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The 1960'sIt was only coincidental the Palm Springs Golf Classic was founded in 1960 — what many believe was one of the most important years in the history of the game of golf. It was also a coincidence that the tournament's first winner was Arnold Palmer, who a few months later would put golf on the front page of America's sports pages, earning forever the title "King".
Arnie didn't just win the first Classic — he dominated the field. His total of 338 (22 under par) set a tournament record that would not be broken for nearly 20 years. It was also the first of his eight victories in the 1960 season — Arnie's best-ever year as a professional.
But what made the year so important came in June of 1960 when Arnie shot a
final round 65 (including driving the first green at Cherry Hills) for one
of the most dramatic comebacks in the history of the U.S. Open. That
single 18-hole round catapulted golf into the top ranks of sports, created
the famous "Arnie's Army" and made Arnold Palmer a legend. Arnie won his
first Classic five months before he was crowned "King" with his dramatic
Palmer continued to reign supreme at the Bob Hope Desert Classic during the decade. He added victories in 1962 and 1968 withrunner-up finishes in 1965 and 1966.
Arnie's performance was impressive — but Billy Casper, who some have dubbed the "quiet great", nearly matched Palmer's accomplishments.
The Classic's early years determined the format and traditions which remain to this day. Bob Rosburg is credited with creating the tournament's unique five-day format played over four different courses. The founding courses played were Thunderbird, Tamarisk, Bermuda Dunes and Indian Wells Country Clubs. The tradition of the Classic Girls began in the event's early years, with the earliest tournaments having a Classic Queen (Debbie Reynolds, Jane Powell and Jill St. John) were early title holders.
From the start, the Classic attracted an unbelievable array of celebrities to compete in the tournament's pro-am competition. Some of the early stars are now legends: Bing Crosby, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Phil Harris, Desi Arnaz, Ray Bolger and Hoagy Carmichael. Dwight Eisenhower was the first former President to play in the tournament and of course, the biggest celebrity of all, Bob Hope, played in the early years, added his name to the tournament in 1965 and became the Classic's Chairman of the Board.
But the Classic's most extraordinary challenge was the fabulous $50,000 prize offered for a hole-in-one. Consider how tremendous that prize was: Arnold Palmer won eight times in 1960 (including the U.S. Open) and his total earnings for the year were $75,000.
For the first three years of the tournament, the Classic purchased an insurance policy from Lloyd's of London for a hole-in-one payoff — and the $50,000 was won in each of these years. Cigar-chomping Joe Campbell accomplished the feat in 1960 on hole 5 at Tamarisk, followed by Don January in 1961 on the 15th at Indian Wells and Dick Mayer in 1962 on the 2nd at Tamarisk.
The combination of Arnie's victories and the hole-in-one bonanza was a winning one. The Classic was televised for the first time in 1961, becoming a pioneer in bringing the tournament's excitement into the living rooms of golf fans around the country.
The 1960's was an exciting decade for golf — and the Bob Hope Desert classic was one of the prime factors for making the sport popular among the general public.
The 1970'sArnold Palmer's reign continued in the early 70s with two more Bob Hope Classic victories, pushing his lifetime total to five. By the middle of the decade, the Classic torch had been passed to Johnny Miller, who put his indelible stamp on all desert tournaments.
Miller won back-to-back Classic titles in 1975 and 1976 and had six consecutive top-four finishes beginning in 1972. His desert mastery also included events at Phoenix and Tucson, and in the memorable year of 1975, he made a clean sweep of the desert with victories in all three events. In a space of only three years, Johnny Miller won seven desert tournaments, including three consecutive Tucson titles.
Miller's dominance during the decade had its preview in 1973 when he was locked in a three-way battle for the Classic title with Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Palmer won the title by a single stroke over Miller and Nicklaus. Later that year, Miller shot his record-breaking 63 in the final round to win the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club.
Frank Sinatra made his Hope debut in 1972. Other stars of the era who played often were Jack Benny, Andy Williams, Lawrence Welk, Sammy Davis, Jr., Jackie Gleason and Dean Martin. Gerald Ford joined the field in 1977, making him the second former president to play in the tournament. Willie Mays, Joe Louis, Johnny Bench, Merlin Olsen, John McKay, Maury Wills and Bear Bryant were among the sports world stars who teed it up in the Classic during the 70s.
Barbara Eden was the first Classic queen of the 70s, reigning over a court that wore outfits with "Bob", "Hope" and "Classic" emblazoned across the front. Other Classic queens during the decade were Gloria Loring, Brucence Smith, Linda Carter, Lexie Brockway and Terry Ann Browning. The last four were also Miss World USA. Beginning in 1975 the Bob Hope Classic Girls became the ambassadors of the Classic, as there was no longer a queen. By this time, Bermuda Dunes, Indian Wells and La Quinta served as the host courses on a rotating basis. Eldorado and Tamarisk rotated as the fourth course in the lineup each year.
It didn't matter which courses were in the rotation. Johnny Miller played all of them with extreme brilliance. Although there were many remarkable Classic performances in the 1970's the era still belonged to Miller, who crossed the barrier from a good player to a future Hall of Famer. It was another golden era for golf — and it was led by golf's new golden boy.
The 1980'sThe third decade of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic was a period of significant change both for the tournament and the PGA TOUR. These steps forward in the 1970's were largely responsible for the tremendous success of the Classic and the TOUR in the 1980's.
For the Classic, the biggest step was the addition of Chrysler to the tournament's name in 1985 as our title sponsor. The auto manufacturer had been a major sponsor of the telecast for several years, but saw the opportunity to further showcase their products through this association.
These two changes had an immediate impact in the size of the Classic's purse. In only nine years, the Classic's total purse had increased 228 per cent.
Yet another significant change was the addition of a new course. PGA WEST was added to the Classic's course rotation in 1987. The first year, the Stadium Course was the host course, with the Palmer Course being utilized in later years.
Beginning in the 1980's the depth of the tournament field was much stronger than in previous years. Reflecting this new era of competitiveness, the Classic had ten different winners in the '80's, the only decade in which the tournament had no repeat winner.
There were significant accomplishments in the 1980's. Bruce Lietzke became only the second man to lead from start to finish and a score of 25 under par. The tournament mark would be tied the next two years before Lanny Wadkins and Craig Stadler established the new mark at 333 (27 under par) in 1985.
The Classic did set a new standard, of sorts, in the 1980's by becoming the leader among all TOUR events for playoffs. In the eight tournaments from 1982 to 1989, six were decided in sudden death.
In the first playoff, Ed Fiori eliminated Tom Kite to take the title, while the next year, Keith Fergus survived a playoff against Rex Caldwell. In 1984, the Classic's Silver Anniversary, John Mahaffey outlasted Jim Simons on the second hole of sudden death.
The next year, the new tradition continued in one of the Classic's greatest confrontations. Lanny Wadkins and Craig Stadler were deadlocked at the end of regulation, with Wadkins prevailing on the fifth dramatic hole of sudden death tie. It was high drama, including Stadler hitting from a bush on the rocky hillside beside Indian Wells Country Club's 18 fairway.
Donnie Hammond was the winner the following year in the Classic's fifth straight playoff. The 1980's saw more change and more drama than the previous twenty years at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. But as they used to say in vaudeville, "You ain't seen nothing yet."
The 1990'sThe first three decades of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic produced incredible drama featuring the reigning stars of their eras. In retrospect, however, those first thirty years served as a warm-up to some of the most exciting golf played on any Tour in the world.
Peter Jacobsen kicked off the 1990's with a popular, one-shot victory. His win, however, was a prelude to the next three Classics, which were among the most exciting in the tournament's history.
In 1991, birdies were raining everywhere, as three players broke the tournament record. Corey Pavin, winner of the 1987 Classic, and Mark O'Meara finished the regulation 90 holes at 29 under par. On the first playoff hole, the 17th at Indian Wells Country Club, O'Meara appeared to have a distinct advantage. Mark had a 20-foot birdie putt while Pavin was in the rough with a difficult chip. that advantage disappeared when Pavin holed the 40-foot chip, O'Meara missed and Pavin took his second Classic crown. While 1991's playoff was exciting, the one in 1992 — probably the most exciting sudden death playoff in Classic history.
Five players finished tied in regulation (equalling the existing TOUR record). John Cook, Gene Sauers, Rich Fehr, Tom Kite and Mark O'Meara teed it up in overtime. Kite and O'Meara were eliminated on the first hole with par fives. Fehr was the next to fall when both Cook and Sauers birdied the second hole, Bermuda Dunes' par five 18th. Sauers seemed to have a sure birdie — and probable win — locked up on the third playoff hole (number one, again), until Cook chipped in for birdie to send the playoff back to the 18th hole. Cook of Rancho Mirage then took the title when he chipped in for eagle, finishing the four playoff holes in five under par!
While the 1993 Classic didn't have the customary playoff, it did feature one of the most historic achievements in golf. Tom Kite, the reigning U.S. Open champion, did the seemingly impossible. He finished 90 holes in 35 under par, including a course record 62 in the final round at the challenging Palmer Course at PGA WEST. He broke the PGA TOUR's 90-hole record by six shots in a performance for the ages.
The next three Classic were more conventional — with Scott Hoch, Kenny Perry and Mark Brooks winning without playoffs. In 1997, another golfer would achieve another incredible feat.
Mark Calcavecchia seemed to have the 1997 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in his pocket. Going into the final round, he was three strokes better than John Cook with a 72-hole tournament record of 26-under-par. Cook, however, had moved up on Saturday with a brilliant 62 at Indian Wells. Playing head to head on Sunday, Cook finally caught Calcavecchia on the 11th hole and passed him on the 17th when Mark bogied.
With a closing birdie, Cook had fired a 63 in the final round — with his consecutive rounds of 62 and 63 tying the PGA TOUR record. Cook had accomplished the same feat the previous year, making him the only golfer to ever have performed the feat twice.
Last year, one of the games biggest stars finally came through to win the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. Fred Couples always had played well at the Classic. Going in to the 1998 tournament he had five straight Top Ten finishes. Yet, he had never found the Classic's winner's circle.
Fred Couples did win the 1998 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic — but just barely. He trailed Bruce Lietzke and Andrew Magee throughout the tournament until the 90th hole, (the par 5, 18th hole of Bermuda Dunes) when he two-putted for birdie from 25-feet to tie Lietzke, who missed an eight-foot putt that would have won the title. The sudden death playoff — also on the 18th hole — was almost a replay of regulation. Couples just over the green got up and down for birdie, while Lietzke missed a 10-footer that would have continued overtime. This year the Classic has a defending champion who is one of the great players of our time.
The biggest single news event at the Classic during the '90's didn't even involve the world's top professionals. In 1995, the team of President Bill Clinton, President George Bush, President Gerald R. Ford, Tournament Host Bob Hope and defending champion Scott Hoch teed it up for the tournament's opening round (with the White House Press Corps and 25,000 fans following behind). This historic day was the first time a sitting president had played during a PGA TOUR event and perhaps the first time three presidents had played together — ever.
Another huge development during the decade was the tremendous increase in the tournament's purse. The decade began with a $1 million purse for the 1990 tournament. The purse had increased for six years until the 1998 tournament, when Fred Couples took home the lion's share of $2.3 million. In 1999, the purse increases again — this time to $3 million with the winner taking home $540,000.
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