The 2017 Masters will be the first without Arnold Palmer in decades, but as Jack Nicklaus said last year, Palmer will always play a big role.
“Whether he is swinging a club or not makes no difference, because no Masters Tournament will ever start without fond memories of the impact Arnold has made there,” Nicklaus said.
Palmer quit playing in 2004 after 50 consecutive starts, and he ended his participation in the Par-3 Contest two years ago.
But Palmer’s four victories at Augusta National Golf Club will remain part of the game’s lore forever.
In his first three victories at Augusta National Golf Club, Palmer had to produce spectacular finishes or survive a three-man playoff to earn his wins.
In 1964, his last Masters win, he faced no such obstacles in becoming the tournament’s first four-time winner.
Palmer did have to share the spotlight in the first round with four other golfers, who all shot 69s to share the lead.
But that was as near as Palmer would let anyone get to him for the remainder of the tournament.
A second-round 68 put him in the lead for good, and a 69 in the third round gave him a five-shot lead going into the final round. He also had a shot at making history.
Ben Hogan’s 72-hole record of 274 (at the time) and becoming the first player to score all four rounds in the 60s (something no one has achieved) were in Palmer’s reach that Sunday.
Palmer was steady in the final round, shooting 2-under-par 70 for a six-stroke victory over Dave Marr and defending champion Jack Nicklaus.
It was the worst round of the tournament for Palmer, whose 276 total was two shots off Hogan’s record.
“This is the most singularly exciting tournament for me ever,” Palmer said after slipping on his green jacket. “For once in my life, I planned to do something and did what I wanted.”
Palmer also took the opportunity to thank his fans.
“I want to thank Mr. Roberts, Mr. Jones and members of the gallery, especially,” Palmer said after the round. “They’re my friends.”
Although neither Palmer nor his adoring public could have predicted it, the 1964 Masters would be his last victory in a major championship. He finished no worse than fourth the next three Masters, but after 1967 Palmer never seriously challenged again at Augusta National.
“I don’t really know why it was the last,” Palmer said of 1964. “I hope it wasn’t the satisfaction of winning the Masters.”