U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
Palmer’s 1954 U.S. Amateur Win Celebrated at C.C. of Detroit
August 28, 2021 | Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich.
By David Shefter, USGA
The last time Fred Ridley saw the replica Havemeyer Trophy that was prominently displayed on the first tee at the Country Club of Detroit on Saturday was 16 years ago. Then the USGA president, Ridley had the honor of presenting the beautiful gold piece of hardware to 1954 U.S. Amateur champion Arnold Palmer during a special dinner in his honor at Pinehurst during the week of the 2005 U.S. Open.
Ridley, a U.S. Amateur champion himself (1975), decided to use his exemption into this week’s U.S. Senior Amateur solely because of what Palmer’s victory here 67 years ago meant to him and the game.
Palmer defeated Robert Sweeny, 1 up, in the 36-hole final that he called the “turning point” of his career, one that gave him the confidence to take the next step in the game. Palmer turned professional that fall and produced a legendary career, both on and off the course.
“He was my idol. He was my hero,” said Ridley, who grew up in the 1960s and early 1970s at the height of Palmer’s professional prowess. “He was a man of the people. He always had time for everyone. There’s not going to be anyone like him ever again.
“I had lunch with him at Bay Hill [in Orlando, Fla.] in May before he passed away. He always sat at the same table in the grill room. Everybody came to say hello. A lot of people knew him, but then there were guests at the lodge. They always started out saying, ‘Mr. Palmer, we don’t want to bother you but can we get a picture with you? Can you sign this flag? Can we have your autograph?’ He smiled and did every one of them.”
To celebrate the man and his history-making achievement at the Country Club of Detroit, the USGA, with assistance from Arnold and Winnie Palmer Foundation executive director Ken Boehner and board member David Normoyle, arranged to have the replica Havemeyer Trophy given to Palmer at that 2005 dinner on the first tee. On Friday, a personalized Arnold Palmer golf bag with several vintage clubs from his vast collection were available for players to view. Many were in awe of the persimmon woods Palmer used to win seven major championships, including the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club when he charged from behind with a final-round 65.
Each contestant received a letter from Palmer’s daughter, Amy Saunders, along with a photo of Arnie with his parents, Doris and Deacon, after winning the title in 1954 and a replica contestant’s badge. Inside the locker room, photos from the 1954 U.S. Amateur and past articles, including a Sports Illustrated cover, were prominently on display. And all week, the 18th hole flagstick will be topped by a special flag featuring a silhouette of Palmer tossing his visor upon winning the 1960 U.S. Open.
Players, officials and club staff gazed at the trophy and took pictures. At the time Palmer received the trophy from the USGA in 2005, it was only one of three 100 percent replicas in existence. Today when players win the U.S. Amateur, they have the opportunity to purchase a 90 percent replica.
“Anything connected with Arnold makes things special,” said 2015 U.S. Senior Amateur champion Chip Lutz, who had the opportunity to play a few rounds with Palmer before his death five years ago.
Lutz’s father, Buddy, lost to Palmer in the semifinals of the 1948 Sunnehanna Invitational (now Sunnehanna Amateur). Buddy won the title in 1947 and 1949. When Lutz won the U.S. Senior Amateur, Palmer sent him a typed letter to congratulate him.
“He, of course, had such great recall for people and places,” said Lutz, a native of Reading, Pa. “He totally remembered my dad.”
Perhaps no player in this year’s field had a closer connection to Palmer than 2017 champion Sean Knapp. The Oakmont, Pa., resident had the honor of playing several times against Palmer in the annual Palmer Cup, an annual competition between top amateurs and pros from western Pennsylvania conducted at Latrobe Country Club, where Palmer grew up and learned the game.
“He’s just meant so much to the game, especially to those of us from western Pennsylvania,” said Knapp. “We sometimes have a tendency to underestimate everything he has done. He’s the King.”
Knapp likes to tell the story about his last encounter with Palmer, in 2015. He had just finished playing 36 holes in the Palmer Cup and because his afternoon match ended early, he had the luxury of spending some quality time with Palmer in the men’s locker room at Latrobe C.C.
“After a half-hour, I said, ‘Mr. Palmer, can you excuse me?’” said Knapp. “I have to go take care of my caddie.”
Palmer then gave Knapp a terse look thinking why anyone would leave their caddie outside for that long.
“It’s my daughter,” Knapp continued. “She needed to get cleaned up after 36 holes.”
Hearing that, Palmer told Knapp to bring her inside to meet him.
“As I was stammering through the thought of bringing her into the men’s locker room,” Knapp said. “He put his big powerful hands on my shoulder and said, ‘Sean, bring her in, I’m Arnold Palmer!’”
Memories like that, from the countless people who Arnold Palmer touched throughout his extraordinary life, are why today’s celebration takes on special importance for this year’s U.S. Senior Amateur field.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.