It was the 1960 U.S. Open. The 20-year-old Nicklaus was still an amateur and had recently completed his junior year at Ohio State. Earlier that spring, he had tied for 13th at the Masters and was eager to see if he could make an even bigger impact at Cherry Hills.
After two rounds, he was at even par, seven shots off the lead and wasn’t even the low amateur (Don Cherry was at 1 under). But on the 36-hole final Saturday, Nicklaus shot a 69 in the morning. Not only did that move him ahead of Cherry, but now he was just two shots behind leader Mike Souchak going into the afternoon’s final round.
Among the other chasers were 47-year-old Ben Hogan, the legendary Texan making one more bid at glory; and 30-year-old Arnold Palmer, who had won the Masters two months earlier but seemed out of contention now, trailing by seven shots going into the final round.
It was the intersection of the past, present and future in golf.
Nicklaus and Hogan were playing partners that day, and each held the lead at some point in the final round. Jack, after making an eagle on the fifth hole and a birdie at the ninth, made the turn with the lead. But this was not to be his day.
Nicklaus, his putter turning cold on the back nine, gave way to Palmer, who started his round by famously driving the green at the par-4 opening hole. Palmer made up the deficit in a career-defining afternoon to win his only U.S. Open. Nicklaus finished solo second, the best result by an amateur at the U.S. Open in 27 years. Hogan, worn out by the long day, tied for ninth.
That 1960 performance was a foreshadowing of things to come for Nicklaus. A year later, he finished top-10 in both the Masters and U.S. Open. He then won the 1962 U.S. Open in a playoff over Palmer in Arnie’s backyard at Oakmont.
Though he didn’t win at Cherry Hills, the summer of 1960 still proved to be a pivotal one in the life of Jack Nicklaus. He and Barbara were married in Columbus a month after the U.S. Open. Their wedding date coincided with that year’s PGA Championship in Akron, but Jack didn’t care – as an amateur, he wasn’t eligible.