Cherry Hills Country Club is a lore-strewn golf course with a weird history and a name that sounds like cheap wine. There have been four previous major championships here, and an equal number of disasters and just plain bizarre happenings. More occurred today, in the opening round of the PGA Championship.
It seemed appropriate that this first round marked Arnold Palmer's return to the site where he won his only U.S. Open championship -- in 1960 with a course record 65. It seemed bizarre that on this day the record was broken, while Palmer, who never has won the PGA, shot a 75.
Doug Tewell, an Okie with a bad back and braces on his teeth, shot a seven-under-par 64 that included an eagle on the par-5 17th to break Palmer's record and take a two-stroke lead in the final major of the season. His was the only unfamiliar name among a crowd of former champions.
There were 31 subpar rounds, breaking the previous first-day record of 28 set last year at Shoal Creek in Alabama.
Defending champion Lee Trevino also eagled the 17th when his ball skipped out of a lake and on to the green five feet from the hole. It gave him a round of 66, tied with three others for second.
Among them was Jack Nicklaus, who is winless this year but was not about to let a day like this go by. He finished with his fifth birdie at the beleaguered 17th. Peter Jacobsen birdied three of the last five holes, including two with 60-foot bunker shots that went in the hole, and Corey Pavin, the promising second-year player seeking his first major, had five birdies to complete the four-way tie.
Danny Edwards and seemingly revived former U.S. Open champions Tom Watson and Hubert Green had 67s. Neither Watson nor Green has won a tournament this year.
This is the second PGA to be held at Cherry Hills. The first was in 1941, when Byron Nelson lost to Vic Ghezzi on the 38th hole of a playoff after an NBC radio sound truck ran over his ball in the rough. Three Opens also have been held here, including the memorable 1960 championship that Palmer wrestled from Ben Hogan and Nicklaus when he started his record round by reaching the green at the 346-yard par-4 first hole with a thunderous drive.
Cherry Hills is a deceptively mild-mannered course. The 7,089-yard, par-71 layout plays short, but unlike Palmer, who took out his driver again today on the first hole, the rest of the field here was leery of the Open-style rough off the tee.
Tewell used his driver five times, the most among among the leaders. Watson, Edwards and Pavin used it only three times each, preferring to hit straight at the vulnerable pins with irons. Firm fairways, greens that held and lack of a breeze made it a pushover for Tewell, and just about everybody else. There were a total of eight eagles, five at the 17th.
Tewell birdied the par-4 fourth, the par-5 fifth, and the par-4 ninth holes on the front nine, which is considered the easier half of the course. It is on the back side that the easygoing layout turns dangerous, but he birdied the par-3 12th with a 15-foot putt, the par-4 14th with a six-iron to 18 feet and holed a blast out of a bunker from 60 feet on the par-3 15th.
Then came the eagle, and with it a flood of half-remembered history. It was on the par-5 17th that Palmer won his Open, when Hogan bogeyed by hitting a wedge into the water that surrounds the green. Tewell hit his driver off the tee and had about 210 yards to the green.
"I thought, 'I'm six under par. I'm not laying up,' " he said. "I had decided I wouldn't go for the green until Sunday. But my adrenaline was going."
Tewell averages 214 yards with his two-iron, which left little margin of error. In between was the water and the embankment. "I figured I had two yards to spare," he said.
He hit the two-iron to 15 feet from the hole and made the eagle putt.
"To tell the truth, it was a pretty boring round," he said.
Tewell, a journeyman who considered quitting the PGA Tour in 1979, suffers from a herniated disk in his back that forces him to pop aspirin compulsively during his rounds. His only two tour victories came in 1980, but he had gotten off to the best start of his career this season, at 46th on the money list with $119,729. Lately, however, his back had been bothering him and, of his last six tournaments, he missed the cut in three and withdrew from one. His best finish in the two that he completed was 57th.
Trevino had run off four birdies in five holes to drop to five under par through the 15th. But he double-bogeyed the par-4 16th when he sent a nine-iron over the green, then mis-hit his chip and ran past the hole again.
Next, however, came the eagle. His second shot, a 180-yard three-iron from the fairway, bounced into the water in front the green, then reemerged on an embankment and rolled to the pin.
Only Nicklaus played the course the way it was designed to be played. He birdied three of the first five holes, birdied the par-4 10th, and played the rest of the back nine in even par until the 17th, which he birdied.
This year, Nicklaus missed the cut in both the U.S. and British opens, for the first time in 20 years. He spent most of the last week's Western Open on the practice tee, where he took advice from players such as Watson, Joey Sindelar and J.C. Snead.
"Everybody had a shot at me," he said. "Now here we are at the end of the season and I'm finally starting to hit it decent."
Watson had a bogeyless round that was fairly routine save for an incident at the 12th hole, when a spectator-loaded bridge collapsed into a creek. No one was injured.