Arnold Palmer always had fond memories of his youthful days playing golf amid the pines and sandy loam of Pinehurst.
Palmer’s father, Deacon, visited Pinehurst regularly in the 1930s and 1940s with a group of golf buddies from their home in Latrobe, Pa., and their hotel of choice was the Manor Inn. Arnold came on occasion and then attended Wake Forest College in the late 1940s when it was located in the town of Wake Forest, just north of Raleigh. Palmer and teammates such as Buddy Worsham, Frank Edens, Jennings Agner and Dick Tiddy would pile into a Desoto station wagon for the 90-mile drive to Pinehurst.
Perhaps no player has had a greater impact on golf than Arnold Palmer. But his lone win at Pinehurst is a difficult one to find. It’s not the North & South Amateur, which he laments, and where he lost twice in the semifinals. Palmer turned professional in 1954, so he missed the North & South Open, and he was past his prime for the PGA Tour events at Pinehurst in the 1970s and the U.S. Senior Open in 1994.
But there is a win at Pinehurst in the Palmer ledger, and he recalled it fondly. Perhaps he thought so much of it because it was a crushing near-miss for the Tar Heels and their star, Harvie Ward.
“It was a great shot that scared me to death, let’s just say that.” -Arnold Palmer
In 1948, Palmer was a freshman sensation at Wake Forest, competing in the Southern Conference, a precursor to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Near the close of the second round on Pinehurst No. 2, Palmer found himself ahead of his friend and rival Ward. But Ward still had the famed 18th to play, and was comfortably in the fairway.
Palmer should’ve been confident. Ward would need to hole his approach shot just to tie.
But with the ball in the air, Palmer’s heart sank.
“Harvie needed to hole his second shot to tie me,” Palmer told us in 2014 before the U.S. Open. “He left it about 3 inches from the hole. I didn’t think it had a chance, but he damn near made it.”
Palmer won the conference championship by a stroke. It’s his only documented Pinehurst win.
“It would’ve dismayed me quite a bit,” Palmer said of Ward’s shot. “It was a great shot that scared me to death, let’s just say that.”
Neither Wake Forest nor North Carolina won the Southern Conference team championship, though.
Lee Pace contributed to this story.