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That better hole
Palmer turned his attention back to the statistics spread out on the cluttered desk. "You see," he said, "I actually played the course well enough to win last year if it weren't for that last hole. I was two under on the par 3s for the tournament and even on the short par 4s. That's the best I've ever done on those holes. In fact, my 281 for the tournament was the best that I've ever shot at the Masters."
Palmer opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a small green booklet containing records of past Masters tournaments. "Look," he continued, "except for 1956 and 1959 I've always improved my score at Augusta. I'm determined to break 280 on that course."
If Arnold Palmer is determined to break 280 at the Masters, it is almost a foregone conclusion that he will—if not this year, then sometime. For determination is a factor in Palmer's golf that counts just as much as his powerful, all-out manner of hitting the ball. It has been said of him often enough to become a clich� that when he needs to win he simply "wills the ball into the hole."
When the 1962 tour started in Los Angeles in early January, Palmer was playing, for him, quite mediocre golf. In the first four tournaments he won a mere $1,825 and stood 33rd on the money list. However, anyone who kept even a casual eye on Palmer during that period could see a change coming over him. By the time the tour reached Pebble Beach for the Crosby, Arnold had begun spending long, sweaty hours on the practice tee. He wasn't just banging the ball out to his caddie like a man keeping his swing in the groove; he was tearing at his shots with a fierceness that bespoke a purpose: to get out of the ruck of golfers and back into the dominating position he has occupied ever since he came charging to the front in 1958.
There was more of the same kind of practice the following week in San Francisco (where he finished in a tie for 34th, his worst performance to date) and more still the week after at Palm Springs. "I had had my mind on a lot of other things besides my golf," Palmer has since explained, "and I decided I had to get back to business."
On the Sunday when he started the fifth and final round at Palm Springs Palmer was in third place, three strokes behind Gene Littler, who was leading. For the previous 10 days Littler had been playing superb golf, winning at San Francisco with rounds of 65-68-68-73 and covering the first four rounds at Palm Springs in 67-71-64-68—a total of 27 under par for eight rounds. Against such brilliant consistency, Palmer's prospects of overcoming Littler's lead were indeed gray. But that was not taking into consideration the Palmer determination.
Palmer and Littler were in the same pairing for this final round at Palm Springs, and starting at the fifth hole Palmer threw five straight birdies at Littler. The effect was conclusive. All of a sudden, Gene ceased to play with the precision he had been showing over such a long streak, and Palmer went on to win the tournament by a comfortable three strokes. He won the next one at Phoenix by a stupendous 12 strokes. He then felt justified in leaving the tour for a couple of weeks to attend to other matters in his new office in Miami.
The statistics say that Arnold Palmer will have to work hard to win at the Masters, and Arnold agrees. But once he puts his mind to it this champion can shatter a statistic as abruptly as he overcame Gene Littler's lead at Palm Springs.