Looking Back: 1960 World Amateur Team Championship
By Hunki Yun, USGA
This is the ninth in a series of 18 articles looking back at every USGA championship and international team competition held at 2013 U.S. Open host Merion Golf Club, which was known as Merion Cricket Club until 1942.
Creating a successful golf championship requires a good recipe. Stir in the best courses and well-run organizing bodies. Mix in high-profile supporters, a great field and exciting competition. Finally, sprinkle on top one of the greatest four-round performances in golf history.
Those were the ingredients of the second World Amateur Team Championship, held in September 1960 at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. The championship built a solid foundation in 1958, when the World Amateur Golf Council (known since 2003 as the International Golf Federation) was founded in May. The R&A hosted the inaugural event that October at the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland. President Dwight Eisenhower lent his name to the trophy, and Bob Jones was the captain of the USA Team. In a memorable finish, Australia, led by Bruce Devlin, defeated the USA in a playoff.
Two years later, the USA hosted 32 four-man teams from around the world at another historic course, the site of the 1930 U.S. Amateur victory that sealed Jones’ Grand Slam, as well as the 1950 U.S. Open won by Ben Hogan.
By 1960, Jones, Hogan and Willie Anderson shared the record for most U.S. Open victories, with four each. Jack Nicklaus later joined them, but his performance in the World Amateur Team Championship as a 20-year-old was as impressive as any of those four U.S. Open victories.
Nicklaus shot 66-67-68-68 for a total of 269 that led the USA Team, which also included Deane Beman, Robert Gardner and William Hyndman, to a 42-stroke victory over Australia. Nicklaus’ score was 13 strokes better than Beman’s, and 19 ahead of Devlin’s total.
At the time, Merion’s East Course was considered among the most difficult in the world. Nobody thought any player could break 70 for all four rounds, and many pointed to the high scores in the 1950 U.S. Open as an indicator of Merion’s impenetrability. Before winning in the playoff, Hogan had tied George Fazio and Lloyd Mangrum at 287, 7 over par.
But Nicklaus was a player for the future. Evincing the power, putting prowess and mental focus that came to be hallmarks of his career, Nicklaus dominated Merion’s vaunted East Course. He hit booming drives that found the narrow fairways and left short irons into the well-guarded greens.
Nicklaus executed shots that others in the field simply couldn’t match. In the first round, he hit a soaring 3-iron on the 230-yard 17th that landed as softly as a wedge shot, stopping seven feet from the hole.
On the final day, marked by gusty conditions, Nicklaus lined up a five-foot putt on the 18th green. The outcome had long been decided, but he stared down the putt as if he needed to hole it to extend the championship. At address, a gust of wind blew his cap off his head. Nicklaus was so intent on the putt that he didn’t seem to notice, holing the putt.
“In the 1960 World Amateur Team Championship, you could have fired a cannon between my legs as I stood over a three-foot putt,” Nicklaus later wrote, “and I would have stroked it right in the heart without missing a beat.
“Every golfer at his or her own level occasionally experiences, usually out of the blue, a spell when everything feels absolutely right… It’s a rare but delightful experience, and that week, for no reason I could think of then or now, it enveloped me for four straight days.”
Nicklaus’ play at Merion was especially impressive considering his inconsistent form entering the championship; two weeks prior, he had lost in the fourth round of the U.S. Amateur. But he found his game in the final nine holes of his practice session at Merion, and he stepped to the first tee of the first round with supreme confidence.
While there are no doubts about Nicklaus’ dominance at Merion, there are some questions about how his play rates against Hogan’s 1950 U.S. Open performance. Nobody has downplayed his achievement more than Nicklaus himself.
“Merion in any condition is a marvelous golf course, and a testy one,” he wrote, “but on this occasion it simply wasn’t set up the way it was for U.S. Opens. The organizing United States Golf Association had taken the course to a point only about halfway between in difficulty between how members normally play it and how it confronts an Open field.”
Certainly, the rough was modest by Merion standards, the teeing grounds weren’t all the way back, the hole locations were accessible and the greens were softer. But for most of the field, Merion provided the toughest test of golf they had ever encountered. Thirty-eight players never broke 80, four never shot below 90 and Dr. J. Francis Silva of Ceylon resolutely posted rounds of 102, 101, 102 and 117.
“Back home at the Royal Colombo club I have an 8 handicap,” Silva told Sports Illustrated. “Maybe there’s something wrong with our handicap committee.”
Only one player could solve Merion’s puzzle that week, and Nicklaus put on a performance that deserves to be remembered among the best in golf history.