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Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer
Even Tom Watson couldn't help but smile at Arnold Palmer's joy at being back in St. Andrews this week. (Getty Images)

The King reminisces about his 50-year St. Andrews love affair

Arnold Palmer grew emotional as he discussed St. Andrews on Wednesday, and he had every right. His hope is that other golfers will come to understand and appreciate the place as much as he does.

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) -- Arnold Palmer gazed out the window from Russacks Hotel on Wednesday morning and felt the clock turn back a half century. He saw the people walking toward the Old Course, mowers preparing St. Andrews for practice, the expanse of a golf course with all its humps and mounds.

The King grew emotional talking about it later, and he had every right.

The British Open might not be what it is today without Palmer. The United States turned into a golfing power after World War II, yet few Americans bothered to play golf’s oldest championship -- partly because links golf was foreign to them and the prize money couldn’t offset travel costs.

Palmer, who raised golf’s profile in his own country, was determined to play.

“I felt that if you were going to be a champion, you couldn’t be a champion without playing in the Open and hopefully winning the Open,” he said. “So that was part of the whole program for what I was doing.”

Palmer won the Masters and U.S. Open in 1960. On his way to St. Andrews for his first British Open, a conversation with sports writer Bob Drum led Palmer to effectively create the modern version of the Grand Slam.

He finished one shot behind Kel Nagle. Palmer won his claret jugs at Royal Birkdale in 1961 and Royal Troon in 1962.

Even so, St. Andrews remains a big part of his life. Palmer was given an honorary degree at St. Andrews University on Tuesday. The only disappointment was not getting to play in the Champions’ Challenge because of bad weather Wednesday.

That brought back memories, too.

“It’s normal,” he said, referring to the wind and rain. “In 1960 -- that’s the one thing that’s the same -- the weather was just like it is now on one of the days of that championship. The wind blew, it rained. I said something about it then, and got the same answer. ‘Hey, this is Scotland. You’ve got to expect it.’ And I loved it.”

The love affair continues.

Looking out his hotel window, he said, “I saw all the things that I saw and I thought about in 1960.

“I suppose most of the week when I came here the first time, I didn’t understand well enough to respect the kind of golf that I was going to have to play to do good in the Open Championship, whether it was here or somewhere else. I didn’t appreciate what I was playing on in 1960.

“It took me a while to begin to understand what this golf course and what European golf and what the links golf was really all about. So it was quite a thrill.”

 

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