it had not gone in—it was not that easy a putt—but that it had been left short. None of the usual reasons for leaving a putt short applied here. It was not downhill, uphill if anything, and the green was not treacherously fast. Nor is it Palmer's style to leave a key putt, or any putt, short. It was simply a lapse, the second in two holes. And again Casper took advantage of the opportunity, sinking his own putt to tie for the lead.
The 18th: His best shot of all didn't look it
"A tremendous shot...a fantastic shot." That is Casper's description of the approach that Palmer is shown hitting here: at left as he swings, and below as he watches its flight while frozen in one of the contorted poses that are so typical of him. Palmer had pulled his tee shot just into the heavy rough on the left. "I thought Arnold had lost the tournament right there," says Casper, who had driven perfectly. When Palmer saw how deep the grass was, the same thought occurred to him. "I took a nine-iron," he says, "and I hit it as hard as I possibly could. It had to be a good shot." It was, stopping on the back of the green from where Palmer was able to two-putt for his par and stay tied with Casper, for one day. Palmer's approach to the 18th green was the last pivotal shot of one of the most exciting afternoons in the history of golf. That was a year ago. Now it is U.S. Open time—drama time—again as the scene of the action moves 3,000 miles east.
The Open comes back to Baltusrol
No clubhouse in the country has served as a backdrop for more U.S. Open finishes than the one below, the many-gabled headquarters of Baltusrol Golf Club. Founded in 1895—and named for a murdered farmer who once owned the land on which it is built—Baltusrol has become the most renowned course in the New York area. Four times it has played host to the U.S. Open, and on each occasion the event produced a champion whose victory either came as a complete surprise or was achieved in some stimulating fashion. In 1903 Willie Anderson, a businesslike little Scotsman, won in a playoff and began a string of three straight Open championships, a record that still stands. In 1915 a little-known amateur, Jerry Travers, became one of the five amateurs ever to win the Open. (None has since Johnny Goodman in 1933.) By 1936 Baltusrol had torn up its old course and built two new ones—the Upper and the Lower—and the result that year on the Upper Course was even more shocking than having an amateur win. As hordes of his personal friends, inexperienced in the etiquette of golf, trampled the 18th green, Tony Manero, a tiny, mustachioed pro from the Bronx, shot a last-round 67 and won with a record-breaking 282. In 1954 it was down to Baltusrol's Lower Course, where Dick Mayer hit into the woods on the last hole and took a double bogey 7 to lose to Ed Furgol, who also went into the woods when his turn came on 18, but saved a par by playing his second shot into a fairway on the Upper Course.
"The Lower Course is now substantially the same as it was in 1954," says Joseph Dey, the USGA's Executive Director. "The only difference is that the banks of many of the bunkers have been redesigned." What this means is good-sized greens (about 7,000 square feet on the average), lots of bunkers (52 in the fairways, 74 guarding the greens), four long par-3 holes (average length: 202 yards), and a unique pair of finishing holes (they are both par 5s). The 17th is 623 yards, with a huge nest of bunkers in the middle of the fairway and is described by Dey as "one of the few authentic par 5s in the country." It will take most of the field a full third shot with a middle iron to reach the green in three. The final hole is shorter (542 yards), but includes those trees that Mayer and Furgol made famous.
What kind of golf will be needed to win next week's Open? On the following pages Jack Nicklaus gives his appraisal of historic Baltusrol and tells how the pros of this era will approach the challenge it presents.