SAN FRANCISCO — The Olympic Club, site of this year's U.S. Open golf tournament, has provided special significance for three local golfers.
For Billy Casper, it was the site of one of the most famous comebacks in golf history, and it came against a golf icon.
For Johnny Miller, it was the beginning of what became an illustrious career.
For Keith Clearwater, it provided one of the most thrilling rounds of his career as well as a feeling of what might have been.
Casper's and Miller's stories happened in 1966, the second time the U.S.. Open came to the Olympic Club, while Clearwater's came 21 years later, the next time the Open came to the Olympic Club, in 1987.
Casper has an amazing memory for golf and can recall tournaments from 40 to 50 years ago, shot for shot.
At a recent media function for the upcoming U.S. Public Links Championship at Soldier Hollow, Casper talked about the most minute details of the tournament played 46 years ago in San Francisco.
Casper recalled in detail how he made up seven shots on the popular Palmer and how the outcome was a turning point of sorts in both of the players' careers.
Casper had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints earlier in the year and was just in the beginning stages of his affiliation with the state of Utah, which he made his permanent home a few years later.
He and Palmer were tied at the halfway point after 36 holes and Palmer took a three-shot lead going into Sunday's final round after shooting a third-round 70.
When Palmer went out in 32 on Sunday to Casper's 36, the lead had ballooned to seven shots and, at the turn, Casper said he told Palmer, "I'd like to finish second."
It wasn't gamesmanship by Casper, who genuinely was hoping to hold off Jack Nicklaus for second place.
But it may have given Palmer a false sense of security. Casper also felt that Palmer was "caught up in thinking about Ben Hogan's record," which was 276 and had stood for 18 years at the time, and forgot about winning. All Palmer had to do was par out to get the record. But he didn't and meanwhile, as Casper put it, "I put on an Arnold Palmer charge."
Both players parred No. 10 and Casper made up four shots over the next four holes, including two at No. 15.
A big turning point came at the par-5 No. 16 hole. While Casper made birdie with a 13-foot putt, Palmer had to scramble to make bogey out of a greenside bunker after finding trouble in the trees with his drive.
"That was the first time I felt I could win the tournament," Casper said. "And I think it was the first time he felt he could lose it."
Casper picked up another stroke at the 17th hole when he got up and down, while Palmer made yet another bogey, missing a 10-foot par putt.
So when the two approached the 18th hole with its large amphitheater-type seating around the green, it was all tied up. Casper had picked up seven strokes in eight holes and five in the previous three holes. Both players two-putted for pars at No. 18.
"I had to play an exceptional nine holes and he struggled," Casper said..
In the playoff the following day, Casper again found himself trailing, this time by two shots after nine holes. However, he again came from behind and won the playoff with a 69 to Palmer's 73.
"It's interesting what happened after that," Casper said of those decisive nine holes on Sunday. "Arnie went downhlll from there and I went uphill."
Perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration, as Palmer was able to win 13 more times on the PGA Tour up until 1973. However, he never did win another major.
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