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WINNING A BARREL OF BEER MONEY
Alfred Wright
September 07, 1964
A brewery put up golf's biggest purse and pros from around the world tried to take it, but the foreigners never had a real chance as Bobby Nichols held off Arnold Palmer and won the $35,000 first prize
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September 07, 1964

Winning A Barrel Of Beer Money

A brewery put up golf's biggest purse and pros from around the world tried to take it, but the foreigners never had a real chance as Bobby Nichols held off Arnold Palmer and won the $35,000 first prize

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It was, in sum, a major commercial enterprise, but by last week it had just the kind of international flavor—and attention—Carling had hoped for. A sort of United Nations arc of flags flew around the practice green, and at the tournament's formal opening ceremonies a protocol officer from the State Department read a welcoming message from President Johnson: "On behalf of all Americans and particularly those who are devotees of the great sport of golf, I extend best wishes and welcome...." Impressed, Billy Casper observed with ferver, "This is a tremendous tournament. There's no telling how important it could be to international sport in years to come." There the amenities ended, and the pros set out on the stimulating business of drubbing their foreign friends and each other in pursuit of $200,000.

As the play proceeded, the only notable disappointments in the otherwise triumphant debut of the tournament were the size of the galleries (40,639 in four days) and the performance of the visitors from abroad. None but Gary Player of South Africa and Bruce Devlin of Australia were in serious contention on the final day—Player finishing in third place with 281 and Devlin in a tie for sixth at 283. Both of them are, however, among the more successful competitors from week to week on the U.S. professional tour, so they hardly qualify as strangers to the world of American golf. The only other overseas visitors to crack the first 40 were Peter Butler, the British PGA champion, whose 288 brought him a tie for 17th, and Peter Alliss, the long-driving British Ryder Cup perennial, who tied for 33rd with a 290.

Twenty-nine of the 48 visitors failed to make the cut at the end of two days. None of the South Americans made it, only Koichi Ono of Japan among the Asians and only half of the 12 entrants from the British Isles. Obviously, this says something emphatic about the relative qualities of tournament play in the U.S. and the rest of the world. What it says, in the main, is that a course like Oakland Hills is just too much golf—the holes too long, the bunkers too many and the greens too difficult—for players who are not accustomed to the American way of golf. The exception to this is the British, for, when the weather is violent, the more noble of their seaside courses can make Oakland Hills seem like peewee golf. But the British pros simply do not have the opportunity to develop enough tournament toughness during their short season.

Nothing illustrated this point better than the performance of Butler. He started the tournament with two fine rounds of 71 and 69 and found himself in a tie for second on Friday evening. "It's certainly nice to see one of the visitors doing so well," said a Carling official—a sentiment echoed all around the clubhouse, for everyone hoped that the international tournament would maintain some international competition. But late Saturday afternoon Butler started to drift back into the pack, and his final round of 76, while playing in the same pairing with Palmer and Player, showed what can happen to a stranger in the presence of Arnie and his Army.

Yet if the foreign performance was not lustrous, that of Ben Hogan was. Every time he walked up to a green he received the kind of applause from the gallery that can come only to a man of profound quality, and his tie for fourth at 282 after a final round of 68 was something to be savored. The Hawk still inspires awe among his fellow pros, too. One afternoon Pete Brown, a fine young Negro golfer who tied Hogan for fourth, came bounding up the stairs to the grill room, where some other players were eating, and chirped in a shrill voice: "He just said, 'Hi, Pete.' "

"Who did?" someone asked.

"Hogan did," said Brown, in a tizzy.

Bobby Nichols, it developed, got something from Hogan, too. "I practiced with Ben Hogan on Tuesday," he explained, "and I really learned a lot. I just tried to hit the ball the way he does—straight down the middle and up onto the green and hope to sink a putt or two." That is exactly how Nichols played through the tension-filled last seven holes on Sunday, refusing to change his strategy no matter what Palmer did. A birdie on 12 and then six safe pars were good enough to win. Just as he had done at the PGA when his winning putt went in, Nichols lofted his red cap high into the happy gallery, and then Arnold Palmer was saying—rather seriously—to him, "Let me have one once in a while, will you?"

Palmer will get one, to be sure, and Carling seems to have one now. "I hate to sound excessively puffy about it." Carling's Tim Russell found himself saying puffily last week, "but there is no limit to this tournament's possibilities." Next year it will be played in the U.S. again, and then in England. But meanwhile it does have one limit. Its first champion won't sell a lot of beer—Bobby Nichols doesn't drink the stuff.

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