The Open owes a debt of gratitude to the great Arnold Palmer, but as far as ‘The King’ was concerned, the pleasure was all his.
Palmer’s enormous impact on golf’s original major has been well-documented. His appearance at St Andrews in 1960 revived The Open in the eyes of American golfers and played a significant role in ensuring the Championship became the global event it is today.
After finishing second at the Old Course on his debut, Palmer went on to lift the Claret Jug in 1961 and 1962, adding his name to an elite band of players to have won back-to-back Opens.
Thirty-five years on from his first appearance in the Championship, he then returned to St Andrews for his final outing and was able to reflect with joy on his long association with The Open.
Speaking at the Past Champions’ Dinner in 1995, Palmer said: “It’s a great pleasure for me to have the opportunity to close this meeting, and to say to all of you what a great pleasure it has been for me over the years.
“To have come here in 1960 and play in this Championship and to see what I saw then, and to see what I have seen over the years has been a fantastic pleasure.
“This Championship is one that I came to because I thought it was the most revered Championship in the world. I still think that. It’s been great fun for me.”
Later that week, Palmer went on to bid a memorable farewell to St Andrews and The Open on the Swilcan Bridge, before telling a news conference: “I guess it’s over and that’s very significant to me. I can’t help but remember all the years that I’ve had and enjoyed, and that’s most important.”
Prior to Palmer’s decision to play in 1960, American interest in The Open had waned. However, great excitement surrounded his maiden visit to St Andrews, particularly as Palmer was chasing a calendar Grand Slam after following up his second victory at the Masters with a stunning comeback success at the U.S. Open.
Palmer narrowly missed out to Kel Nagle at the Old Course in The Open’s centenary year, finishing one shot behind in second, but his appearance and eye-catching performance marked a significant turning point in the Championship’s history.
He went on to triumph at Royal Birkdale and Royal Troon in 1961 and 1962 respectively, with a young Jack Nicklaus making his first Open appearance in the latter event as the number of American participants swiftly rose.
“It was exciting for me because I was trying to fulfil a desire that I had to play in The Open Championship,” Palmer added. “And I felt that if you were going to be a champion, you couldn’t be a champion without playing in The Open and hopefully winning The Open.”