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Palmer on the Rocks—‘The King’ at Pebble Beach

Sept. 29, 2016

Palmer on the Rocks—‘The King’ at Pebble Beach

Arnold Palmer, after hitting into the Pacific Ocean from the 17th tee at Pebble Beach golf course, tries to hit out after dropping a ball on the rocks, Jan. 18, 1964. (AP Photo)

AP Photo

Arnold Palmer never won a championship at Pebble Beach Golf Links. In typical ‘The King’ style, though, he still left his mark.

For Palmer, what became a series of misfortunes—due to his ever-charging style–began during the third round of the 1963 then-Crosby Pebble Beach Pro-Am. At the time, Palmer had entered the day only three strokes behind co-leaders Dave Hill and Billy Casper.

But then the ‘The King’ played Pebble’s postcard par-3 7th.  After surveying the Pacific-framed hole, Palmer decided to hit his 2-iron.

His shot sailed over the green, and at first appeared to sink into the sea. He’d go on to re-tee and hit another, but as he approached the green, officials relayed the news to Palmer that his first ball was still in play, lying on the rocks on the beach below.

Looking to save strokes, ‘The King’ went on to play the beached ball. All appeared to be fine.

A day later, however, following his fourth round, the PGA Tour—who had still been discussing Palmer’s predicament on the 7th from the day prior—suddenly made a statement.

According to officials, Palmer had hit an unauthorized provisional ball. The resulting penalty? Palmer was disqualified.

For Palmer, it was only the beginning of a series of woes when it came to playing the course he’d eventually co-own.

The treacherous 17th hole at Pebble Beach golf course cost Arnold Palmer two strokes, Jan. 19, 1963, Pebble Beach, Calif. Palmer had two-over par five on the hole and a five-over par 77 for the day. His three round total in the National Pro-Amateur golf championship is 217. (AP Photo)

AP Photo

Just a year later at the 1964 Pro-Am, Palmer found trouble on the par-3 17th after again hitting his tee shot over the green. Again, the beach was in play, and again Palmer opted to take his chances. One swing, two swings, three swings. After the fourth swing, Palmer was still on the rocks.

“To take an unplayable lie, the nearest drop would be Honolulu,” quipped Jimmy Demaret on the TV broadcast.

Palmer eventually swung so much he’d card a nine. He’d go on to miss the cut that year by a stroke.

“Looking back, it was really kind of amusing,” Palmer later said in an interview. “I hit the tee shot rather poorly and it took off for the ocean. When I found it I elected to play it, but it ended being somewhat of a fiasco because the ball would wash up and then go back into the water. As it turned out, when I finished my round I headed over to the Tap Room. By the time I got there, the bartender had invented a new drink—“Palmer on the Rocks.”

The 7th and 17th at Pebble Beach wouldn’t be Palmer’s only headaches.

In the 1967 Pro-Am, ‘The King’ came to the par-5 14th trailing leader Jack Nicklaus by only a stroke.

Palmer ended up going for the green in two with a 3-wood–his ball landing in the branches of a tree and bouncing through the out-of-bounds marker on the right side of the hole.

Being less than 100 yards away from the flagstick after his drop, Palmer went for the green, but his shot again hit the tree and bounced out of bounds. He’d score another nine, leaving him seven shots behind Nicklaus.

“I elected to go for the green. I hit it high and it looked good, but then it hit that tree,” Palmer said.

That same night, Crosby Weather hit the region, knocking the tree down.

“The next morning, as I’m driving in, I saw what had happened to that tree. Thing was, everyone was blaming me. They thought I had gone out at night and chopped it down,” Palmer said.

One of those who knew Palmer’s game the best was former caddie, Ernest “Creamy” Carolan. It was with Carolan on the bag that Palmer picked up his most victories.

“Arnold always did it his way. He was always bold. Sometimes it would work out, and sometimes it didn’t. He always did his own thing.”

Long live ‘The King.’

Jerry Stewart


Author: Jerry Stewart

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