Palmer fails to capture the centenary Open
Arnold Palmer’s appearance in the centenary Open at St Andrews in 1960 was undoubtedly the catalyst which re-ignited world-wide interest in the championship. The number of American players taking part in the Open in the previous decade had fallen dramatically. Peter Thomson of Australia and South Africa’s Bobby Locke had won seven titles in eight years. In 1959 they were joined by Locke’s young compatriot Gary Player, who had captured the coveted trophy at Muirfield.
Palmer arrived at the home of golf as the newly crowned US Open champion. His victory was achieved in a style for which he was to become famous. Starting the final round seven shots behind leader Mike Souchak, he birdied six of the first seven holes for an outward 30 and a final 65. Although he was three under par after the first two rounds, Palmer’s efforts were overshadowed by a pair of opening 67s from Argentina’s Roberto de Vicenzo and the 69-67 start by little known Australian Kel Nagle.
The third round was decisive for Vicenzo. He drove out-of-bounds at the 14th and finished in 75, allowing Nagle to move ahead by two shots. Palmer’s 70 left him four shots behind and the scene was set for a combative final afternoon, the last 36 holes then being played in one day. But torrential rain swept across the links and within minutes the course was unplayable. Water cascaded down the steps by the R&A clubhouse like a miniature waterfall and the Valley of Sin disappeared under three feet of water.
The magical draining properties of links golf allowed the final round to be played the next day and the two leading protagonists — Palmer and Nagle were both out in 34. Palmer was still four shots behind within only nine holes to play. He made up two of them at the 13th and 15th, made four at the 17th for the first time all week and then holed a birdie putt at the last. Nagle, in the match behind, was facing a crucial par putt at the 17th as he heard the roar from the last green to signify Palmer’s birdie. To his great credit he holed that putt and made a safe four at the last to win the title by a single shot.
Already 40 years old when he won at St Andrews he went on to become a prolific winner in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Europe, and lost a play-off for the US Open to Gary Player in 1965. Palmer famously won the next two Opens, at Birkdale and Troon, and re-established the Open as a major target for the leading American players.