ENGLEWOOD, COLO — ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- At 2:20 p.m. today, in the opening round of the U.S. Senior Open, Arnold Palmer will step to the first tee at Cherry Hills Country Club and find himself in a 33-year time warp.
On this 346-yard par-4 hole back in 1960, Palmer drove the green in the final round of the U.S. Open to begin one of the greatest comebacks in golf history. Palmer birdied six of the first seven holes, shot a 65 and came from 7 shots behind to win that Open by 2 strokes over a burly 20-year-old amateur from Ohio State named Jack Nicklaus.
Palmer is 63 now. He hasn't won a tournament since 1988, unless you count a made-for-TV event like the Senior Skins Game. To think he can win the 14th national championship for seniors this weekend is to think the national debt will disappear by summer's end.
But this is Palmer's week at Cherry Hills. People have flocked to this Denver suburb to see him play in practice rounds, to remind him of where they were during the charge of 1960, when Arnie's Army attracted its first enlistees and the face of golf was changed forever.
"When Arnold won at Augusta in 1960 and then here," Nicklaus said yesterday, "it was the first time talk of a Grand Slam swept through and contributed to the popularity of golf as it relates to the majors. Arnold started it off right there."
For his part, Palmer was reflective yesterday on that historic year.
"It's fun seeing the people who were here and talking to them," he said. "I talked to people who saw it, people who had sent me pictures of it. Whenever we come back here, it kind of prompts those memories to happen once again."
Like on the first tee, today, at 2:20.
"Whenever I stand on the tee there, I can't help thinking, 'Wouldn't I like to hit this on the green?' " he said. "It's there. I can't help it. My caddie said to me, 'You're not going to drive that every day, are you?' I said to him, 'We'll see, won't we?' "
"The rough isn't as bad as a U.S. Open, but the greens are faster than what the seniors usually play," Nicklaus said. "It's set up very nicely, very fairly. It's a lot like it was in 1960, but there are more trees now."