Rory McIlroy Drives No. 1 at Cherry Hills CC in BWM Practice Round

Kathy BissellCorrespondent ISeptember 4, 2014

Rory McIlroy drove the first green in practice at the BMW.
Rory McIlroy drove the first green in practice at the BMW.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

It was a big deal when Arnold Palmer drove the first green at Cherry Hills Country Club in the final round of the 1960 U.S. Open. At that time, the U.S. Open finished on a Saturday, and contestants played 36 holes.

Palmer, seven shots back, went to the first tee on a mission. He had an extra push from the cantankerous Pittsburgh sportswriter, the late Bob Drum, who told Palmer prior to the final round he was too far back of the lead to have a chance for victory. Palmer replied that if he shot a 65, that would give him 280, and Palmer believed 280 would win it. Drum didn't think it was possible.

Drum was sitting with his friend, fellow sportswriter Dan Jenkins, having lunch. They were both so convinced that Palmer would not be able to catch the leaders that they pretty much ignored what was happening until a couple of their spotters came in with early reports on Palmer's round. But they still were not believers.

The Palmer plaque at Cherry Hills.
The Palmer plaque at Cherry Hills.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Palmer drove the first green. Then he two-putted for birdie. At the second, he made a 35-footer from the fringe for another. At the third, his approach shot landed about a foot from the hole. After three holes, there were three birdies. And it didn't stop there.

At the fourth he made an 18-footer. Birdie. At the fifth, it was a disappointing par. At six, a par three, his tee shot landed 25 feet from the hole, and he made the putt. Birdie. The seventh found him wedge distance off the tee, and his second shot halted six feet from the pin. It was another birdie.

Six birdies in seven holes got the attention of Drum and Jenkins, who decided maybe Palmer could do the impossible after all. They scurried out to the golf course to witness what might be history.  

When the round was over, Palmer posted a 65, which was the lowest final round to date for a U.S. Open. He finished with 280, the number Drum was sure he could not reach.  

Palmer wins 1960 U.S. Open
Palmer wins 1960 U.S. OpenAnonymous/Associated Press

With Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, and other names of the era in the lead during the afternoon, and with Palmer in 15th place at the start of his final round, he needed more than a 65. He needed help from the field, and he got it. Mike Souchak had the lead until he bogeyed the ninth and gave it up to Nicklaus. Nicklaus three-putted the 13th and dropped into a tie with Palmer, Julius Boros and Jack Fleck.

Finally it was down to Hogan and Palmer. Then came the 17th hole. Hogan, instead of making the safe play, went for the par five in two and came up short in the water. Bogey. On the final hole, Hogan had a triple. Palmer went par-par and had the Open.    

That was then. This week, 54 years later, Rory McIlroy got to that same first green, 346 yards, with a 3-wood in the practice round. He hit at least one 400-yard drive, according to Erik Compton who played with him.      

Because of the distances today's PGA Tour players hit the golf ball, it is nearly a guarantee that McIlroy will not be the only one who reaches No. 1 with his drive. Bubba Watson might get there with an iron or a hybrid if he elects to carry one.

One reason is that the mile-high altitude adds distance to the length that any golf ball goes, about 10 percent. A 300-yard drive will go 330. A 350-yard drive will go 385. In addition, the heat makes the ball fly farther, although no one has specified a good rule of thumb for that.  

In 1985 Cherry Hills was already a course where long hitters could not use driver, at least not in the 1985 PGA Championship, which was way back in the persimmon era. While the course is landlocked, the members somehow found enough space to make it 7,466 yards. But remember, due to altitude, it should play 750 yards shorter. It should act more like a 6,700- to 6,800-yard course.

For the BMW Championship, Cherry Hills will be played as a par-70 course at 7,352 yards. There will be no par fives on the front and two on the back.

What will be fun, at least for those on site, is that the "Palmer" tee will be used on the first hole all week, so all 70 players will have four chances to match Arnold Palmer's 1960 drive.

Now will they use a small-headed, persimmon driver and a balata ball? No way. It's unlikely that anyone in the field, except perhaps Bubba Watson, could get it to the green with the old equipment. And even he would have a hard time.


Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour, R&A or PGA of America.