Recalled Palmer in his book, A Golfer’s Life:
“I remember that just for fun we had a driving contest and I beat [Nicklaus] by a hair; I made a mental note on the spot to always keep an eye on this upstart kid…”
As Nicklaus tells it: “The match was preceded by a long-driving contest at the first hole, a 320-yard par four. I was the only one to reach the green…”
Good to know both golfers hit the longest drive that day… and the friendship and rivalry grew from there.
Two years later, Nicklaus almost became the last amateur to win the U.S. Open (that record still belongs to Johnny Goodman, in 1933), at Cherry Hills CC in Denver, and he could have done were it not for what might be the most famous 18 holes of Palmer’s entire career, when he shot 65, six under par, in the final round to win, having been eight shots back with 18 holes to go. Nicklaus shot 71 to finish runner-up, two shots back.
Nicklaus, who turned 80 on January 21, reflects on that day in an exclusive interview with Kingdom: “I have looked back on that U.S. Open many times, and yes, I probably should have or could have won the tournament. I think Ben Hogan phrased it correctly when he said: ‘I played with a young man today, if he had known how to win, he would have won by several strokes’. That’s basically what Hogan’s quote was. Obviously at that age, 20, I really didn’t know how to win.”