Arnold Palmer's Tournament of Champions Win 50 Years Ago in Retrospect

Peter ImberContributor IIIJanuary 2, 2012

Arnie from the sand at the Desert Inn in 1962
Arnie from the sand at the Desert Inn in 1962

Starting the PGA Tour year in Hawaii is sort of a no-brainer. How can you top paradise? And for all of last year’s winners who will play in this week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions, it’s like starting their golf schedule with dessert.

A big purse with no cut! Nice work if you can get. Or as golfers might say in Maui, "Turf's up!"

But 50 years ago, The Tournament of Champions wasn’t the piece of icing on the cake that it is today. For one thing, it wasn’t the leadoff event of the season. In May of 1962, it was played at the Desert Inn Country Club in Las Vegas.

That year the TOC was special however, even if the winner took home only $11,000 for his dramatic victory. The reason: That winner was Arnold Palmer and it was his fifth win of the season. During his amazing run, Arnie had already triumphed in Palm Springs, Phoenix, Texas and at the Masters.

So, how much prize money do you think his five wins in a little over four months had earned him back then? The amazing answer is $52,308.

Now, to be fair you could get a new car for $2,500 and a small house for $15,000 in the early 1960s so, suffice it to say, Palmer was on his way to paying for his first Aero Commander. In fact, he’d already bought the airplane the year before.

And more significantly, Arnie was also on his way to making professional golf the armchair spectator sport it is today with an allure for the sponsors who would front the large purses that have provided the lavish livelihoods for the sport’s most talented players ever since.

By the way, if this week’s Hyundai finish tops Arnold Palmer’s 50 years ago in Vegas, we’re all in for a treat. Palmer sank a 24-foot putt for a birdie on the final hole to beat Billy Casper by a stroke.