Wednesday, July 11

Rosburg on Palmer and Nicklaus at 1962 U.S. Open

ONE OF THE MOST ENJOYABLE INTERVIEWS I conducted while researching and writing THE LONGEST SHOT was with Bob Rosburg, who died in 2009. Of course, we talked about the 1955 U.S. Open, where “Rossie” played and was only two shots off the lead heading into the final round.

But we also talked about several other events: the 1959 PGA Championship (his one major); the 1959 Ryder Cup (his only Ryder Cup appearance); and three other U.S. Opens, 1960 at Cherry Hills (Denver), 1962 at Oakmont (Pennsylvania) and 1969 at Champions (Houston).

I was reminded of Rossie’s comments about the 1962 U.S. Open, that epic showdown between Arnold Palmer and tour rookie Jack Nicklaus, while recently watching the USGA documentary, “Jack’s First Major.”

Guess who was playing with Palmer on the final double-round day?

It was Rosburg. And he had a chance.

Just as memorable to Rossie, though, was how Arnie gave that one away.

Here’s what he told me.

[ME] When I was reading up on you I realized you were on the 72nd green with him [Palmer] at Oakmont when he had that 10 footer to win. You finished up, and you walked by him and said, “Arnold, if you’re ever going to make a putt, this would be a good time.”

[ROSSIE] That’s exactly what I told him. At the time, Nicklaus was so young and a lot of people kind of thought he was cocky. None of us knew him well. I don’t think many of the players were rooting for him. That’s why I said it. Then Arnold ran it about four feet by. Oh my God, because he three putted so many times. But he made the next one. Of course, he got beat in the playoff.

[ME] You played with Arnold at Oakmont but you didn’t play with Jack.

[ROSSIE] No, I didn’t.

[ME] One of the things I read is how hostile the crowds were toward Jack, especially there since it was in western Pennsylvania.

[ROSSIE] It was unbelievable. Playing the last 36 with him [Palmer], it was a real hot day. At Oakmont, there’s one thing about it, from green to a tee it’s not very far. It’s an old-time golf course. You don’t have to walk very far to the next tee. They had so many people there, it was almost like you’re suffocating. It just didn’t seem like there was any air around. It was a long day, I’ll tell you that. I think I was leading going into the 17th hole in the morning. I made a five on an easy little par four and Arnold made a two. I did par the last hole and he bogeyed it. I was one or two behind going into the last round and I played like a dog. It was tough. The crowd was so much pro Arnold. I mean, it should have been. That’s his home. He deserved to win. He outplayed everybody. He just frittered it away.

If you haven’t seen the USGA documentary, I recommend it. I expect that Golf Channel is still airing it now and then.

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