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Jay Busbee

Masters stories: The great 1958 Palmer-Venturi debate

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There's an old saying that the smaller the ball, the better the writing. (The more overwrought, too.) Let's put that to the test, shall we? Throughout the week, we'll be presenting some fine stories of Masters past and present. Today, we present one of the classic controversies of the Masters the 1958 battle between Ken Venturi and Arnold Palmer. On Sunday, Palmer was ahead by a stroke with Venturi charging as they teed off the 12th. Palmer's approach got plugged into a soggy bank on the edge of a bunker, and then the problems began ...

From "The Fateful Corner," Herbert Warren Wind, Sports Illustrated, April 21, 1958:

Now the drama began to unfold, and because of the unusual setting it was indeed charged with the quality of theater: only the players, their caddies and officials are allowed beyond the roping around the 12th tee, and one could only watch the pantomime activity taking place on the distant stage of the 12th green and try to decipher what was happening. To begin with, there was an animated and protracted discussion between Palmer and a member of the tournament rules committee, obviously on the subject as to whether or not Palmer could lift his ball without penalty. Apparently the official had decided he couldn't, for Arnold at length addressed the half-buried ball and budged it about a foot and an half with his wedge. It ended up in casual water then, so he lifted and dropped it (patently without penalty) and then chipped close to the pin on his third stroke. He missed the putt and made a 5. This put him a stroke behind Venturi.

Then the situation became really confusing. Palmer did not walk off the green and head for the 13th tee. He returned to the spot in the rough just behind the apron where his ball had been embedded and, with the member of the rules committee standing by, dropped the ball over his shoulder. It rolled down the slope a little, so he place the ball near the pit-mark. Apparently, now, the official had not been sure of what ruling to make and Palmer was playing a provisional or alternate ball in the event it might later be decided he had a right to lift and drop without penalty. He chipped stone-dead again and this time holed the putt for a 3. Now the question was: Was Palmer's score a 3 or 5?

From "Getting Up & Down: My 60 Years in Golf," by Ken Venturi with Yahoo! Sports Golf Editor Michael Arkush:

[W]alking up the fairway at 14, I saw Bill Kerr, a member of Augusta National and one of Cliff Roberts' assistants. Kerr, wearing his green coat, was running down the middle of the fairway. I soon found out the cause of his exuberance.

"They gave Arnold a 3 at 12," Kerr shouted. "They gave Arnold a 3 at 12."

The gallery went crazy. So did I, for a different reason. This simply was not happening I kept reassuring myself. Kerr must have received the wrong information.

"Get the hell off the fairway," I told him. "You don't belong in the fairway."

Palmer turned to me, asking, "What do you think?" I didn't answer. Not this time.

I tried not to worry about it, figuring I would deal with the situation when we finished the round. But it was no use. My concentration was shattered for good ...

I firmly believe that [Palmer] did wrong, and that he knows that I know he did wrong. That is why, to this day, it has left me with an uncomfortable feeling.

From "Playing by the Rules," by Arnold Palmer:

I later heard that Ken Venturi was particularly upset, feeling like he had been cheated by my second-ball situation at the 12th. But I felt then and I feel now that I did what any other player could and should do: I followed the rules in both letter and spirit, and, as a result, I won my first major championship.

Got a link to a particularly good story, or got one of your own? Send it to jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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