Sports

US Open countdown: Jack Nicklaus draws first blood in storied rivalry with Arnold Palmer

62nd U.S. Open | June 14-17, 1962

Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pa.

Leaderboard

x-Jack Nicklaus, United States 72 - 70 - 72 - 69 283
Arnold Palmer, United States 71 - 68 - 73 - 71 283
Bobby Nichols, United States 70 - 72 - 70 - 73 285
Phil Rodgers, United States 74 - 70 - 69 - 72 285
Gay Brewer, United Sates 73 - 72 - 73 - 69 287
x-won in playoff

Arnold Palmer was the hometown hero — he grew up 40 miles away in Latrobe, Pennsylvania — and he was the overwhelming favorite to capture his second U.S. Open title.

But Jack Nicklaus, a 22-year-old wunderkind from Columbus, Ohio, denied him in an 18-hole playoff and started his own run to golf history.

Fair and square, the bigger, younger Nicklaus, who had turned professional only months earlier, was the better golfer on foreign grounds. He not only pounded drives off the tee well past the swashbuckling Palmer, he also beat the veteran at his own game — by putting better on Oakmont’s severely tilted greens.

In 90 holes, Nicklaus only had one three-putt — a remarkable achievement — while Palmer had three bad three-putts alone in the playoff.

Nicklaus shot an even-par 71 to Palmer’s 74.

This championship certainly had two coinciding plots: the budding rivalry between golf’s two biggest stars inside the ropes, and the poor behavior of the pro-Palmer gallery (between 10,000-11,000 fans) outside the ropes.

Because the two golfers had played together earlier in the tournament, Palmer was well aware of what was going on, hearing patrons yell out derogatory names such as “Fat Jack” and often screaming for the younger golfer to “miss” on tee shots and putts.

That kind of activity brought the ire of Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes, who had followed Nicklaus at the previous two national opens. He often confronted those unruly gallery members.

It was a tense situation — so much so that four Allegheny County sheriffs walked with Palmer and Nicklaus during the playoff.

Even when Palmer trailed early, many in the gallery did not worry. Palmer had already won six PGA Tour tournaments that year, including the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. He was pegged as the overwhelming pre-U.S. Open favorite.

Palmer just never putted well enough to win. At the sixth hole of the playoff, Nicklaus rattled in a 6-foot putt for birdie; Palmer three-putted from 20 feet to fall four shots behind.

Palmer eventually rallied to trim the deficit to one stroke, but he badly misjudged club selection at the 13th hole, another par 3. He hit a 4-iron to the back of the green, about 60 feet away. And he three-putted from there. Later, Palmer conceded that decision cost him any chance of winning.

On the finishing green, after Palmer badly missed a 14-foot downhill putt for birdie, he tried tapping his second putt in with the back of his putter — and missed again. Strangely, he then picked up Nicklaus’ ball marker as a concession.

USGA official Joey Dey intervened, telling Nicklaus he had to putt out to make it official, since this was medal play, not match play.

It became the first of Nicklaus’ 18 professional major victories, which is the most of all time. He also became the youngest U.S. Open champion since Bobby Jones in 1923.

How did Nicklaus celebrate his win? He returned to Columbus for “a little rest and (trout) fishing.”

todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

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