Once the pleasantries were out of the way, three sets of steady hands sent drives hissing into the heavy June air. Then three sets of sweaty palms did their best to follow suit under the watchful gaze of the Big 3.
With the last ball in play, the six men headed down the lush fairway, followed by scores of brightly clad patrons thrilled to be walking in the footsteps of their heroes.
Those who paid a little over $33,000 apiece to play one hole with Palmer, Nicklaus and Player were able to live out a childhood dream.
As for the patrons who paid $1,000 each just to watch, many admitted to feeling like kids again, dazzled by the shot-making and showmanship of the three men who revolutionized professional golf.
By the end of the day, everyone had combined to make a huge difference for some deserving children at the Mountain Mission School in Grundy, Va., raising more than $15.1 million during the “Big 3 for Mountain Mission Kids.”
The total shattered the PGA Tour’s previous single-day fund-raising mark of nearly $8.5 million.
“I have never seen a group that is as philanthropic as you have been here,” Nicklaus told the crowd afterward. “Unbelievable. To be here today to set an all-time record is very special.”
Fifty years have passed since Palmer held off a young Nicklaus and an aging Ben Hogan to win the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. But there were times Tuesday when the 1960 Open felt as if it was held just yesterday. Each player dug deep and came up with some brilliant shots over the course of the afternoon, and each masterful stroke earned a roar from the gallery.
“Vincent Peale always said that enthusiasm is one of the great essences of life,” Player said. “It was great enthusiasm that took place here today.”
Palmer certainly didn’t have any trouble remembering his win at Cherry Hills, which helped kick off golf’s golden era.
“I have some very good memories, particularly beating Jack,” Palmer said. “But he was just a baby then. With Jack being a part of it way back then and Hogan being a part of it, that made it even more important.”
Nicklaus wasn’t so eager to join Palmer on his trip down memory lane, especially since he found himself in contention before a shaky effort on the back nine.
“I shot 39 the last nine holes, and I’ve told Arnold many times, ‘Palmer, if I hadn’t shot that 39, nobody would have ever heard of you,’” Nicklaus said. “I was a young kid that came in there a little bit green, you might say.
“I played very well and got myself into a position to win a golf tournament and I didn’t know how to win.”
Nicklaus learned from his mistakes, and once he started winning, he never slowed down. That launched a fierce rivalry between Palmer and Nicklaus that burned brightly for years.
Player joined the fray and the three men went on to win a combined 32 majors and more than 300 golf tournaments all around the world.
They also captured the imagination of a generation of sports fans. That much was evident by the scope of Tuesday’s event.
“We have played a small part in this,” said PGA commissioner Tim Finchem, who was on hand for the event. “What has happened today is very special. The members here should be congratulated.
“This is as good of a testament as ever that anything is possible.”
Thanks to sponsorship from Johnson & Johnson, highlights of the event will be televised on CBS on July 11 prior to coverage of the John Deere Classic.