SI Vault
Herbert Warren Wind
September 28, 1959
In one of the most exciting matches in the history of championship golf, audacious Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Amateur from defending champion Charlie Coe
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September 28, 1959

Deservedly The New Champion

In one of the most exciting matches in the history of championship golf, audacious Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Amateur from defending champion Charlie Coe

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The highest golf course in the U.S. used to be, and probably still is, a nine-hole layout in Cloudcroft, N. Mex., 9,000 feet above sea level. The highest course of championship quality is somewhat lower. This is Broadmoor, 70 miles south of Denver and roughly 6,400 feet above sea level. Below and to the east of Broadmoor's heaving slopes lies a flat, brown, upland, plain. Directly to the west, thrusting themselves up almost vertically and towering over the green fairways, are Cheyenne Mountain and the other junior peaks which form a foothill range of the Rockies. When the sun is shining, which it generally is in September, these jagged, fir-dotted uprushes of stone gleam salmon-pink and beckoning as one looks up at them, breathing the thin mountain air, and realizes with pleasure that this is where the West really begins.

Last week the 59th National Amateur championship was held at Broadmoor, and it produced a final every bit as spectacular as the setting. It brought together two very strong and appealing personalities, Charlie Coe and Jack Nicklaus. A 35-year-old oil broker from Oklahoma, Coe, the defending champion, has been known to the sports world for a full decade now as a superbly gifted golfer and one of the game's finest competitors. Nicklaus, a towheaded junior from Ohio State, is, understandably, a newer face, but he has been coming like the wind. This year, in addition to starring on the Walker Cup team which Coe captained, Nicklaus has used his powerful, almost overwhelming play, reminiscent of the young Lawson Little, to earn victories in the North and South and the Trans-Mississippi championships.


The 4,000 spectators who witnessed the Nicklaus-Coe final are not likely ever to see a better or a more exciting golf match. It started with a tremendous rush when Coe led off with three straight birdies which gained him only a one-hole lead, since Nicklaus also birdied the second and third holes. Right then and there the imprint of the match was set. It maintained its quality and grew in tension and authentic drama all day long with hardly a moment's letup as Coe carefully forged a 2-up lead in the morning with a 2-under-par 69, was caught by Nicklaus at the 21st, moved out in front again with a birdie on the 24th, was overhauled once more on the short 30th, fell behind for the first time on the 32nd and then came back to square the match on the long 35th, where Nicklaus hooked his tee shot into comparative Indian country, the one error the young bull of a boy made throughout the afternoon.

All even, then, coming to the home hole. The 18th at Broadmoor, 430 yards long, is a dogleg to the right, with a small pond intersecting the fairway halfway between the large upsloping green and the crown of the fairway where the well-placed tee shot will finish. Coe, with the honor, played his drive into perfect position. Nicklaus followed with an equally fine drive perhaps two or three yards longer. Coe elected to play an eight-iron to the pin set well to the rear of the green, 20 feet from the back apron. He hit the shot crisply and on line, but it was a shade too long and the ball trickled over the back apron and into the clumpy rough at the base of a small bank. Here was a great chance for Nicklaus, and the young man seized it with a magnificent shot, a nine-iron that was on the flag all the way and which rolled up the green to within nine feet of the cup. With his work really cut out for him, Coe took a few tugs at his bright red Oklahoma U. football coach's cap (which his friend Bud Wilkinson had given him) and then got the feel of his sand-iron in his fingers. He lobbed the ball delicately onto the back edge of the green. It came rolling slowly, slowly, toward the cup, dead toward it. On the very edge it stopped, literally one turn away. Coe and Nicklaus exchanged knowing smiles, and then Nicklaus began working on the crucial nine-footer which would mean the match or extra holes. It was not an easy putt, slightly uphill with a faint left-to-right break near the hole. He stroked it into the middle and became, so deservedly, our new amateur champion.

Over the strainful 36 holes Jack Nicklaus was 2 under par—and a few further words about Broadmoor will help you to appreciate the full merit of this performance. Because of its altitude, the course presents a rather special test of golfing skill. Though it measures some 7,010 yards, it plays quite a bit shorter—say, 6,700 yards—because the ball travels farther in the rarefied air than under normal conditions. Some acclimatization is needed before a golfer, studying his approach shot to one of the many plateaued greens, gains the knack of selecting the right iron—one club or maybe two less than the one he would have chosen going by his perception of distance alone. Next, he must learn to drop the ball softly on the huge, every bit as slick as Scottish, greens. And they are tricky, to say the least. Assimilating the basic knowledge that the break is generally away from the mountains is only the beginning of reading them and playing them correctly. The real toil, even on an apparently uncomplicated putt that would require only a glance at sea level, is determining whether it is really uphill or just appears to be, whether it will break two inches or two feet and just how softly it needs to be tapped to cruise the slippery surface and die near the cup should it miss it.

For the first three days of the Amateur, as the field of 200 pared itself down to 16 over the first four rounds of 18-hole match play, perfect Zane Grey weather obtained. On the morning of Thursday, the fourth day, it suddenly changed authorship. A pure Alfred Hitchcock cloud of mist settled over the course. As the morning wore on, the air became bitter cold and the fog grew thicker until at some moments visibility was limited to 50 yards. As he teed up to go out with Nicklaus in the morning's last match, Dave Smith of Gastonia, N.C. dourly observed, "I wouldn't send my mother-in-law out to plow in weather like this."


In any event, 16 players vanished into the fog, eight winners returned, stoked themselves with something hot and then trudged out again under vaguely clearing skies for the quarterfinals. In this round Nicklaus eliminated the able Dick Yost, Gene Andrews defeated Charley Harrison of Georgia 1 up, 20-year-old Dudley Wysong from North Texas State edged by 50-year-old Spec Goldman (who was an amateur finalist a quarter of a century ago) and Coe defeated Bill Hyndman 2 up. The Coe-Hyndman duel, I would venture, was nothing less than the most brilliant 18-hole match played in the Amateur, at least since the war. It is deserving of a report in itself, but suffice it to remark here that Coe stood 5 up after corralling five birdies over the first 11 holes and was far from being home safe. Over the next five holes he played four absolutely solid pars and one bogey, and lost four of these holes, Hyndman simply wrenching them away with one peerless stroke after another, as he can do in those purple moods of his. On the 18th, 1 down, Hyndman cut his tee shot into the heavy rough, and it was all over when he could not carry the pond with his second and Coe planted his next to the flag.

The good weather returned in force for the semifinals. Coe, opposing young Wysong in the upper half of the draw, got off fast and was never truly in trouble. In the lower half, against the astounding Gene Andrews, Nicklaus was—in spades. A 46-year-old insurance man who won the Public Links championship in 1954, Andrews is an amazing character: he is painstaking enough to chart every hole and every green in a notebook before a tournament; he is uninhibited enough to wear a wide-brimmed banana planter's hat and to carry his own oxygen tank to Broadmoor; and, as a golfer, he is so capable and dogged that in the North and South final he never let Nicklaus get away and was not beaten until the 36th. Their hard match turned on two greens, the 30th and 35th. On the 30th Gene lost a chance to go 2 up when he three-putted from 20 feet. On the 35th Nicklaus, now guarding a one-hole lead, held it by holing an "impossible" 25-footer over a ridge and down a severe grade, the ghosting ball riding a right-to-left break just above the cup and toppling in. In this manner Coe and Nicklaus, co-favorites from the start, made their way to the final and there fought their memorable battle, a match in which both played with great heart and command.

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