50 Years Arnold Palmer

By Mercer BaggsApril 3, 2008, 4:00 pm
Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part feature on Arnold Palmer's victory in the 1958 Masters Tournament. Tune into 'Live From The Masters' Sunday, April 13 for Rich Lerner's interview with Palmer. Click for Part 1.
In 1958, Arnold Palmer was on the cusp of stardom. The kind that transcends the sport in which the athlete participates. He was an established winner, with eight PGA TOUR titles to his credit in just over three seasons. He offered the attraction of Marlon Brando and the adventure of Douglas Fairbanks.
All he needed was that signature victory. The kind that only comes from winning a major championship.
On April 6, 1958, Palmer had that opportunity. He shared the lead with Sam Snead entering the final round of a rain-plagued Masters Tournament.
At the beginning of that Easter Sunday, holes 11, 12 and 13 at Augusta National Golf Club were just White Dogwood, Golden Bell and Azalea. By the end of the day they were exalted as “Amen Corner.”
Legendary author Herbert Warren Wind was looking for an appropriate way to describe where the tournament’s most critical action took place. And as every great originator does, he stole a little of the past to create something that would stand throughout the future.
Wind borrowed the name from the jazz recording “Shouting at Amen Corner.” Milton Mezzrow produced that version. Arnold Palmer conducted the ’58 reprisal.
After making the turn in even-par 36, Palmer dropped a shot at the par-4 10th. On the par-3 12th, he opted for a 4-iron from 155 yards. Too much. The ball flew the green and embedded between the rear bunker and the putting surface.
“The golf course was very, very wet and that day we were playing wet weather rules,” Palmer says. “I saw an official there and I said, ‘I’m gonna lift, clean and place this ball,’ and he said, ‘Oh no you’re not.’ He says, ‘You can’t do that.’ Well, of course, I knew better and so I begged to differ with the official.
“I said, ‘I’ll play two balls,’ and I did. I made five with one and I made three with the other.”
Palmer first played his original ball on his way to making double bogey. He then dropped from the embedded area and pitched up nicely for a gimme par.
It wasn’t until the 15th hole that Palmer was officially told that he was entitled to a free drop and that he would be credited with a par at 12.
That didn’t sit too well with his playing companion that day, Ken Venturi. Venturi, who had blown the 1956 Masters by shooting 80 in the final round to lose by one, challenged the decision, as well as Palmer’s integrity. In his 2004 book, “Getting Up And Down: My 60 Years In Golf,” Venturi said Palmer knowingly took an illegal drop.
Trailing Palmer by just one, Venturi initially believed that his chief opponent was entitled to a free drop. But after Arthur Lacey, a former president of the British PGA, denied Palmer relief, Venturi felt Palmer didn’t adhere to the rules.
His senior complaint was that he believed Palmer did not declare that he was going to play a second ball until after making double bogey with the first. Palmer says that’s not true, that he informed Lacey – whether Venturi heard him or not – of his decision to play a provisional.
Venturi also believed that Palmer should have been playing both balls simultaneously so as not to gain a competitive advantage, by getting a feel for green conditions playing one and then the other.
USGA rules at the time – under which the tournament was being contested – stated that even if a player did not announce his intentions ahead of time, the score he made with the second ball would count – which in Palmer’s case was the par.
Venturi’s argument, which he made in his book, was: “What if he had chipped in for birdie (with the first ball)? He wouldn’t play a second ball, would he?”
Says Palmer now about the accusations, “Well that bothered me a little, yeah. But we’ve talked a lot about that and that’s a dead issue.”
Venturi went on to lose this Masters by, not so coincidentally, two strokes. It wasn’t, however, those pair of strokes stricken from Palmer’s record at the 12th that the champion recalls as paving his path to victory. It’s the two he earned against par at the 13th.
With Masters Chairman Clifford Roberts and tournament founder Bobby Jones looking on, Palmer striped a tee shot down the par-5 fairway. Then, with the ball above his feet, and Rae’s creek about 220 yards in front of him, he laced a Wilson 3-wood.
“I was pretty sure I hit a good shot,” he says, “and I knew it was going to be OK. I didn’t know if was going to be as good as it was.”
Palmer’s ball finished 18 feet from the hole.
“I made the putt for eagle,” Palmer says, “and later, when the tournament was over (Jones) remarked to me – and he was very complimentary – he said, ‘Those were three of the best shots I’ve ever seen. …He said, ‘Arnie, if I ever have a 10-footer for my life I want you to putt it for me.’ Well, I swelled up over that.”
After making the impressionable putt, Palmer flung his cap in the air as if he had won the tournament – and didn’t still have five holes left to play.
Whether nerves or a loss of concentration, Palmer bogeyed Nos. 16 and 18. And then he waited.
(Back in those days players weren’t grouped in accordance to score, which is why Palmer didn’t play alongside Snead on Sunday.)
Two players had a chance to force a playoff with Palmer. Fred Hawkins missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole to do so. Doug Ford did likewise from 10 feet.
“I sure was elated. It never was a sure thing,” Palmer, who earned $11,250 for that victory, says today. “And to win the Masters … there are things I will never forget about that.”
In addition to the birth of Amen Corner, two other things came to life at the 1958 Masters: 1) Arnie’s Army. 2) Arnie’s celebrity.
It was 50 years ago that Arnie’s Army was first publicly commissioned by a group of military personnel who came to the tournament from a nearby Army base, Camp Gordon – back when you could get tickets at the gates.
It was also when Palmer became the object of TV’s affection.
The Masters was being showcased on television for just the third time in 1958, with a broadcast of only holes 15-18. And even though all of the drama had transpired on that reverential trio of holes, and Palmer dropped shots at 16 and 18, he was still the beauty of the camera lens’ eye.
Dashing and daring, the blooming superstar was the perfect match for the thriving medium.
“Well, I don’t think there’s anybody perfect for anything, but it was a great opportunity for me,” Palmer says. “And, of course, to win Augusta and then a couple years later win the (U.S.) Open right after winning Augusta again, it was exciting. I was living in it and I was loving it.”
Palmer was a leading man in more ways than one. His triumph signaled a new era in golf, one in which the legendary likes of Hogan and Snead would never again win a major championship.
Palmer, on the other hand, would win six more, including three more green jackets over the next six years.
To this day Palmer can’t emphasize one major victory more than another. But there’s nothing quite like the first.
After that maiden major, Palmer got to play a round at Augusta with the President of the United States, famed general and golf aficionado Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“The President, he was there, and he invited me to play golf with him the next morning, Monday morning, which was a great thrill,” Palmer recalls. “I had planned on going home and that changed my mind. I stayed and played golf with him and that was one of the great thrills of my life.
“That’s something I’ll never forget.”
As time progresses our bodies begin to regress. Our faces become less taut. Our stride less quick. Our speech less loquacious. But, if we’re fortunate, our memory remains, even if confusion occasionally casts a cloud.
On a fine day in March, 2008, Arnold Palmer vividly recalls the incidences of the first week in April, 1958. How he won his first major championship and how it forever changed his life.
Can you believe it’s been 50 years, he is asked?
Palmer laughs and looks down. He then looks up, pauses, and says, “Well, it’s a long time. Some mornings when I get up I can believe it’s (been) 50 years. But there are other days when I get up … and then I feel pretty good.”
“Today,” he says, “I feel pretty good.”
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
Related Links:
  • Arnold Palmer - Part 1
  • Full Coverage - The Masters
  • Baggs Check Archive
  • Getty Images

    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

    While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

    Getty Images

    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

    As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

    Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

    And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

    And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

    McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

    The Ryder Cup topped his list.

    Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

    When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

    “Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

    McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

    Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

    “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

    European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

    And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

    The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

    Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

    And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

    Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

    The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

    The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

    More bulletin board material, too.

    Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

    Getty Images

    Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

    Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

    The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

    It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

    The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

    “I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

    Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.

    Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

    By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

    Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

    At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

    Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time Web.com winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

    Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

    “Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

    In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

    “I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

    Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.