1984 U.S. Senior Open
Once again, it was a faulty stroke on a putting green by a historic figure that overshadowed an Oak Hill victory by a solid but not quite as popular champion.
Much like Cary Middlecoff had benefited from Ben Hogan’s miss from 30 inches in the 1956 U.S. Open, Miller Barber’s path to victory in the first Senior event held on the East Course was cleared in part by Arnold Palmer’s inexplicable whiff of a tap-in at the 15th hole in the final round.
“I didn't see him miss that putt," said Barber, and the gallery surrounding the hole could say the same thing. But Palmer knew what he had done, and no one should have been surprised that the King did the honorable thing and called the penalty on himself.
Barber, who won 11 PGA Tour events before enjoying tremendous success on the Senior Tour, had begun the final round one shot behind the iconic Palmer, but Barber had gone ahead with a series of 10 straight pars and as they stood on the 15th green, Barber was now ahead by two shots.
Palmer had air-mailed a 7-iron over the green at the par-3, chipped to 10 feet, and missed his par-saving putt, leaving it just on the edge of the cup. He walked up and nonchalantly stabbed at it, but he stubbed his putter and never touched the ball. After sweeping it in on the second try he immediately informed Barber that his score was a double-bogey 5.
"I couldn't believe it,” said Barber, who was so thrown by the incident that he went on to three-putt for a bogey, though his lead still increased to three shots. “In my wildest imagination I wouldn't have known he had done it if he hadn't spoken up.’’
Palmer birdied 16, and Barber drove into trouble at 17 and Arnie’s Army surged with excitement, but Barber hit a brilliant recovery shot, saved par, and made a routine par at 18 to wrap up the victory.
Miller Barber did not count any major titles among his 11 PGA Tour victories, but he went on to enjoy one of the most successful Senior Tour careers in history as he won 24 times, five of the victories coming in senior majors. Starting in 1982 he won one Senior major in four straight years including three U.S. Senior Opens.
One of the key moments of the 1984 U.S. Senior Open occurred on the 15th tee in the final round. Arnold Palmer and his caddie, Creamy Carolan, disagreed on what club to hit at the par-3. Palmer ceded to Carolan, hit a 7-iron instead of the 8 that he preferred, and knocked his shot over the green. Ultimately, he three-putted for a double bogey which foiled his chances of catching Miller Barber.