HATS WERE OFF—TO ARNIE
FRIDAY. This day, brilliant, glorious, more perfect even than the one just past, was Arnold Palmer's. He played against an alien army, he played against Chi Chi Rodriguez, he played against the field—and he vanquished them all with ease. It was too fitting to believe, but then something special goes on between Palmer and the Masters. It is a kind of love affair. He regards the Masters with a reverence that he offers no other tournament, and the Masters galleries regard him, in turn, as a chosen son. He may not win a tournament for six months, he may pile double bogey upon bogey, he may shoot a 112, but he will always be their Arnie. Now came tiny Chi Chi with a lively little guerrilla army that called itself Bandidos and his own hat-waving, jig-dancing, bowing, irreverent ways. Interlopers on sacred soil, but exciting interlopers.
As Palmer walked to the first tee to play what was going to be the single most interesting 18 holes of this tournament, he looked fit and happy. The eight pounds he had gained since he stopped smoking rode easily on him, and he has not gained any in recent weeks, though his wife Winnie testifies that he has become a nonstop nibbler. Winnie described his mood as "relaxed, joking, pleasant—here yet not here," by which she meant that his mind was mostly out on the golf course in that semidetached, uncomplicated way it gets when he is playing golf in earnest.
The only minor flaw in Palmer's well-being was a slight skin irritation on his face. He had worn a peaked cap (see page 19) on Thursday to protect himself from the bright spring sunshine. Arnie's Army didn't like the cap and kept yelling to him to take it off—this being an army that never hesitates to advise its general. Winnie, who thinks her husband looks bad in all hats and caps—"balloon-headed," she called him on Thursday—bought him a tennis-type white visor, and talked him into wearing it. The Army conceded it was an improvement. Chi Chi, a flamboyant Puerto Rican whose on-course antics frequently annoy and upset the other tournament pros, had a hat of his own. It was straw, it was dashing and it had a nice wide brim that made it easy to grab if you wanted to take it off and wave it at the gallery, which Chi Chi wanted to do on every possible occasion. In spite of his ebullient behavior, or maybe because of it, he is an excellent golfer. He weighs 116 pounds, including hat, yet he is one of the longest drivers in the game. Arnie's huge gathering of Georgia followers was eager to see its commanding officer put the bouncy Chi Chi in his place.
The match was hardly under way when a plane flew overhead trailing a banner reading GO ARNIE GO, an answer to the hundreds of cm CHI'S BANDIDOS buttons that were pinned on many blouses and shirts in the all-but-raucous crowd. The plane was followed by another advertising the thrice-nightly appearances of Miss Patti White, a stripper at Augusta's Bon Air Hotel. Neither of these aerial demonstrations pleased Palmer. (And the less said the better about the startling arrival of Patti herself on the putting green on Thursday—tight pants, low-cut blouse and sandals.)
Nothing about the early part of Chi Chi vs. Arnie foretold the fireworks to come. Palmer was hitting brilliant iron shots at the pin, just as he had the day before, and he made the turn in an effortless 35. But Rodriguez stuck right with him. Not only that, Chi Chi was outdriving Palmer and taking deep bows or doffing his hat in mock salute every time the gallery gave him—or Arnie—a cheer. His behavior seemed to get to Arnie. The dignity of the Masters was being trifled with, and Palmer began to look more purposeful with every step.
Finally, at the par-5 13th, the break came. Arnie outdrove Chi Chi by about a yard, but both were well around the bend of this crescent-shaped fairway and had clear shots over the water and to the green. Chi Chi hit a beautiful three-wood onto the green and bowed deeply to the gallery. His followers went wild. You could feel Palmer burn. He took a one-iron out of his bag (get that, Chi Chi: an iron, not a wood) and hit a truly memorable shot. It landed within a foot of the flagstick and ran five feet past. It was a magnificent, deadly, "take that" stroke. Chi Chi was done. The cards were on the table, and he had been called.
Chi Chi then three-putted, and a lot of the bend went out of his bow. Arnold himself missed his five-footer for an eagle, but he tapped in for his birdie 4. A couple of minutes later, at 15, where he hit a long second shot into the gallery to the right of the green—that is the safe side, and he wanted to be there—Palmer rolled in a 35-foot putt for another birdie to go five under par for the tournament. "That," said Winnie, "is the first putt Arnie has sunk in three months. It could really help his confidence."
At the par-3 16th, Palmer hit his five-iron tee shot to within six feet of the pin and sank the putt for a birdie. On the 17th he hit his approach to within eight feet and missed the putt by an inch. Par. On the 18th he put a four-iron 10 feet from the pin and sank that one for his fourth birdie in six holes. When the putt rolled in he purposefully contained his own exuberance, and merely smiled at the crowd.
Palmer's 68 was nearly flawless, one of the finest rounds of his competitive career. It was so stunning, so overpowering, that it seemed astonishing to find anyone even close to him at the end of the day. But people were, of course. Gary Player, with an even-par 72, was just four strokes back. Gary's card, which showed only a single bogey and a single birdie, indicated a much steadier round than he actually played. He had to one-putt six of the greens to get his pars, and on the 13th he had to hole an almost unbelievable 45-footer for a par. "The putt had to go over two humps in the green and curve two or three different ways to get to the hole," Gary said. "I got a sore neck watching it."