Then, Goalby might well have gotten to the heart of the matter: "We older fellas think we're so smart, see. We over-read, overthink, instead of really letting it happen. I got news. Our nerves—all of us—aren't as good as they used to be."
Of course, like the fans, the players also kept watching for Palmer. How could they help it? The Senior Open, in fact the entire Senior Tour, can fairly accurately be described as the Palmer Circuit. Even the USGA recognized two years ago that the Senior Open wouldn't attract flies without Arnie, so it lowered the age limit from 55 to 50.
Palmer promptly joined up and won last year's Open at Oakland Hills, outside Detroit. Until the very end, he was naturally the man to beat at Portland as well. "With us," said Goalby on Friday, "Arnie's a better player than when he goes out with the kids. He doesn't do some of the things he tries to do with them. He knows he beat all of our butts all our lives, so why can't he do it now, right?"
And just as Goalby was speaking of him, Arnie, who had a 73 in the first round, went out and began trying to make the tournament his, nailing bold birdie putts on 2, 3, 5 and 9, and swaggering through the turn at 31. When he three-putted 14 from 15 feet for a bogey, however, he bent to the hole with some difficulty, limped away slightly, wiping sweat from his brow, and went on to play the last five holes in four over. Suddenly he looked...well, just like any other senior. "The bad news is I'm playing horribly," he said after his 71. "The good news is that I still have a chance to win." On Saturday he shot a 75, and on Sunday he finished horribly again, bogeying 14 and 15 and double-bogeying 16.
For the last round, the clouds finally moved in to cool things off and keep the greens reasonably soft, and Barber won the tournament on the back nine, the way everyone hoped it would be won. He was paired with Palmer, which, he said, made him think the night before about all the times through the years he and Arnie had played together. "I believe," said Mr. X, "that every time I've played with Arnold, we both always shot in the 60s." So Barber kept his driver in his bag most of the afternoon and concentrated on keeping his ball in the fairway with his three-wood. He birdied 2, 5 and 7, and, going into the dreaded back nine, held a one-stroke lead over Littler and Sikes. He birdied 10 and 13 to reach even-par overall and get two strokes up on Littler. On the long par-4 15th, he hung a 25-foot birdie putt on the lip of the cup, and on 16 he hit an eight-iron two feet from the pin and made birdie. "Like I said," said Barber, "having Arnie with me just gave me the confidence."
In the end, the Senior Open turned out to be a beautiful event. Even as the regular Open has its Larry Rinkers and its Jim Kings among the leaders in the early rounds, the Senior Open has its Art Silvestrones and Freddie Haases. Haas, a strapping 6'1�," 66-year-old former touring pro from Metairie, La., whose last regular tour victory was the 1954 Thunderbird Invitational at Palm Springs, Calif., ran an eagle-birdie-birdie-birdie string and shot a 72 in the opening round and said, "I was thinking, 'Gee, my mother would just love this.' She just passed away. The one thing she always loved was to read my name in the papers."
Silvestrone, a 50-year-old teaching pro from Winter Park, Fla., visited the press tent after his opening-round 72 and said, "This is my first time doing this. I just hope I'm up here drinking Coke the next couple of days. But if I'm up here again the fourth day it'll be a jug of red." The oldest player in the Portland field, Paul (Little Poison) Runyan, who won 15 tour events from 1931 to 1941, shot his age on Friday, three days before celebrating his 74th birthday. "I guess I've done it a couple of hundred times," he said. And Mike Souchak, 55 years old now, shot an 84 on Friday and said, "Hey, it's just a game. If you have your health, you have it all."
For the remainder of this season, Barber will be playing both Senior and regular tour events. He has already won $43,548 on the senior circuit and nearly $30,000 more on the main PGA Tour; last year he earned $97,386 and $49,325 from them, respectively. Next year, when the Senior Tour swells to around 20 events, he has decided that he will weight his schedule more heavily in that direction. "You take 20 senior events and 15 regular tour events," he says, "and what you've got is a divorce."
Meanwhile, the seniors will continue to watch out for Palmer, who went flying off to this week's British Open at Troon, where he won in 1961 and '62. Arnie only has until 1990 to tear up the Senior Tour. That's the year a kid named Nicklaus becomes eligible.