10 Jun 2020 | Professional golf | Feature stories |
Great Australian Moments 13: Kel's finest day
by Martin Blake
On the game’s greatest stage, Kel Nagle conjured the finest performance of his wonderful career.
The 1960 Open Championship was the centenary of the oldest tournament in the world, with pomp and ceremony to match the occasion at St Andrews, the home of golf.
Arnold Palmer, at the height of his fame, made the pilgrimage to Scotland for his first Open appearance, having already won the Masters and the US Open earlier in the year, meaning that the modern Grand Slam was in play.
Needless to say, Palmer was the heavy favorite, but it was the quiet, humble and much-loved professional from Sydney who triumphed.
Nagle was 39 and had already won two Canada Cups, the predecessor of golf’s World Cup, with his great friend Peter Thomson. He’d also won the Australian Open the year prior.
But he had never threatened to win a major before. Taking solace from Thomson’s encouragement – “you have the game” – Nagle shot 69-67-71-71 to beat Palmer by a shot.
On the final day as he confronted a putt of more than three metres to save par at the Road Hole, the 17th, Nagle heard a roar from the group ahead and knew what it must have meant. Palmer had birdied the last, completing one of his famous charges, to post 279.
Nagle holed the putt, later calling it “the best putt of my life’’. Then at the 18th where he needed par to win outright, he hit a pure nine iron in close, describing it as “the best shot of my life”, two-putted for par and became the Champion Golfer of the Year.
Kel Nagle won more than 60 times around the world, and the win at St Andrews pitched him into the top cluster of players on the planet. At the Open, he was fifth, second and fourth in the next three years, and by the end of his career had seven top-10 finishes in the tournament, even finishing 11th as a 50-year-old in 1971.
He played well in all conditions, reaching a playoff against Gary Player at the 1965 US Open but losing by three shots, upset that he had hit a spectator with his ball. Nagle was a gentleman to the end, and he had the perspective that comes from five years in the military during World War II.
Originally a long hitter – the Pymble Crusher, they called him, when he emerged from his job as an assistant professional at Pymble Golf Club – he later focussed on accuracy, shortening his swing. He was also a genius on the greens.
Nagle was inducted in the World Golf Hall of Fame. He died in 2015 aged 94, with a painting of St Andrews on the wall.
Thomson revered him. “Of all he people I have met in the world of golf, this fellow is the finest,” said the five-time Open champion.
And on Saturday, 9 July, 1960, Kel Nagle stood on top of the world.
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