Billy Casper wins 1st major, The 1959 U.S. Open
On this day, In 1959 Billy Casper captured his first major championship at the U.S. Open held at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York. He won it with a 72 hole total of 282 and received $12,000 for the victory. It was Casper’s first of two U.S. Open wins, the other in 1966 was at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. He had to hold off a who’s who list of golfing giants to win the national title. After taking the lead in the second round, he had Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Gary Player all knocking on the door.
It was 46-year-old Hogan who set the pace along with Dow Finsterwald, Gene Littler, and Dick Knight with opening rounds of 69. Hogan turned in a front nine of 32 but only managed a 37 on the back which included a three-putt bogey finish. During the opening round on the famed West Course, temperatures dropped from the 90’s to the 70’s, baffling tournament officials. The 1957 U.S. Amateur champion, Hillman Robbins shot a 70 for solo second after 18 holes. There were 10 players who sho 71 which included the likes of: Billy Casper, Cary Middlecoff, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, & Don January.
Casper took the lead by himself in the second round shooting a 68. That put him at one under par for the tournament and sitting one better than Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, & Ben Hogan who were all even. Player was four under par after 14 holes but slipped when he took a 6 on the 17th.
The past editions of the U.S. Open had the third and fourth rounds played in a single day. The third round would be played in the morning, while the final round would be played out in the afternoon. Due to inclement weather, parts of the third round were delayed. Around 9:30 AM of the 3rd round, officials were notified that the fourth green was unplayable and crews immediately went to work. The total delay was 1 hour and 50 minutes and started playing a role in player’s scores. After consideration, they decided to reschedule the fourth and final round for Sunday.
During the third round of play, Casper widened his lead to three. Sam Snead and Bob Rosburg both shot 67, which was the low round of the tournament. Snead was one of the players to protest that they proceeded with the tournament and finish on Saturday. Ben Hogan displayed another ageless round shooting a 71 to stay in second place. Casper was four strokes up on Snead & Rosburg and three up on Hogan.
The final round produced some of the highest scored of the tournament, evident from the delays a day before. Casper began the final round with a three-stroke lead over Hogan who struggled to a 76 and fell to 8th place. Rosburg made a run at Casper’s lead when he holed out a bunker shot for birdie at 11 and made a 50-foot putt for another birdie at 12 to draw even with Casper. A three-putt at the 13th meant Rosburg had to birdie the last to force a Monday playoff. His approach shot fell on the front of the green, 40 feet short, and he two-putted to finish a stroke back. Casper’s final round 74 was enough. The difference for Casper proved to be his putting; he needed only 114 putts over 72 holes with 31 one-putts and just one three-putt
1959 United States Open Facts and Trivia
- This U.S. Open was the first to be played over four days; thunderstorms and heavy rain delayed third round play on Saturday morning and the final round was postponed to Sunday. The final round at the U.S. Open was first scheduled for Sunday in 1965.
- The price of admission was $6 for the 1959 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
- Parking was an issue. So much that Winged Foot president, Walter Kolb had a construction crew build a bridge over a brook near the 15th hole to make more parking spaces available.
- This was Charlie Sifford’s first major championship, two years before the PGA of America allowed African-Americans to play on the PGA Tour; he finished in 32nd place.
- A fifty-two foot scoreboard was built specially for this event. It was the largest in United States Golf Association history thus far.
- Then amateur Jack Nicklaus, 19, played in his third straight U.S. Open but missed the cut for the second time with consecutive rounds of 77. He would finish runner up the next year to Arnold Palmer before winning in 1962 for his 1st major championship.
- Spectator, Nat Walenski, of Chattanooga was arrested during the second round and charged with accepting bets on the outcome of the Open. At the time of his arrest he had nearly $4,000 in his pockets.