A Legend Is Born
Palmer Establishes Legacy, While
Miller Has Round For The Ages
March 8, 2007
With the U.S. Open returning to Oakmont this June for a
remarkable eighth time - no course has held more U.S. Opens -
we offer the third installment of a four-part series that
examines all the USGA championships held there.
Click here for part I
click here for part II.
By , USGA
Far Hills, N.J. - Coming into the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont,
there was no doubt which player was the fan favorite. Arnold
Palmer had won his third Masters the previous April and had
notched 30 tournament titles over the past seven years. In 1953,
he was a mere 23-year-old amateur when he competed at Oakmont,
but now he was the charismatic, go-for-broke swashbuckler.
Palmer's connection to the masses was remarkable. And the
Open being played in his backyard created more appeal. He was a
western native and Oakmont was this region's signature
|Arnold Palmer, left, offers a
congratulatory handshake to Jack Nicklaus. (USGA Photo
was the anti-Palmer. Some people referred to him as "Fat
Jack" because of the 22-year-old's physique. But he
arrived at his first Open as a professional with plenty of fire.
The former Ohio State University All-American had won the 1959
and '61 U.S. Amateur titles, and in between, he nearly took
the 1960 U.S. Open, falling two strokes short of Palmer at Cherry
Hills Country Club near Nicklaus, however, was still searching
for his first victory as a pro.
When the Open commenced, Palmer and shared the 36-hole lead at
3-under 139. The final two rounds on Saturday produced plenty of
twists, with Palmer, Nicklaus, Rosburg, , and all taking the lead
at some point. Rodgers would see his title hopes end at the short
par-4 17th hole, making an 8 after his tee shot got lodged in a
pine tree. He wound up in third place at 1-over-par 285, two
strokes behind Nicklaus and Palmer. Had it not been for his balky
putter, Palmer might have won the title in regulation. He missed
12-foot birdie putts at 17 and 18. "Are there any good
putters in the crowd?" asked Palmer. "He can give me a
In the playoff, Palmer bogeyed the opening hole to
Nicklaus' par, a lead the , native would never relinquish.
Palmer gave the fans hope with short birdies at 11 (7 feet) and
12 (5 feet) to get within a stroke, but his three-putts damaged
him. Palmer finished the championship with 11 three-putt greens
as compared to just one for Nicklaus, who shot an even-par 71 to
Palmer finished 1962 with eight victories and two major titles
(Masters and British Open). But Nicklaus would go on to win 17
more majors, including four U.S. Opens to tie the mark held by ,
For an eight-year period from 1965-72 the USGA decided to play
the U.S. Amateur like a U.S. Open, employing a 72-hole
stroke-play format. During this era, the Amateur returned to
Oakmont in 1969.
Since the last major championship at Oakmont, the first hole
had been reduced from a par 5 to a par 4. And with several other
holes playing from the middle tees, the course measured just
6,670 yards. Nevertheless, just three players managed to better
par, with only champion , a 22-year-old All-American from the ,
doing it twice. (69) and (70) were the other two competitors to
better the par of 71.
, a two-time Oakmont club champion, missed the 36-hole cut
after opening with an 81. "I can't remember the last
time I didn't break 80 here," said .
The field also included future major-championship winners
(1982 U.S. Open, six British Opens and two Masters), (1978 and
'85 Open), Tom Kite (1982 Open) and Lanny Wadkins (1970 U.S.
Amateur and '77 Championship). Also in the field was British
Amateur champion of , who shot an opening-round 77 and could only
shake his head at the difficulty of Oakmont. "We've got
fast greens in ," he said, "but ours are mostly
flat." In 1983, Bonallack would be named the Secretary of
the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and own five British Amateur
Meanwhile, Melnyk got comfortable with Oakmont right from the
outset, breaking par twice in going wire-to-wire for the victory.
He led by three at the end of the first three rounds and
eventually finished at 2-over 286 for a five-stroke win over
Marvin "Vinny" Giles. Miller finished third at 293.
Melnyk, a future Tour player and television commentator for
ABC, ESPN and The Golf Channel, did have one anxious moment
during the final round. His 2-wood approach to the par-5 fourth
hole rolled over the green into a bunker. At this point, his lead
was down to two strokes and there was the legendary Palmer
standing 15 feet away watching the action. "I thought,
'Oh lord, what's he doing here?' " said Melnyk.
Palmer happened to be home in Latrobe and wanted to take in the
Facing a 60-foot bunker shot, Melnyk coolly holed out for an
eagle 3 and a four-shot lead. He finished with rounds of
"When I first saw the course, I was so intimidated - I
didn't think a course could be so hard," said Melnyk.
"But it played right into my hands, because I was never one
to make a lot of birdies."
It arguably is one of the greatest rounds in golf. Period.
People can talk about Palmer's closing 65 to win the 1960
U.S. Open and Nicklaus' marvelous 65 (30 on second nine) to
win the 1986 Masters at the age of 46, but what Johnny Miller did
at Oakmont in 1973 was simply unbelievable.
|Johnny Miller had to overcome 12 players
and six strokes on the final day to win the 1973 Open. (USGA
No player in the history of the game had ever shot a 63 in a
major championship and nobody figured to do it at Oakmont, let
alone the 26-year-old Miller who had yet to make a major mark in
As golf writer Marino Parascenzo put it in Oakmont's club
history, "It was like breaking the 4-minute mile or [Sir]
climbing [Mount] Everest."
The game's greats of that era included three-time Open
champion Nicklaus, two-time winner Lee Trevino, 1965 champion
Player and Tom Weiskopf, who would win the British Open a month
later. At the time, Miller was best known for being the
19-year-old "kid" who tied for eighth as an amateur in
the 1966 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club. Miller initially planned
to caddie at his home club, but then qualified for the
But the stage had been set for greatness two days earlier when
unheralded club of , carded a course-record 65. In that second
round, an Open-record 19 players broke par on a course that had
been soaked by rain. Miller, however, spent the first three days
of the championship in relative anonymity. Player led at the
midway point by a stroke at 5-under 137. One local to miss the
cut was of , who had been the low amateur at the 1971 and '72
U.S. Open. In '71, Simons held the 54-hole lead and wound up
tied for fifth, the best showing by an amateur since Nicklaus in
Even with the storms softening conditions, Player carded a
third-round 77 to fall out of contention. Local favorite Palmer,
who shot a third-round 68, shared the 54-hole lead with two-time
winner , and the unheralded .
Before the final round, Miller was so confident that he had
his wife stay behind with 6-month-old daughter Kelly to pack
their belongings. They had plans to catch an early plane out of .
Twelve players and six strokes stood between him and the
Overnight rains had softened the course some more, but even
with the normally intimidating greens losing some of their bite,
the course was playing at 6,921 yards. Only seven players managed
to break par in that final round, with a scoring average of
The first signs of nerves went to Schlee, who hit three tee
shots at the opening hole. Even though his first ball was found
by officials, he made a double-bogey 6. He wound up losing the
Open by a stroke.
Playing without the final-round pressure of the leaders,
Miller opened by collecting birdies on three of his first four
holes to rocket up the leader board. His lone bogey came when he
three-putted the eighth, but he quickly regained the stroke with
a birdie at nine. Palmer missed a short birdie at the 11th and
when he got to the 12th tee, he saw that he now trailed Miller.
Palmer proceeded to bogey 12, 13 and 14 to shoot a 1-over 72 and
tie for fourth with Trevino and Nicklaus at 2-under 282.
On the second nine, Miller birdied three in a row from the
11th, and added another at 15. All told, he had nine birdies and
one bogey. "I was the winner of the U.S. Open after a round
that must have been made in heaven," said Miller after
rounds of 71-69-76-63-279.
Said a stunned Weiskopf, who finished third at 281
(73-69-69-70), " ? I didn't know he made the
In the coming years, 63 would be the standard at major
championships. No player has bettered the mark at any of the four
professional majors, although shot a 62 at the 2006 U.S. Senior
Open at Prairie Dunes Country Club and Floridian Billy Horschel
carded a 60 in stroke-play qualifying at the '06 U.S. Amateur
at Chaska ( ) Town Course, the second stroke-play course.
The Full Nelson
|Not many expected Larry Nelson to
separate from the pack, but the victory helped establish him
on the tour. (USGA Photo Archives)|
The setup for the 1983 U.S. Open was one of the most
challenging in the U.S. Open era. It might not have reached
Winged Foot proportions from 1974, but Oakmont was in that area.
The rough was deep and dense, achieving the same results than
what the old furrowed bunkers used to do. From 1983 onward,
Oakmont became the gold standard for U.S. Open rough. Miller
thought the conditions were a way to get back at him for his 1973
"Well, the members here have pride," said the
two-time major winner, "and they don't want my low
number . to be repeated. Hence the rough."
Said 1981 U.S. Open champion : "I will never, ever play
an Open at Oakmont, even if I am lucky to be the defending
champion. The rough is ridiculous."
From : "If , who can lift an elephant, can get a ball out
[only] 30 feet from this stuff, it is unfair."
, who was in charge of getting Oakmont ready for the
championship, said it was a matter of preserving the course's
reputation. "Oakmont is a short course by modern standards,
and it has some downhill holes," said Fuhrer. "But it
wasn't the length of the rough, it was the thickness, and it
was thick. These were the most brilliant, skillful players in the
world. Each course has its own characteristics. They have to
adapt. They said I took driver out of their hands. I didn't
do that. They took it out themselves. The name of the game
isn't who hits it the furthest, but who shoots the lowest
Oakmont club professional Bob Ford survived the difficult
conditions to become the first host pro since Claude Harmon in
1959 at Winged Foot to make the 36-hole cut, shooting
76-73-75-72-296 to tie for 26th with Tour pros Curtis Strange, a
future two-time U.S. Open champion, Ken Green and Japan's
Tommy Nakajima. Forest Fezler, the runner-up in 1974, also made
history by changing into a pair of shorts prior to the 72nd hole.
The Tour had a no-shorts policy, so Fezler thought he was also
tweaking his nose at the USGA. said there was no rule against
wearing shorts (there is now). Fezler shot a 77.
Meanwhile, the event belonged to , a late-bloomer who
didn't come to golf until he was in his 20s. Nelson first
served in and then worked in an aircraft factory. At the time, he
began visiting a driving range after work and became hooked on
the game. By 22, he was proficient enough to earn a position as
an assistant pro. He went from there to the mini-tours and
eventually the Tour, where he would win two majors, including the
rain-delayed '83 Open. Coming into the event, he had made
just six of 16 cuts and earned just $30,000. Nelson wasn't a
name that popped up among the pre-championship favorites.
The beauty of sports, though, is to expect the unexpected,
especially at a U.S. Open. It would be a cross-country putt at
the 70th hole and some untimely bogeys by defending champion
Watson that would lead to Nelson's victory.
Nelson struggled through the first two rounds, shooting 75-73,
but it was his third-round 65 that grabbed everyone's
attention. He passed all but two men who were ahead of him -
co-leaders Watson and at 1-under 212, and (70), for whom he was
tied with a stroke back.
Watson looked like the first repeat winner since Hogan in 1951
when he shot a first-nine 31. But heavy rains late on Sunday
forced six players to finish the final round on Monday morning.
Nelson and Watson were tied at four under par, with Watson facing
a 35-foot putt at 14 and Nelson on the tee of the long par-3
16th. Watson two-putted for his par, while Nelson found the green
with a 4-wood, 62 feet from the hole. It was a tricky downhill
putt that could roll off the green if not struck properly.
All Nelson did was bang the ball into the back of the hole for an
improbable birdie 2 and a one-stroke lead. He then made a 4 at 17
and three-putted 18 from 50 feet for a 5 at the 72nd hole. He now
owned the clubhouse lead at 4-under 280 following a final-round
Watson now needed a birdie on the last two holes to win. But
his 9-iron approach to the short 17th found a bunker and he
missed a 5-foot par attempt. Now he needed a birdie at 18 to
force a playoff. His approach was too bold and found rough beyond
the green. Looking for the same magic he had at the 71st hole at
the '82 Open at Pebble Beach, when he chipped in for a
birdie, Watson was a bit strong with his third shot, but he holed
the 40-foot come-backer for par to fall a stroke short
(72-70-70-69-281). was third at 283, with Pete and reigning
Masters champion Ballesteros sharing fourth at 286.
When he was later asked about the odds of holing that 62-foot
putt, Nelson responded, "I couldn't even put odds on a
is a staff writer for the USGA. E-mail him with questions or
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