tournament is held at St. Andrews the celebrated Old Course invariably tries to
upstage the biggest names in golf and become the central figure in the show.
Last week, when the old gray town on the North Sea was the scene,
appropriately, of the 100th anniversary British Open, it turned the force of
its personality on Arnold Palmer.
The Old Course is
altogether different from any other of the world's acknowledged championship
tests. Its deep-walled bunkers, most of them unperceivable from the tees, crowd
along the fairways or suddenly bob up smack in the middle of them. To avoid
them in calm weather takes a well-controlled drive; when twisting winds blow in
off the sea it takes sheer artistry, plus a spot of luck.
The greens are
much harder in surface than those in America. You cannot play your approach
right up to the stick as you can on our soft, watered greens. At St. Andrews
your ball would bounce up like a kangaroo and finish yards beyond the target.
You must allow for plenty of bounce and roll. Moreover, 14 of the holes on the
Old Course share double greens—seven huge putting surfaces that are divided
between outgoing and incoming holes. These greens weave, ripple, undulate and
sometimes break like an arrested wave; even a short putt is seldom without a
slight roll to be read. If an architect were to design a course today like St.
Andrews he would probably be laughed out of his profession. It is only right at
Fresh from his
successful European debut in the Canada Cup matches at Portmarnock in Dublin,
Palmer arrived at St. Andrews a week before the qualifying rounds were
scheduled. During his practice rounds Palmer, with his characteristic
conscientiousness, worked hard to memorize the locations of the Old Course's
bunkers, mounds and gullies. Each evening he pored over maps of the holes to
chart the ways he would play them in the various winds and weather.
For all of this
assiduity, Palmer was enjoying himself in Scotland. Like few foreign golfers
before him, he graciously found the time to attend a number of social functions
and to sign countless autographs with good-natured patience. His attractive
personal qualities, added to his aggressive method of attacking the course,
made him the most popular American invader since Bobby Jones.
On the eve of the
tournament Palmer had become fairly well acquainted with the layout, but Peter
Thomson, the compact Australian stylist who has won the British Open four
times, ruled a slight favorite. There was considerable backing also for Gary
Player, the 25-year-old from South Africa who was the defending champion, or
holder, as the British put it.
Still, there was
no question that the main story of the centenary Open lay in Arnold Palmer's
bid to add the British title to the Augusta Masters and the U.S. Open in his
effort to effect a sweep this year of golf's major championships. Could he do
it? A large part of the answer to this question obviously resided in how well
Palmer had learned the bizarre niceties of the Old Course in a week's cramming
and in how well he could adapt his game to its finicky, flustering demands.
The British Open
is really a drama in three acts. The first is composed of the 36-hole
qualifying rounds. At St. Andrews both the Old and New courses were used, half
of the enormous field of 380-odd starters playing the Old on the first day and
the New on the second, the other half scheduled the other way round. The
qualifying rounds reduced the field to 74, the cutoff coming at 147. Palmer
with 142 (67 on the New, 75 on the Old) was in comfortably, and it had probably
done him no harm to have one drive blown out of bounds on the Old Course and to
take two shots in the bunker called the Principal's Nose, for this surely would
counteract any tendency for Palmer to underrate St. Andrews.