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Golf Australia Express : Issue 40—The US Open
AND SO A LEGENDARY rivalry began. It was 1962 and the golf world was about to be turned on its head. A chubby 22-year-old kid from Ohio named Jack Nicklaus had recently turned professional after winning the US Amateur the previous year. Wide-eyed and bushy- tailed, the young hopeful rocked up to the US Open at Oakmont Country Club having nearly won the major two years earlier as an amateur. Still without a professional win to his name, Nicklaus was supremely confident. But perennial fan favourite Arnold Palmer—with Arnie’s Army in tow—had other plans for the young upstart. This was his town. These were his people. And Palmer was looking to emulate his 1960 US Open win at Cherry Hills where he bettered his nearest chaser in Nicklaus by two shots. But this year would be different. Paired together for the first two rounds, Nicklaus quickly showed he wasn’t intimidated by his giant opponent, birdieing the first three holes of the tournament and grabbing the early lead to upstage Palmer in front of his home crowd. Of course, that wasn’t the way it was supposed to happen. After all, Palmer— who was 10 years his senior— was the cool guy, the one who made women’s knees knock. He was big and burly and fans loved him. He was the king of golf having just won the British Open and his third Masters title. Yet Nicklaus— this chubby chipper from outta town—was threatening to change all that. Not that he cared. It’s not like the crowd made him feel welcome anyway, bobbing up at opportune times like eavesdroppers at a gossip convention to shout monikers like “Ohio Fats” and “Fat Jack” in his direction. Those folk would no doubt now understand the saying, ‘never poke an angry bear’. Palmer and Nicklaus see- sawed during the round with the ledger slightly in Palmer’s favour at day’s end having shot a 71—two shots behind leader Gene Littler. Nicklaus was a stroke further back after shooting a 1-over 72. THEFOLLOWING DAY saw Palmer come out swinging, posting a 4-under 68 to share the 36- hole lead with Bob Rosburg. Nicklaus was able to ignore the taunting crowd and stayed in touch with the leaders carding a 2-under 70. Back in those days, the final 36 holes were played on the Saturday, and although the two drawcards were no longer paired together, the attention was no less directed at them. The morning round saw little change between the two, with Nicklaus narrowing the gap by one when Palmer missed a two-foot putt at the 18th. Although Palmer held the lead with Bobby Nichols at the lunch break, he knew the miss was a costly one in an event where his putter continually let him down. The final round saw Palmer turn on one of his famous charges, birdieing the second and fourth holes to extend his lead. By the seventh he was up by five on Nicklaus and it looked like the rookie’s dream had been stopped by the King. But when Palmer blew an eagle chance at the ninth to end up with a bogey there, Nicklaus pounced, eventually tapping in a par at 18 for the clubhouse lead. It wasn’t over yet. Palmer had one last thrill for his loyal fans, sticking a 4-iron to 10 feet on the “ If I had been able to beat that strong, young dude in the tournament, I might have held him off for another five years... I let the Bear out of the cage.” —Arnold Palmer