The closest major league baseball team was in Milwaukee, there was no NFL training camp approaching, the Gophers’ nine-game football schedule would open by hosting nonconference rival Nebraska on Sept. 26, and the Minneapolis Lakers had finished on April 9, losing in a four-game sweep administered by Boston in the NBA finals.
The NBA wasn’t a big enough deal for a cap F for finals … not in 1959. Heck, owner Bob Short was giving clear signs that he was getting ready to move the Lakers and young star Elgin Baylor (as he did to L.A. the following April) and neither the newspapers nor the public seemed worked up about it.
What the Twin Cities sports sections engaged readers with in the Summer of ’59 were events considered important in men’s golf: the PGA Championship at Minneapolis Golf Club on July 30-Aug. 2, followed by the Trans-Mississippi Amateur at Woodhill Country Club on Aug. 17-22.
The term “championship’’ was not yet part of what would become required branding. Sixty years ago, it was the National PGA, just as the USGA’s big event was the National Open.
There had been two National PGAs in the Twin Cities — at Keller, in 1932 and 1954. Keller also was the home of the St. Paul Open, a regular tour event.
The National PGA was match play from its inception in 1916 through 1957. And what occurred at Llanerch Country Club near Philadelphia in 1958 was the dawning of this age for TV to call the shots in sports.
CBS paid the PGA of America to televise the tournament starting in 1958, with the caveat that it would become 72-hole stroke play.
There still was lamenting over this before the 1959 tournament. Walter Hagen, a five-time winner of the PGA match play, arrived on the grounds on Wednesday as a non-playing legend.
He was 67, very stout, and known to have a taste for liquor. The photo accompanying a Bill McGrane article in the Minneapolis Tribune also showed Walter with a freshly-lit cigarette tucked between his lips.
“I hated to see match play go,’’ Hagen said. “Medal play is like playing bridge and match play is like playing gin rummy. In bridge, you have to be quiet and mind your manners, but in rummy, you can talk to your opponent … kid him.
“Match play was more fun.”
Sam Snead, then 47, came walking past as Hagen held court and said, “How’ya doin’, Champ?” And Hagen responded: “Sammy. Sammy, boy. How are you?”
Snead slammin’ and Sir Walter kibitzing, and Arnold Palmer, not yet 30 and the grimacing face of TV golf, and Doug Sanders, in those color combos that looked zany even in black-and-white — they were right here in our midst.
The 1959 National PGA was historic for Minnesota sports for this reason:
We were going to be on national TV. Only a few holes and limited time slots on the weekend, but CBS would be describing a Minnesota golf course, and showing our fans crowded 10 deep around the greens and tee boxes, and surely Jim McKay would tell the nation how impressed he was by it all.
Remember … 1959.
No big-league baseball or football. Only glimpses of Gophers football on TV, until they upset Iowa in November 1960 and went to the Rose Bowl. This wasn’t Flyover Land. It was Flyby Land. The 1959 National PGA was both our golf and national TV coming-out party.
Bob Rosburg wound up winning by one when Jerry Barber bogeyed the last two holes, but what counted were the TV cameras, and a crowd total of 49,750 for four days that was a PGA record.
The large turnout came even as Charley Johnson, the Star and Tribune executive sports editor, was reporting that he had received complaints from golf fans over the fact the admission charge of $3 for Thursday and Friday was raised to $5 for the weekend rounds.
There was no such outlandish fee to take in the Trans-Mississippi Amateur two weeks later at Woodhill. Jack Nicklaus won six matches that week, the last being 3-and-2 over British Amateur champion Deane Beman. It was Nicklaus’ second straight Trans-Miss title, and a month later he won the U.S. Amateur in Colorado Springs.
Nicklaus’ lead over Beman was 1-up on Woodhill’s 15th hole, when Nicklaus hit a 9-iron that bounced off the side of a bunker and caromed to 15 feet of the pin. Young Jack said, “Sorry, Deane,” and then walked to the green and made the putt to win the hole.
Sid Hartman, a Tribune sports columnist, did extract this revelation from Nicklaus on a visit to Woodhill that week: After graduating with a pharmacy degree at Ohio State, the 19-year-old was planning to go to work with his father in running the five pharmacies the family owned in Columbus.
“I plan to play in all of the big tournaments, pro and amateur, but turning pro [as a golfer] doesn’t appeal to me,’’ Nicklaus told Sid.
That was disappointing to those that watched him at Woodhill in the Summer of ’59, because most all agreed young Mr. Nicklaus had the potential to develop into an accomplished professional golfer.