News & Opinion

Arnie’s vintage 1960s irons can be yours for $275,000

Arnold Palmer won his only U.S. Open title at Cherry Hills in 1960 when he came from seven shots back in the final round to post a two-shot victory over then-amateur Jack Nicklaus.

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Photos courtesy of Golf Links to The Past.??????? The Wilson irons that Arnold Palmer used to win 14 times in 1960-61 are for sale.

The clubs that Palmer used for his 14 victories and 39 top 10s in 1960-61 were given away by Palmer in what ultimately was an exchange for a driver that he borrowed and eventually didn’t want.

The Wilson driver originally was owned by former PGA president Joe Black, and the story is vintage Palmer.

Palmer was playing in the Dallas Open Invitational at Oak Cliff Country Club in late summer 1961. Black was a member at the Dallas club, and Palmer saw his clubs in the bag room and grabbed the driver out of the bag and asked Black if he could have it.

“I told him, ‘You're kidding. You can't have my driver,’ ” said Black, recalling the conversation. “And he said, ‘Well, loan it to me this week.’ And so I said, ‘OK, but it's got to be back in my bag on Sunday night.’ ”

Palmer drove the ball well and tied for second with Gay Brewer and Doug Sanders, one shot behind winner Earl Stewart.

The driver was not returned on Sunday and instead taken to Chicago, where Palmer was scheduled to play in an exhibition with Gary Player. While in Chicago, Palmer visited the headquarters of Wilson Sporting Goods to make alterations to the driver.

Always a tinkerer, Palmer took the driver to Wilson and started manipulating the driver head. That move didn’t go over well with Black when he arrived in Chicago to referee the exhibition.

“I really fixed it up,” Palmer told Black.

“What he had done is taken a rasp and rasped the toe right off,” Black said. “Because he hooked the ball, he did that to a lot of his clubs.”

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???????The changes were not positive as Palmer, according to Black, drove it all over the place and then tried to give the altered club back to Black.

“I don't want it back,” Black said. “You ruined it.”

Palmer eventually asked Black what he wanted, and he asked for one of Palmer’s putters.

The precursor to the Wilson 8802 was a Tommy Armour putter. Palmer had welded a flange onto the back of it.

Black knew that Palmer had made two of the putters and wanted one, but Palmer refused to part with it. Black worked for the PGA of America’s touring-pros division, the forerunner to today’s PGA Tour, so he would see Palmer every week and ask him for the putter.  

Eventually Palmer had enough. Near the end of his season, he saw Black standing by the scoreboard on a Sunday afternoon upon finishing play and yelled over to Black to follow him to the parking lot.

“He pulled the irons out of the bag and handed them to me and said, ‘I don't want to hear another damn word from you about the putter,’ ” Black said Palmer told him. “And then he said, ‘Now, don't sell these for a year because I may need them back.’ He wasn't sure how well he was going to be able to play with the new clubs.  So anyway, that's how I got them.”

Black played with the clubs one time and then stuck them away. Now, at age 83, he was asked by his wife to start getting rid of some things.

Golf Links to The Past (http://www.golfspast.com/), a golf antiquity shop in Pebble Beach, Calif., purchased most of Black’s collection, including the irons, which are priced at $275,000.

“They are definitely a museum piece,” said Kip Opgrand, a spokesman for Golf Links to The Past. 

In determining the price, Opgrand pointed to the sale of a Palmer putter, which was used to win the 1964 Masters, that sold on Green Jacket Auctions for $97,690.80 in April and a Palmer driver, used to win the 1961 British Open, which is listed at Heritage Auctions at an estimated value of $80,000 and will go on sale in August.

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Palmer earned $136,354 with the irons during a PGA Tour career that, despite 62 victories, produced only $1,861,857 in earnings. By comparison, the winner of this week’s U.S. Open will pocket $2.16 million.

Outside of a letter signed by Palmer, claiming that he used the irons to win 14 times, including three majors, Black provided more telling corroboration that the irons were Palmer’s.

“They have got his name stamped on them, you know, like the company did with the clubs back then,” Black said. “And then secondly, they’ve got vise marks and hammer marks all over them. And the long irons, he drilled the toe of the long iron and lead-weighted it to make it easier it hit those long irons up in the air; he had such a low ball flight. And then the grips were the old leather grips that he would take on and off three or four times a week or change grips, and he used a wood rasp to rough those grips up.

“They're vintage Arnold Palmer. You look at them, and there's no doubt that his fingerprints are all over them.”

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli