On this day, January 7, an American icon unleashed one of his patented final-day charges to win the Los Angeles Open.
The year was 1963, and the scene was the 11th hole at Rancho Park Golf Course. With his good looks, humble beginnings, easy accessibility, and derring-do style of play, Arnold Palmer was a Southern California crowd favorite. But he’d never finished better than 10th in the L.A. Open, and on the last day of the tourney the groans were audible as he hit his ball over the 11th green.
Palmer did not panic, despite finishing the hole with what he later smilingly called “an easy six.” He merely birdied the 12th hole with a 25-foot putt, drove nearly 375 yards to the foot of the green on the 16th, hit a 50-foot chip shot into the hold on the 17th, and closed out with a par for a last-day score of 66. “Arnie’s Army” was delirious.
They still are, really. The man is 83 now, and has branched into many endeavors, writing books, getting congressional Republicans and Democrats to the same events, healing the sick and the lame. I’m not kidding about that, a point we will revisit in a moment.
The game of golf once had a reputation as a pastime for the idle rich. In truth, there were always working-class champions in the sport, but it was the arrival of a young man whose father had been a groundskeeper at Pennsylvania’s Latrobe Country Club – an arrival that coincided with the advent of increased television sports coverage – that helped make golf accessible to the masses.