'Cause if you’re telling a story, at some point you stop. But stories don’t end.
There’s a beauty in words. You hear something. You read something. And those words – particularly when you are unable to articulate them – are impactful. They make you pause. And then you understand: There really is no end to a story; chapters close but the universal narrative remains.
When Arnold Palmer finished runner-up in the 1960 Open Championship, it was the end to his Grand Slam bid. But the story? It endured. Through Jack Nicklaus, in 1972. Through Tiger Woods, in 2002. Through Jordan Spieth, in the present.
Stories don’t end. And sometimes, you’re not sure where they begin.
The concept of the modern-day, single-season Grand Slam is said to have been born from Palmer’s mind. And since no one can definitely say otherwise, most accept it as fact.
In his autobiography, Palmer recounts a trip to the United Kingdom in 1960. He had just won the U.S. Open, to go along with his Masters triumph, and he and Pittsburgh Press writer Bob Drum started chatting about Bobby Jones winning the four biggest events of his time in the same season – the U.S. and British Opens and Amateurs in 1930.
From Palmer’s “A Golfer’s Life”:
“Somewhere on my first flight over there, during our extended cocktail hour, Bob Drum and I got to talking about Jones’ great Grand Slam. Drum remarked to me that it was a shame that the growth of the professional game, among other things, effectively ended the Grand Slam concept as it had been known in Jones’ day.
"'Well,’ I said casually over my drink, ‘why don’t we create a new Grand Slam?’”
“Drum gave me one of his famous contrarian glares that made him look like a cross between an annoyed college dean and a sleeping bear someone had foolishly kicked awake.”
“’What the hell are you talking about?’ he muttered, though probably a little more colorfully than that.”
“I explained what I was thinking. ‘What would be wrong with a professional Grand Slam involving the Masters, both Open championships, and the PGA Championship?’”
“He chewed on that for a few seconds, then sipped his drink and snorted. Usually, a Drum snort meant he thought your idea was so utterly ridiculous he sometimes wondered why he wasted his time sharing oxygen space with you. This time his snort meant he thought, ‘Well, kid, maybe you’ve got something there.’”
Palmer goes on to say that Drum spread this new Grand Slam concept to his British peers, stoking those amateur ashes that are aflame today.
Every great athlete has his or her season, the one that transcends all others. And when you’re a legend, those seasons are historic.
Jones had ’30. Ben Hogan had ’53. Nicklaus had ’72. Woods had 2000.
Palmer owned 1960.
“I don’t think,” said Thomas Hauser, author of “Arnold Palmer: A Personal Journey,” “any year meant as much to a sport as 1960 meant to golf. And the catalyst to that was Arnold Palmer.”
Palmer was 30 at the time of his crossing the Atlantic, already a 19-time Tour winner and three-time major champion. He had won six times that season, including those aforementioned majors, birdieing his final two holes to win by one shot at Augusta and coming from seven back in the final round to prevail at Cherry Hills.
Popularity was already Palmer’s. Arnie’s Army was well established by this time, formed during his march to his maiden major victory at the ’58 Masters.
Men admired him and women adored him, to be trite. He had those eyes that could narrow with purpose, and then open with affection. He had those John Henry forearms and that Everyman background. And he had an unparalleled, and least in his sport, bravado.
He was a model of Kipling’s “If,” except he was the king who had a common touch.
As Henry Longhurst would say of Palmer, “He has no fancy airs and graces; he wears no fancy clothes; he makes no fancy speeches. He simply says and does exactly the right thing at the right time, and that is enough.”
And he won. He won often and he won big events and won dramatically. The packaging and the substance were magnified because he was golf’s great champion, never more so than in 1960.
On his own, Palmer would have been just fine. We’d still be talking about his exploits today. But two sources conspired to make him an international icon: TV and Mark McCormack.
While numbers vary in slight, about eight percent of American households had televisions in 1950. That number was nearly 90 percent a decade later.
Palmer was, as good friend Dow Finsterwald said, “the right guy at the right time.” He was the perfect man for the expanding medium.
And then there was McCormack. He and Palmer famously shook hands in 1960 and became business partners. McCormack knew: You sell the man, not his game. And, to do it right, when you have the right person, you do it on a global scale.
Three Americans played the Open Championship in 1959: Bob Sweeny, Jr., Robert Watson and Willie Goggin. None made the cut at Muirfield. In fact, the numbers had been steady dwindling since Hogan won at Canoustie in ’53. Six Americans in ’54; five in ’55; four in ’56; three in ’57; one in ’58.
McCormack, in part, convinced Palmer he needed to play the Open in order to brand himself internationally. It didn’t really take much persuading.
“One of the things that my father taught me when I was a young boy and talking about playing professional golf, he said, ‘Just remember one thing: You’ll never be a great player unless you play well internationally.’ So he says, ‘Put that in your mind and think about it through the years,’” Palmer said.
“And I did. The first opportunity I had to really go play internationally was the Open at St. Andrews in 1960. I looked forward to that very much.”
Nearly everything fell into place for Palmer in ’60. The Masters win, the U.S. Open victory, the McCormack alliance, the TV explosion, a first trip to compete in the British Open – at the Home of Golf, nonetheless.
Palmer didn’t win at St. Andrews. He finished one shot back of Australian Kel Nagle.
It was the centennial anniversary of the Open Championship. Back then, the event started on Wednesday and concluded with 36 holes on Friday. Palmer – who said in his biography of the Old Course, “I wasn’t impressed at first sight … I thought it was probably as easy a golf course as I’d ever seen.” – opened in 70-71 and shot 70 in the first 18 holes on Friday. He was only four back and, after coming from seven in arrears just a few weeks prior, he fancied (sorry, Henry) his chances.
But then it rained. “I mean it rained. It rained like I’d never seen it rain before, coming in wild gusts and torrents,” Palmer said.
For the first time in Open history, the event was pushed to Saturday. They didn’t like to do that over there, as officials liked to conclude an event on Friday to allow competing pros to work in their shops over the weekend. Golf, after all, didn’t make one rich or famous.
Until Palmer came along.
Palmer shot 68 in that delayed final round, birdieing the 72nd hole. But it wasn’t enough. “For what it’s worth,” he wrote, “I always thought, and still feel, that the postponement hurt my chances of winning that first British Open I’d played in.”
Ever gracious in defeat, Palmer praised Nagle. He then won the event in 1961. And again in ’62.
When Palmer debuted at St. Andrews, he was joined by three other Americans. Six showed up in ’61. Eight in ’62. By 1970, just as television boomed with a decade to grow, there were 24 U.S.-born players in the field.
From 1934-60, two Americans (Sam Snead in ’46; Hogan in ’53) won the claret jug. Beginning with Palmer in 1961, five won it over the next 10 years. Eight times an American won in the ‘70s.
“Hardly any Americans played [prior to Palmer],” Sir Michael Bonallack, former secretary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, which runs the Open, said. “He changed the whole concept of the Open. He gave it a fresh impetuous.”
There was reason for the lack of Yankee integration. There was the financial aspect. The 1960 U.S. Open had a purse of $60,720, with $14,400 going to the winner. The British Open paid out around $19,600 with the winner raking in $3,500. You can see why European players had to work proper jobs on weekends. Not exactly motivation to travel overseas.
Travel … that was another issue.
“It was much more difficult than it is now,” Peter Dawson, outgoing chief executive of the R&A, said. “I think those post-war years were much more difficult [than we realized] and it got to be into the ‘60s before it all began to get back to normal.”
Added Hall of Fame BBC broadcaster Peter Alliss: “It was a long way to come. The rewards weren’t very big. Airplanes weren’t going so fast. The accommodations were, by American standards, very poor.”
There was also the qualifying aspect. Not even the defending champion was exempt into the following year’s Open Championship. Palmer traveled to Scotland in ’60 knowing he had to play two qualifying rounds just to get into the British– and he was the Masters and U.S. Open champion. After winning in ’61, he still had to qualify in ’62.
“Even in ’62, when Palmer won for a second time, he still had to qualify,” Bonallack said. “After ’62, they changed it.”
Palmer began an American revolution, one that revitalized the Open Championship. And, the revolution was televised.
But Palmer didn’t just inspire his peers. His most profound effect, as it has always been, was on the public.
Those who bore witness can testify.
“It was great excitement when Arnold Palmer first appeared,” Alliss said. “He was a new man in America; he was taking the States by storm. He was colorful, he was swashbuckling, and the people over here couldn’t wait to see him. And he didn’t disappoint.
“He looked muscular. He smoked cigarettes. He didn’t really smoke them, he just sort of inhaled once and the ash appeared. There was something sort of romantic and wonderful about it all. He played this sort of incredibly bold game, went for everything, and was an immediate success. The crowd liked him, he appreciated them and it was a great beginning. Thank goodness he came back many times.”
“They were used to seeing the pros more conservative in their approach to the game, knocking it down the middle and putting it on the green and two-putting,” Bonallack said. “But Palmer, in winds and bushes and rough and still attacking everything and getting away with it …”
Even with reporters, those who Drum is said to have worked with to create the concept of the modern, professional Grand Slam, were taken by Palmer.
“Well he was a dream come true to the sports writers. They hadn’t seen anything like this on a golf course – his approach to the game, his ferocious swing. And [he was] tremendously strong and nothing was impossible,” Bonallack said.
“They praised his vigor and his inspiration, and this is the British press we’re talking about,” said Angela Howe, director of the British Golf Museum. “Praise, indeed.”
There are 710 accredited media members, not including those working for television, at the 2015 Open Championship. It’s the 144th edition of the event and the fifth time in modern history that a player enters having won both the Masters and U.S. Open.
Arnold Palmer is there.
He attended Monday's World Golf Hall of Fame induction ceremony. He will also participate in past champion activities, according to longtime publicist Doc Giffin. And then he will head to north to Inverness “for work in connection with the new course he and his Arnold Palmer Design Company are doing at Castle Stuart,” Giffin said.
By Saturday, he’ll be home in Latrobe, Pa. Will he watch the Open? Maybe. Palmer likes to get up early and read through mail, signing photos for adoring fans from Chambers Bay to China. During that time, yeah, he might turn on the television.
“It will be an extremely-difficult thing for Jordan to achieve,” Palmer said of Spieth’s Grand Slam bid.
There really wasn’t much more for Palmer to add.
Perhaps Spieth will do what Palmer could not. Perhaps he won’t.
Either way, the story doesn’t end.