Golf’s luminaries have paid tribute to Arnold Palmer today. Palmer played six Ryder Cups for the United States, captaining the team to victory in 1975. This extract, from Behind the Ryder Cup: The Players’ Stories, sees ‘The King’ arrive in signature style at the 1967 Ryder Cup in Houston. It also reveals an unlikely wager in the 1967 competition, in which Palmer pulled off a tremendous comeback in the fourball matches to win a handmade clock from Jackie Burke.
Extract from Behind the The Ryder Cup: The Players’ Stories
Arnold Palmer: My troubled relationship with Ben Hogan began when my pal Dow Finsterwald arranged for us to team up and play with Hogan and Jackie Burke in a practise round before the 1958 Masters. I had a bone-wearying midnight drive across South Carolina and I went out on the course that morning and played abysmally. A little while afterward, as we were changing in the club locker room, I heard Ben Hogan remark to Jackie, ‘Tell me something, Jackie. How the hell did Palmer get an invitation to the Masters?’
That really stung me. I’ll never know if Hogan knew I overheard the comment. But he certainly was aware that I was nearby and could have overheard it. I knew he was probably the most precise shotmaker who ever played the game and no particular fan of my style of play, having once said of my game, ‘Palmer’s swing might work for him, but no one else should try it.’ In any event, the question burned me up and set my mind on showing him why the hell I’d been invited to the Masters. To go on to win it that year was quite something.
Johnny Pott: Hogan was a totally different captain than Byron Nelson had been. Byron wrote us a letter every week and kept us informed and all that. Byron was very outgoing and kept us abreast of everything that was happening. And maybe that had been because we were going to England for the 1965 matches. But we really never did hear much from Hogan, except we knew from our correspondence from the PGA that he definitely was going to be there.
We were told to arrive in Houston on the Monday of Ryder Cup week. There were ten players on the team, and we were told to be there on Monday for a practise round. Normally, what we would do was play two fivesomes. Well, we were getting ready to play about ten o’clock and Arnold Palmer hadn’t arrived. Hogan goes around to everyone and asks, ‘Where is Arnold Palmer?’ Somebody said, ‘Well, he’s not here yet. We haven’t seen him.’ Hogan says, ‘I’m gonna wait a little while. I really want us all to play in two fivesomes, and I’d like to see how you guys are playing.’ About a half hour later, Arnold buzzed us at Champions in his jet. He flew by about five hundred feet above the ground, made some funny turns and all that kind of stuff. Hogan looks up and says, ‘Oh, there’s Arnold Palmer, huh?’ There’s an airport in the vicinity of Champions where Arnold landed, and I think Arnie got a citation from the FAA for buzzing the golf course. But that’s another story.
Arnold shows up and he walks out on the practise tee hitching his pants, and you know how Arnold is, and he says, ‘Hey, Ben, what ball are we playing?’ Hogan says, ‘Well, Mr Palmer, when you make the team, I’ll let you know.’ He was pretty hot at Arnold for not being there with the rest of us.
Peter Alliss: That was the first time we saw Arnold Palmer in his jet plane. He zoomed over the course and got a telling off from Ben Hogan for behaving badly. ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing, flying over the course?’ He had got Henry Longhurst and Pat Ward-Thomas, two journalists, up with him, giving them a ride around in his new jet. It was revolutionary, his new plane. It was all very exciting. I remember Arnold’s plane had gone zooming round and suddenly there was a little bi-plane that came across, obviously a flying club plane, and somebody said, ‘That’s the caddies arriving!’ It was quite funny.
Hogan couldn’t believe Arnold had pulled that stunt. We couldn’t believe that a golfer had his own plane!
Arnold Palmer: I loved it, that was my thing – I loved flying my plane.
Jack Burke Jnr: Palmer went to Hogan and said, ‘Are we gonna play the little ball or the big ball?’ – because we had an option in those days to play the English ball or the American ball. And Hogan said, ‘Fella, I’ll tell you when I tell you if you’ve made the team.’ Palmer never did like that.
Arnold Palmer: The thing I remember about Hogan was that he never called me by my name. It was always, ‘Hey, fella!’ He was pretty standoffish. He wasn’t a real friendly guy. His friends were Burke and Demaret and as far as I knew those were his best buddies. Demaret always kidded with him and talked to him a lot, wasn’t intimidated by him.
Ben Hogan: If Jimmy Demaret had concentrated on golf as much as laughing and making people laugh, he might have won more tournaments. Of course, I wouldn’t have liked him as much.
The fourballs on the second day really showed the difference in class between the two teams as the US won seven matches outright, with the only blight (if it can be called that) on their record being the halved match between Littler and Geiberger with the resolute Jacklin and Thomas.
Julius Boros: I was playing with Arnold Palmer against George Will and Hugh Boyle in the Saturday afternoon fourball, and at the halfway point we were down by four. So I turned to Arnold and I said, ‘I’ve heard about these famous charges of yours. Let me see you get out of this one with one of ’em.’ Arnie was so used to challenging himself, he was surprised when he was challenged by someone else. So he said, ‘You follow me.’ I did, and I’m a son of a gun if he didn’t pull that damn match out the bag. We won one-up.
Arnold Palmer: Julius Boros and I were getting trounced early in the fourball matches against Hugh Boyle and George Will when I glanced up and saw Jackie Burke looking on. Jackie was the host professional at Champions and a long-time friend who loved to pull my chain whenever he could.
‘Well, Palmer,’ he drawled slyly as we walked off the green where Julius and I had gone three down. ‘Looks like you two have gotten yourselves into a real mess.’
I glanced at him as if I had no idea what he was talking about. ‘What do you mean, Jackie?’
He grimaced. ‘I mean, I don’t think even you will be able to get your team out of this one.’
‘Jackie,’ I replied, ‘I’m sorry you don’t have any faith in us.’
‘Sorry. Not this time,’ he said.
‘Well, if that’s the case,’ I proposed thoughtfully, ‘you wouldn’t care to put a little something on it, would you?’
Now the old rascal smiled. ‘I tell you what. If you somehow get out of this mess and win this match, I’ll make you a clock.’
‘A clock?’ I asked.
‘Not just any clock,’ he added. ‘A beautiful handmade clock.’ So a clock it was. On the very next hole, Julius and I started a charge and went on to secure a come-from-behind one-up victory. That momentum propelled us through the rest of the weekend. I won five matches, gave the Brits a joyride in my airplane that brought the wrath of the FAA down on my head and scored five points, contributing to one of the largest American margins of victory in the history of the Ryder Cup. That handmade clock, incidentally, which has the twelve letters of my name where the numbers usually are, sits on a shelf in my office workshop. That’s a place very special to me – the place I really love to go and work on clubs and be alone with my thoughts. So it’s only fitting the clock is there, reminding me of a wonderful moment in my playing career and how much fun it was to take that clock out of Jackie Burke’s hands.
Going into the singles, the US held a 13–3 advantage. Over the course of the two sessions they once again demonstrated their outstanding abilities to finish the third day’s play 10½–5½. The final overall score of 23½–8½ was the largest margin of victory ever posted in Ryder Cup history.
Behind the Ryder Cup: The Players’ Stories is available online and in all good bookshops.