1962 US Open: 'The Big Guy Is Out of the Cage'

Jack Nicklaus Defeated Arnold Palmer in a Playoff for His First Win

Arnold Palmer congratulates Jack Nicklaus at U.S. Open Playoff at Oakmont Country Club in 1962
Arnold Palmer congratulates Jack Nicklaus after Nicklaus' playoff victory to win the 1962 US Open. Bettman/Getty Images

There was little doubt, entering the 1962 U.S. Open, that Jack Nicklaus was going to have a great PGA Tour career. He was an NCAA Championship winner, a 2-time U.S. Amateur champion; in the two previous U.S. Opens, playing as an amateur, Nicklaus had finished second and fourth.

But entering the 1962 U.S. Open, Nicklaus—in his rookie year as a professional—had yet to win. Exiting this tournament, Nicklaus not only had that first win, he got it by beating Arnold Palmer in an 18-hole playoff.

After the playoff, Palmer uttered words that proved prophetic, saying of Nicklaus, "Now that the big guy is out of the cage, everybody better run for cover."

Quick Bits

  • Winner: Jack Nicklaus, 283
  • Dates: June 14-17, 1962
  • Golf course: Oakmont Country Club
  • U.S. Open number: This was the 62nd time the championship was played.

How Nicklaus and Palmer Finished 72 Holes of the 1962 US Open Tied

Following the third round, Palmer shared the lead with Bobby Nichols, one stroke ahead of Phil Rodgers and Bob Rosburg, and two in front of Nicklaus.

Rosburg blew up with a 79 in the final round and quickly fell off the pace. Rodgers and Nichols acquitted themselves OK under the final-round pressure, but Nichols turned in a score of 73 and Rodgers 72, and they finished tied for third.

That left Nicklaus and Palmer to battle it out. The tournament was at Oakmont Country Club in western Pennsylvania—Palmer's home court, so to speak.

Palmer was easily the most popular golfer in the world, and was playing close to his hometown of Latrobe, Pa. Nicklaus was the 22-year-old upstart trying to knock off The King. Nicklaus was not yet himself popular; in fact, as a brash challenger to Palmer, Nicklaus was quite unpopular with this crowd.

Nicklaus was taunted by fans throughout the final round, then again in the 18-hole playoff, jeered for his (by the standards of the time) portly figure.

Palmer later said that the catcalls didn't seem to phase Nicklaus one bit, but they did bother Palmer. Something else that bothered Palmer—albeit something Palmer never, then or later, used as an excuse—was a deep cut on one of his fingers that he suffered just prior to the tournament's start, and that required stitches.

Nicklaus opened the fourth round with a bogey, falling three behind Palmer. After Palmer birdied the second and fourth holes, his lead over Nicklaus was five. But Nicklaus birdied the seventh, ninth and 11th holes, while Palmer bogeyed No. 9.

And when Palmer bogeyed the 13th, they were tied. Both players parred out from there, finishing at 1-under 283 as the only golfers under par.

The 18-Hole Playoff at the 1962 US Open

In the 18-hole playoff on Sunday (at this time the U.S. Open's third and fourth rounds were both played on Saturday), Nicklaus jumped out to the lead on the first hole, and built a four-stroke lead after six holes. Palmer bogeyed the first, sixth and eight holes, while Nicklaus birdied the fourth and sixth holes before bogeying No.

8.

Palmer birdied three of the four holes from nine through 12, getting back within a stroke, but a bogey by Palmer on 13 gave Nicklaus a two-stroke lead. Both golfers parred holes 14-17, then they finished on 18 with a bogey by Nicklaus and a double bogey by Palmer. That made the final score Nicklaus 71, Palmer 74.

At 22, Nicklaus was the youngest U.S. Open winner since Bobby Jones in 1923. As the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, Nicklaus was the first player since Jones to hold the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open trophies simultaneously (although Jones won them in same year).

The biggest difference between Nicklaus and Palmer during the 90 holes played was their performance on the treacherous Oakmont greens. Nicklaus had only one 3-putt throughout the five rounds; Palmer three-putted 10 times.

So it was not only Nicklaus' first win in a major championship, it was his first win as a professional.

For Palmer, his runner-up finish here began a frustrating streak of four second-place finishes in the U.S. Open within a six-year span. Palmer also lost playoffs at the 1963 U.S. Open and 1966 U.S. Open.

Palmer often said in ensuing years that if he had beaten Nicklaus in the playoff at the 1962 U.S. Open, he might have been able to hold Nicklaus off for a few more years. But he didn't, and he couldn't. Nicklaus was soon acknowledged as the best golfer in the game.

1962 U.S. Open Golf Tournament Scores

Results from the 1962 U.S. Open golf tournament played on the par-71 Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pennsylvania (x-won playoff; a-amateur):

x-Jack Nicklaus72-70-72-69--283$17,500
Arnold Palmer71-68-73-71--283$10,500
Bobby Nichols70-72-70-73--285$5,500
Phil Rodgers74-70-69-72--285$5,500
Gay Brewer73-72-73-69--287$4,000
Tommy Jacobs74-71-73-70--288$2,750
Gary Player71-71-72-74--288$2,750
Doug Ford74-75-71-70--290$1,766
Gene Littler69-74-72-75--290$1,766
Billy Maxwell71-70-75-74--290$1,766
Doug Sanders74-74-74-69--291$1,325
Art Wall73-72-72-74--291$1,325
Bob Rosburg70-69-74-79--292$1,100
a-Deane Beman74-72-80-67--293 
Bob Goalby73-74-73-73--293$975
Mike Souchak75-73-72-73--293$975
Jacky Cupit73-72-72-77--294$800
Jay Hebert75-72-73-74--294$800
Earl Stewart Jr.75-73-75-71--294$800
Donald Whitt73-71-75-75--294$800
Bo Wininger73-74-69-78--294$800
Miller Barber73-70-77-75--295$650
Gardner Dickinson76-74-75-71--296$575
Lionel Hebert75-72-75-74--296$575
Stan Leonard72-73-78-74--297$500
a-Edward Meister Jr.78-72-76-71--297 
Frank Boynton71-75-74-78--298$450
Joe Campbell78-71-72-78--299$400
Dave Douglas74-70-72-83--299$400
Paul Harney73-73-71-82--299$400
Dean Refram75-73-77-74--299$400
Mason Rudolph74-74-73-78--299$400
Gene Coghill74-76-73-77--300$375
J.C. Goosie71-79-75-75--300$375
Jerry Pittman75-72-75-78--300$375
Wes Ellis73-73-77-78--301$375
Dan Sikes74-72-78-77--301$375
Pete Cooper74-76-74-78--302$350
Fred Hawkins73-77-77-75--302$350
Bob McCallister76-74-74-78--302$350
Joe Moore Jr.77-73-74-78--302$350
Sam Snead76-74-78-74--302$350
Al Balding73-77-78-75--303$325
Charlie Sifford75-74-76-78--303$325
Bruce Crampton75-73-75-81--304$325
a-John Guenther72-78-75-79--304 
a-Bill Hyndman73-76-78-77--304 
a-Bob Gardner76-74-77-78--305 
Johnny Pott75-75-75-80--305$325
Charles Garlena74-72-82-81--309$312
Edward Rubis76-74-81-78--309$312

Further Notes on the 1962 US Open

  • Nicklaus and Palmer each received bonus payouts taken from the gate receipts for the 18-hole playoff. Each was given an extra $2,500 on top of their earnings for finishing first and second, respectively. (The bonuses are included in their earnings listed above.)
  • The defending champion, Gene Littler, tied for eighth place. Of the six former winners in the field, only Littler and Palmer made the cut.
  • Gay Brewer, winner of the 1967 Masters, had his first Top 10 finish in a major here.
  • Doug Ford, a two-time major champ in the 1950s, posted the last of his five Top 10 U.S. Open finishes here.
  • This was the fourth time Oakmont Country Club was the site of a U.S. Open. It was previously used in 1927, 1935 and 1953. Ben Hogan, the 1953 champ, did not play in 1962. The next time the club served as the Open site was 1973.
  • On YouTube, the USGA has posted a 42-minute-long documentary about Nicklaus' victory.