Arnold Palmer talked with me at the 3M Championship about the famous U.S. Open duel that took place 50 years earlier in Denver. This column appeared in the Star Tribune on Aug. 8, 2010:
Arnold Palmer won the U.S. Amateur in 1954 and turned pro in the fall. He had seven victories from 1955 through 1957, and then started changing golf's buttoned-collar image with his first of four Masters titles in 1958.
Appreciative applause turned into cries of encouragement and roars of elation. Emotions kept under a hat were replaced by the squint, the grimace, the hitch of the pants and the triumphant toss of a visor.
Palmer had five PGA Tour wins in 1960, including the Masters, when he came to Cherry Hills Country Club in suburban Denver for the U.S. Open. This was a time when the Open concluded with 36 holes on Saturday -- a format that would change in 1965.
That day of golf 50 years ago has been immortalized in Curt Sampson's book, "The Eternal Summer," and in an HBO documentary, "Back Nine at Cherry Hills," which the network has been repeating recently.
These retrospective pieces have been able to look at Cherry Hills as among golf's greatest generational moments. The contenders on the back nine included Ben Hogan, 47, the man in the white hat and with ice water coursing through his body; Palmer, 30, and emerging as the game's superstar; and Jack Nicklaus, 20, still an amateur and reaching a large national audience for the first time.
At the time, golf followers only suspected that they were seeing Hogan as a factor in the U.S. Open for the last time. They were not sure that Palmer's run of glory would last long enough to earn him the eternal nickname "The King" -- or that Nicklaus, this collegian from Ohio State, would become the player by whom all others would be judged.
All we saw that day was Palmer making the astounding charge from seven strokes behind third-round leader Mike Souchak, and that Hogan was among those left in the wake of Arnie's 6-under-par 65.
A half-century later, Palmer was ready to make his appearance with the Greats of Golf in the 3M Championship. His gallery at TPC Twin Cities would be large and include 60-somes that could remember the thrill of hearing on an AM car radio that Palmer had driven the green on the par-4 first to open his final round at Cherry Hills.
"If I really got into it, I could hit a ball 300 yards, at that time," Palmer said Saturday. "This was 346, but at altitude, so I felt I could get there. The first three rounds I made two pars, and a 6, when I went in the creek.
"On Saturday afternoon, I finally got there, and two-putted for a birdie."
He had five more birdies over the next six holes to get 6 under for the round and 4 under for the tournament. On the eighth tee, he noticed Pittsburgh's Bob Drum among some arriving sportswriters.
"Drum had followed me as I came up in the game in Pennsylvania -- sort of raised me in the ways of media," Palmer said. "After the morning round, I saw him at lunch and said, 'Bob, if I shoot 65, do I have a chance?' And Drum said, 'Wouldn't do you any good.'
"That hacked me off. So, I saw Drum at No. 8 and said, 'What are you doing here? I don't have a chance.'
Palmer bogeyed the eighth and shot 30 on the front. Souchak was blowing up to an 82 and the Open was wide open. Dow Finsterwald, Jack Fleck, Julius Boros, Jerry Barber and Don Cherry surfaced and then fell back.
So did Nicklaus, the kid playing with Hogan, with a pair of three-putts on Nos. 13 and 14.
It became Hogan vs. Palmer, and Hogan arrived at the par-5 No. 17 with a Saturday run of hitting 34 consecutive greens. There's a slight debate on what happened with Hogan's 55-yard third shot:
Hogan and others said it spun off the green and into the creek. Others agree with Palmer: "I was watching from the 17th tee. Hogan hit it a little heavy and it came in short."
No matter. Hogan was wet, made bogey and cleared the way for Palmer to finish with two pars to win the U.S. Open.
Greatest victory of all? "Souchak had me by seven strokes going into the last 18 holes, so it's a pretty good one," Palmer said.
One more unknown for the freshly minted golf fans on that Saturday in June 50 years ago: We didn't know this stupendous comeback had produced The King's only U.S. Open victory.