For 50 years people have been talking about that most amazing climax of all U.S. Open golf championships, in which an unknown 20-year-old Bostonian named Francis Ouimet finished in a tie with the famous British champions, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Now it may be another 50 years before anyone forgets the wild events at last week's 1963 Open Championship, played over the same course to commemorate the golden anniversary of Ouimet's eventual victory in his three-way playoff. Fittingly enough, there was another three-way tie at the end of 72 holes, but only after some of the hairiest, slap-happiest tournament golf since the demise of the gutty ball and the hickory shaft.
This time the playoff winner was 43-year-old Julius Boros, the antithesis of young Ouimet. Boros is a hardened pro with the dimensions (6 feet and 210 pounds) of a linebacker and the temperament of a turtle. Facing Arnold Palmer and young Jacky Cupit in last Sunday's playoff, Boros was the least likely man in the world of golf to be panicked by the 18 holes of awesome competition that lay ahead. To some spectators it looked more as if his main problem was just staying awake until the end of the afternoon.
As the three players started down the first fairway, the landscape of Brookline was finally in a calm and beneficent mood after three days of violent winds that blew golf shots and golf scores every which way. All week birdies had been as scarce as live redcoats on Bunker Hill, but that was just past history as far as phlegmatic Julie Boros was concerned. Firing three birdies on the first nine for a two-under-par 33, he built up a three-stroke lead over Palmer and four over Cupit, a 25-year-old Texan whose four brothers are also golf professionals. On the back nine Boros just kept ambling along, dropping in another birdie on the 17th and finishing with a one-under-par 70, while Palmer, fighting an upset stomach and playing some of the most erratic golf of his spectacular career, blew to a 76 despite four birdies of his own. Cupit, taking the middle road, plodded to a 73, beating out Palmer for second place. For hefty Boros, it meant a hefty purse: $17,500.
As befits the disposition of the winner, it was a placid climax to a hectic weekend. Not since an unknown pro named Sam Parks sneaked in a winner of the Open Championship at Oakmont in 1935 with a score of 299 had the winning score of a major U.S. tournament been so high. The 293 strokes that Boros, Cupit and Palmer took over The Country Club's 72 holes and the other money-winning totals, that climbed as high as 320, caused touring pro Mason Rudolph to muse, "They look like the scores at a caddie tournament."
Subpar golf has become a matter of pride among modern professional golfers, and nothing bugs them quite so much as an uncooperative golf course. All last week The Country Club was just that, and it was abetted by the unpredictable winds. "They ought to draw a white line around the course and call it ground under repair," whined one golfer. Former Open Champion Ed Furgol said they should proclaim it a disaster area. When Samuel Wolcott Jr., the president of The Country Club, went into the locker-room bar for a drink, Doug Ford advised him, "If you're sensitive about your golf course, you'd better put plugs in your ears."
Most Country Club members were too polite to answer back, although at least a few of the indictments of the course were either routine gripes or just bad information. One widespread complaint had it that The Country Club had dyed the grass to make the course look presentable. So it had, on three of the greens only—two that had been burned out by winterkill and one on which vandals had painted obscene words just before the tournament began. The strongest public response to all the mutterings came from a Boston sportswriter who blurted in print, "These golfers talk as if they wanted to go big game hunting at the zoo."
Bostonians should not have been surprised at the furor, for it is axiomatic that several days before the Open begins, the columns of the nation's sports pages will carry painful outcries from the contestants about the brutality of the Open course. The rough has been allowed to grow into the fairways to the point where the ball can only be kept in play with a rifle. The greens are as slippery as a ballroom floor. The bunkers are as unplayable as Grand Canyon. The USGA is a monster.
But this year's din of complaint was perhaps the loudest ever. The Country Club is an old-fashioned course in its natural state, shorter than the younger courses where most of the modern championships are played. To make it suitable for the Open, it had to be tightened. Then along came a severe New England winter which burned out patches of fairway grass with a disease known as winterkill. When the golfers arrived at The Country Club for their practice rounds they found spots where even their best shots lodged in tight and difficult lies.
Chick Harbert, a former PGA champion, took one look at Brookline and called it the " Cadillac of golf courses—1911 model." Palmer, trying his nice best to be nice Arnie, refused to be critical until somebody asked about the 470-yard 12th hole. "It's ridiculous," he said. On and on went the comments, like a Greek chorus in full cry.
Nobody, however, was prepared for the kind of resistance that The Country Club actually put up once the tournament began. At the end of Thursday's play only two of the 136 pros and 14 amateurs in the field had broken the par of 71. The 12th hole had lived up to its advance notices. Just five birdies were scored on it the whole day—one of them by Palmer. But the 11th, a 445-yard par-4, had made the 12th seem like a pitch and putt hole. There were seven birdies on 11, but there were also 21 double bogeys or worse as the pros slapped shot upon shot into Horseshoe Pond, an otherwise inoffensive body of water guarding the front of the green.