I attended my first men’s major golf championship at age 11. We were living in Miami Beach, Florida at the time and I got to travel back to Columbus, Ohio with my father for the 46th PGA Championship, played July 16–19 at Columbus Country Club. It was a fun and exciting time for me because it was my first airplane flight and I was fast becoming infatuated with the game of golf.
When Dad and I arrived at the golf course the following morning for one of the tournament’s practice rounds, I found myself hanging around him instead of running off in some direction or another like a lot of other kids seemed to be doing. As I look back, I figure that I did this for two reasons. First, I always enjoyed being around the old pro and two, this whole tournament scene seemed like pretty serious stuff and I wanted to get it right.
As I remember it, we visited the giant scoreboard with all the contestant’s names written upon it. Then, we made our way over to the practice tee and watched some of the guys warming up and going through their routines. There, Dad pointed out many of the best players by name. It was another great experience for me because it was the first time I actually saw how the pros swung the club.
Next, as we walked over to the pro shop and the clubhouse, it became evident to me that my father knew a lot of people there and that he was quite a popular fellow. Also, I saw a number of people with rather large round badges attached to their shirt, hat or purse which included the name of their favorite player. There may have been a few others but I recall seeing only 3. They were: “Arnie’s Army,” “Jack’s Pack” and “Lema’s Legions.”
Around lunchtime, Dad purchased a tournament program for me and recommended that I make an effort to get some autographs. After locating a pen in which to write with and receiving some last-minute advice on how to get some names, I was off. To be honest, I enjoyed the hunt and the challenge of getting those autographs but, at the same time, I could tell that it was a bit of a nuisance for the players. In any event, though, I’m glad I did it. Plus, after fifty years, I still have that souvenir program! That day in 1964, I was able to obtain the following signatures: Billy Maxwell, Jay Hebert, George Bayer, Al Geiberger, Mason Rudolph, Ben Hogan, Jacky Cupit, Joe Campbell II, Bruce Devlin, Jack Burke, Dow Finsterwald, Rex Baxter, Jack Nicklaus, Frank Beard, Bob Charles, Jack Rule Jr., Tommy Jacobs and Arnold Palmer.
Though Dad and I always rooted exclusively for Jack Nicklaus; the fact remains, at that time, the number one player in the game was Arnold Palmer and, his signature was the toughest one to acquire. He was the current Masters Champion and the golfer who definitely created the most excitement. It seemed that everybody wanted a piece of Arnie. And, for this eleven-year-old to secure the autograph of “The King,” I had to devise a plan.
Here’s what happened: Palmer had just finished his round and was making his way toward the clubhouse albeit slowly while signing autographs. He was being mobbed by men, women and children. To get within 10 feet of him was asking to be trampled upon! Instead of risking that, I decided to position myself in-front of the double doors which led to the locker room. Standing guard at that doorway was a mighty-big law enforcement officer. I looked up at him and asked for permission to position myself where I thought I’d have my best shot at Palmer. The big sheriff looked down and told me where to stand. Then, moments later and just as I had hoped, Arnold Palmer walked right up to me. As he did, I stuck out my program. He took it from me, signed it and handed it back to me. I had gotten the last autograph that Palmer signed before he disappeared through the doorway.
For the record: At Columbus Country Club, Bobby Nichols won his only major title, three strokes ahead of runners-up Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Nichols led wire-to-wire after a first round 64 in the hometown of Nicklaus, who shot a 64 in the final round to gain his third runner-up finish in majors in 1964. Ben Hogan, age 51, competed at the PGA Championship for the first time since 1960. Tied for fifth place after a third round 68, he finished tied for ninth for his penultimate top ten in a major. His final top ten came at the 1967 Masters.
Also, The British Open was played the previous week in St Andrews, Scotland, one of five times in the 1960’s that these two majors were played in consecutive weeks in July. The PGA Championship moved permanently to August in 1969 (except 1971, when it was played in late February).