The story of this never-before-seen picture of Arnold Palmer at the 1960 U.S. Open

June 05, 2014

There are numerous milestone golf moments that have not been recorded in any form, and they likely will always be missing, barring a discovery of film from someone's attic. Depending on what you find historical, there could be a substantial list of The Missing Shots of Golf, but it would include Bobby Jones legendarily tearing up his scorecard at St. Andrews in the 1921 British Open, and Byron Nelson's caddie, Eddie Martin, accidentally kicking Lord Byron's ball in Round 3 of the 1946 U.S. Open. And of course there is Gene Sarazen's double eagle on 15 in the final round of the 1935 Masters.

This is a story about something nearly as mythical as Sarazen's albatross in historically missing lore: Arnold Palmer driving the first green at Cherry Hills in the final round of the 1960 U.S. Open, which began his run for a 65 and victory over Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan.

Although it was revealed many years after the Open that a Cherry Hills member had surreptitiously filmed the tee shot on the 346-yard hole while standing at Palmer's back, the mother lode is missing: Either a face-on view of A.P. blasting away, or a down-the-line view in which the golfer, tee, gallery, hole and white ball against the Rocky Mountain sky are all in one frame, similar to Hogan at Merion's 18th in 1950.

Recently I made a discovery in the photo archives of the Golf Digest Resource Center that was a photo taken roughly 27 hours prior to "the shot."

In doing some research in our Cherry Hills course-photo file, I saw some color transparencies that I knew were vintage age and were more than just photos of the golf course. They were, in fact, images from the 1960 U.S. Open that had been in the course file for years, and one in particular caught my eye. It was a view from behind the first tee, taken from a slightly elevated position, showing a group teeing off, surrounded by a fairly large gallery for the era.

I saw from the scoreboard that it was early in Round 2, meaning it wasn't "the Palmer shot," but I started thinking there was something special about it when I saw the standard bearer's placard for the threesome to the left near the starter's tent. The "iddlecoff" of Cary Middlecoff's name could be seen on the top line, the "eck" of the last name of Player 2 on the second line, and just an "r" visible on the bottom line for the third player.

Ah, I thought, I'll just get the pairings for the first two rounds and see who exactly was in that group. But we didn't have the pairings in our research file, so I had to enlist the help of Nancy Stulack at the USGA library. She kindly sent a copy of the pairings. What I saw made me excited for the discovery but a little bummed for what it almost was.


Take a look at the photo and here's what you're seeing: It's the 10:32 a.m. group, Round 2, June 17, 1960, off No. 1; Jack Fleck, in a white shirt and one under after Round 1, is in his follow-through, and to his right in a white cap is two-time U.S. Open champion Cary Middlecoff, six over after a 77; and next to "Doc" is Arnold Palmer, in red, wearing the same red visor he will fling in the air after victory the next day. Palmer was one over par starting the second round.

After resigning myself to the fact this was a nearly great shot, I still could appreciate it for what it was: a never-before published, nostalgic image from one of the great major championships in golf history, a color image of a view few dared capture (see the "photography prohibited" sign on the tree to the right) with the Colorado Rocky Mountain majesty in the distance.

What is unspoken about the image is that from the Golf Digest perspective, the photo reconnects us with the bold thinking and doing of our founding fathers since it's likely either Bill Davis, Howard Gill, Jack Barnett or Senior Editor John May took this shot, nimbly staying behind the security guard so they can't be spotted.

But the shot also brings up the boldness and brilliance of Arnold Palmer. We sent him a copy of the photo and he looked it over with considerable interest. It was rare for him to see photos of this view from his Open victory, but in recalling this specific moment on No. 1, he said of the hole, "I knew I could drive that green and I went for it every round."