Arnie, Bob Drum, a trans-Atlantic flight and the modern Grand Slam: one of golf's great myths

Jan 02, 2021

Both Bob Drum and Arnold Palmer have recounted how the two of them conceived of golf's "modern grand slam" on a trans-Atlantic flight shortly after Palmer had won the 1960 US Open at Cherry Hills. In 2016, Katherine Bissell repeated the story told to her by Drum:

While Palmer is known for many things, he is least known for the one thing that is most important historically. On a flight across the Atlantic in 1960, he invented the modern grand slam of golf.

It happened when Palmer was on his way to the British Open, after having won the Masters and the U.S. Open that year.  One person aboard the plane was the late Bob Drum, then a sportswriter for a newspaper in Pittsburgh. As Drum told the story to me, Palmer asked Drum what it would be if he, Palmer, won the British Open and the PGA in addition to the Masters and the U.S. Open.  Drum said he replied that it would be the equal of Bobby Jones’ grand slam. According to Drum, Palmer said, “That’s what I’ll do. I’ll win the grand slam.”1

In his 1999 autobiography, A Golfer's Story, Palmer tells a similar, but not identical, tale:

Somewhere on my first flight over there, during our extended cocktail hour, Bob Drum and I got to talking about Jones's great Grand Slam. Drum remarked to me that it was a shame that the growth of the professional game, among other things, effectively ended the Grand Slam concept as it had been known in Jones's day (the Grand Slam then comprised the U.S. and British Amateur Championships and both major Opens).

"Well," I said casually over my drink, "why don't we create a new Grand Slam?"

Drum gave me one of his famous contrarian glares that made him look like a cross between an annoyed college dean and a sleeping bear someone had foolishly kicked awake.

"What the hell are you talking about?" he muttered, though probably a bit more colorfully than that.

I explained what I was thinking, "What would be wrong with a professional Grand Slam involving the Masters, both Open Championships, and the PGA championship?"

He chewed on that for a few seconds, then sipped his drink and snorted. Usually, a Drum snort meant he thought your idea was so utterly ridiculous he sometimes wondered why he wasted his time sharing oxygen space with you. This time his snort meant that he thought, Well, kid, maybe you've got something there.

A bit later Arnie explained how Bob Drum spread the word and introduced their new concept to the golf world after the two reached their destination:

I'm not entirely certain [Drum] was the first to write about the idea of a modern Grand Slam, though. That's because when we stopped at Portmarnock [just north of Dublin and the site of the Canada Cup where Palmer and Sam Snead were representing the United States] enroute, I'm certain he spread the idea of the new professional Grand Slam among his colleagues in the British press. So one of them was probably the first to write about the concept. Still, it was Bob who effectively first planted the seed that later grew.2

It's a wonderful story, that's retold often, and is accepted by many as a faithful recounting of the "birth" of the modern grand slam. But is this story really true, or is it, like so many other "wonderful stories," a myth? Perhaps surprising to some, but not to others, "myth" is the correct answer. Palmer's goal of winning all four major championships that year, a sweep labeled by the press the "professional grand slam," had been widely publicized before Arnold and Drum boarded the plane, making it impossible for them to "invent" the "idea of the new professional Grand Slam" during their flight: the "idea" already existed, was well-known and both had written about it.

The true sequence of events is easily verified, starting with the following key dates: Palmer won the 1960 US Open on Saturday June 18. The next day, Sunday June 19, Drum and Palmer flew to New York, and from there across the Atlantic. They arrived in Dublin on Monday June 20.

A review of relevant newspaper reporting reveals the following:

1. Palmer's "professional grand slam" aspirations for 1960 were described in papers nationwide two months before his US Open win: Palmer revealed his goal to reporters following his Masters victory in April.

2. The "professional grand slam" was not a new concept in 1960: during the three decades prior to 1960, several players other than Palmer had well-publicized pursuits of the professional equivalent of Bobby Jones' grand slam. 

3. During the week of the 1960 US Open, the current issue of The Saturday Evening Post included a feature article titled "I Want That Grand Slam," a first-person profile of Palmer that expanded on his "professional 'grand slam'" quest. Advertisements promoting the article appeared on Tuesday June 14 in the sports sections of local newspapers.

4. On Sunday June 19, Palmer's grand slam aspirations were included in much of the coverage of his US Open win, including Bob Drum's article on the front page of the Pittsburgh Press.

5. On Monday June 20, feature articles focused on Arnie's grand slam pursuit appeared nationwide.

6. On Tuesday June 21, reporting datelined June 20 from Dublin showed that news of Palmer's bid for the "third leg of a new 'grand slam'" was already known there before he and Bob Drum had arrived.

 A comprehensive review of the historical accounts follows, beginning with what was published shortly after Palmer's win at the 1960 Masters, completed April 10. Two days later, on April 12, feature articles that discussed Palmer's goals for the remainder of the season appeared in newspapers across the country. Below are some of the headlines that accompanied the articles in local papers:

The Journal Herald:3

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram:4

Daily Intelligencer Journal:5

The Clarion-Ledger:6

Daily News:7

That day's article authored by the Chicago Tribune golf writer Charles Bartlett included the following: 

... Palmer made it plain that he is now set on a grand slam in professional golf this year.

"I want to win those other three so much I can taste 'em," the 30 year old Pennsylvanian said. "The National Open at Denver won't start until June 16. I'm going to get in several practice rounds before then. I'm going to drill early at the Firestone Club in Akron, O., for the National P.G.A. In between those two, Bob Rosburg and I are going to go to the British Open at St. Andrew's."8

In his Associated Press piece, sportswriter Mercer Bailey wrote that, with his Masters victory, Palmer had "passed his first landmark" and that "three more big ones remain": the US Open, British Open and the PGA championship. Bailey continued:

If the 29-year-old [sic] Palmer can add those three jewels to his Masters crown the performance will rank on a par with Jones' grand slam year.

Bailey also added:

In keeping with his modest nature, [Palmer] did not mention any slam possibilities.9

These articles show that two months before the overseas flight Palmer had already expressed to reporters his goal of winning all four "big ones" that season. Notably, according to the AP's Mercer Bailey, the "modest" young man refrained from labeling the sweep as a "slam." However, as shown above, the authors and headline writers had applied the "grand slam" label to his quest, which raises the following question: if the "modern grand slam" was a brand new concept that wasn't conceived by Palmer and Drum until after the US Open in June, how did sports journalists, editors and headline writers know to call it a "grand slam" in April?

The answer is simple: the concept was not new. Sports pages had been covering possible "professional grand slams" since the early 1930s, after Jones had taken the amateur grand slam in 1930. The first instance appeared just two years later, in 1932. That year, Gene Sarazen won the British Open on June 10, and made it back to America in time to capture the US Open at Fresh Meadow on June 25. Just days after completing his "little slam" of the two Open titles,10 the possibility of Sarazen completing a "professional grand slam" by adding the PGA championship began appearing in the sports pages. On June 29, Chicago sportswriter Francis J. Powers wrote:

Gene soon will go after the P.G.A. championship and if he wins that he will have, inasmuch as is within the power of a professional, duplicated the grand slam made by Bobby Jones in 1930.11

On July 4, Sarazen announced his intention to focus exclusively on preparing for the PGA championship, with the goal of completing a "grand slam in professional golf":12

Reporting during the run-up to the PGA championship that August typically included references to Sarazen's quest.13 Unfortunately, Sarazen ignominiously failed to complete his "slam" when he did not make it through the championship's sectional qualifying.

The next run at a "professional grand slam" was in 1941 by Craig Wood after consecutive victories at the Masters (begun in 1934) and the US Open at Colonial. Following his win in Fort Worth, golf writers began reporting that capturing the PGA championship would make Wood "the first man ever to score a 'grand slam' in professional golf."14 Because of the war in Europe, the British Open was not held that year, making the three American events the only feasible professional "slam."

An example of the coverage Wood received that summer begins with "This may be Craig Wood's grand slam golf year."15

Like Sarazen, Wood failed woefully at the PGA, losing in the first round to "a 50-1 shot," Mark Fry, who "larrupped Wood by a 6 and 5 count" in the 18 hole match.16

In 1949, Sam Snead took the Masters in April, then the PGA championship in late May. As in 1941 after Craig Wood had claimed the first two major titles, the sports pages began discussing the possibility of Snead completing a professional grand slam if he could bring home the upcoming US Open at Medinah in Chicago. In an article published on June 9, the Associated Press' Will Grimsley wrote:

A triumph in the open - which in the past has been denied him by a string of atrocious luck - would give the colorful 37-year-old White Sulphur Springs tourist a professional sweep comparable with Amateur Bobby Jones' grand slam of 1930.17

Similarly, the caption of the attached photo reads in part:

Snead, seeking the professional grand slam with a victory at Chicago, rules a 6-1 favorite.18

As with Sarazen and Wood, the Slammer failed, but in his case just barely, and in typical heart-breaking fashion: Sam took three from the edge on the 71st hole and finished second by a stroke to Cary Middlecoff.

In 1953, after having captured the Masters and US Open, Ben Hogan announced that he would travel to Scotland for the British Open at Carnoustie. At the time, some observers opined that a victory there would give Hogan a "professional grand slam." For example, NEA Sports Editor Harry Grayson wrote:

Ben Hogan has reached a stage in life where he wants something more than money, and what better than the first professional Grand Slam - the Masters and the U.S. and British Opens.19

In an article by the AP's Will Grimsley, Gene Sarazen was quoted:

By adding the British Open to his Masters and U.S. Open championships, Ben would have a slam of his own. "It would be a feat equal to Jones' Grand Slam," said Sarazen.20

In a masterful performance, Hogan brought home the third prize. Because of overlapping dates, it wasn't feasible for Hogan to compete in both the British Open and the PGA championship, but, even if the schedules had permitted, it is doubtful Hogan would have entered the third American major: the match play event required five consecutive 36-hole days for the finalists, and Hogan had declined to play in that championship since his horrific accident in 1949.

That brings us back to 1960 and Palmer's quest. As the US Open approached in mid-June, Arnold's comments from April were not forgotten. For example, on June 12, the Sunday prior to the tournament, the following was published in the sports section of Drum's paper, the Pittsburgh Press. The caption under Arnold Palmer states he is "trying for Grand Slam":21

On June 14, Tuesday of US Open week, the following advertisement for the just-published issue of The Saturday Evening Post ran in the sports section of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:22

Below is the first page of the featured article, a first-person profile "as told to" the Associated Press' Will Grimsley:23

In the article, Palmer explains that once he recognized it was very unlikely he'd ever be able to afford to compete as an amateur and realize his dream of equaling Bobby Jones' grand slam, he had changed his focus to achieving a "professional 'grand slam.'" After his fast start to the 1960 season, Arnold was "determined to make" his bid:

Now my sights are fixed on winning the four biggest tournaments open to a pro - the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and P.G.A....Ben Hogan won the first three of these in his great year of 1953, but had to pass up the P.G.A. No golfer ever has taken all four in the same year...I want to be the man to do it.

Many people felt Hogan's 1953 achievement was at least equal, and maybe even superior, to Jones's 1930 sweep because of the keener competition Hogan met. I agree. I believe Bob Jones, a wonderful sportsman, also might agree. In his heyday Jones had to beat only a handful of topflight players.24

On Saturday June 18, Palmer shot a spectacular final round 65 and captured the 1960 US Open. In the sports pages the following day, many of the writers covering Palmer's victory included in their stories Arnold's aspiration to be the first to win the professional grand slam of the Masters, US Open, British Open and PGA.25 Here is the headline from the Akron Beacon Journal:26

As noted above, Bob Drum made reference to Arnie's grand slam quest in his reporting, including this in the second paragraph of the Drummer's front page story in the Pittsburgh Press

The sensational victory moved [Palmer] over the second hurdle in his bid for present day golf's Grand Slam.

Drum included this In the fourth paragraph:

Palmer leaves Sunday morning for Ireland to pair with Sam Snead in the International championship [the Canada Cup at Portmarnock] and then goes after the British Open title, the third stop on the slam. The PGA championship in July 15 is the windup.27

Of course, Bob Drum was also on that flight to Ireland with Palmer and Snead.

The next day on Monday the 20th, feature articles from the Associated Press, United Press International, Oscar Fraley and local sports writers appeared throughout the United States providing coverage of Palmer's grand slam bid.28 The Fort Lauderdale News ran this headline with the AP story:29

The UPI piece ran alongside Bob Drum's Monday column in the Pittsburgh Press:30

On June 21, reporting datelined June 20 from Dublin announced that Palmer was scheduled to arrive in Dublin that morning "to seek the third leg of a new 'grand slam.'"31 Apparently, the "idea of the new professional Grand Slam" had already spread to the British press without the help of Bob Drum.

Following the Canada Cup, which the US Team won, Palmer valiantly tried for the third leg of the slam at St. Andrews, but fell short by a stroke to Kel Nagle. Palmer would win the Masters twice more, in 1962 and 1964, but failed both years to claim the second leg of the slam. And sadly, although Arnie took the British Open in 1961 and 1962, he never captured a PGA championship, and was thus forever denied a career grand slam.

Although Palmer did not, in truth, "invent" the "modern grand slam," Arnie rightfully gets a great deal of credit for drawing attention to the professional sweep with his brave attempt in 1960 and, in the process, reigniting interest in the British Open among American fans as well as the professionals. During the post-war period, participation by the Americans pros in the British Open had dwindled to none in 1959.32 In 1958, the only notable American in the field was 56 year old Gene Sarazen.33 Although Palmer had announced in April 1960 that Bob Rosburg would travel with him to St. Andrews, Palmer was the only American star to attend.34   But two years later at Troon, Nicklaus, Snead, Gene Littler and Phil Rodgers joined Arnie.35 By 1966, when Jack won his first at Muirfield, Tony Lema, Doug Sanders, Julius Boros, Dave Marr, Phil Rodgers and Dan Sikes participated along with Arnie and Jack.36 

In addition to spurring a much needed boost in American interest in the British Open, Palmer is probably right that his grand slam push also helped the PGA championship regain some of the luster it had lost when it switched to medal play in 1958. As he put it:

To some, the the once-great PGA championship suddenly seemed like just another seventy-hole medal-play tournament, albeit an important one...37

Perhaps the most beloved player in the game's history, Palmer deserves enormous credit for his playing accomplishments as well as the immense increase in the game's popularity he helped create during his career. His pursuit of the modern grand slam was part of that. However, an accolade he doesn't deserve is "inventor" of the modern grand slam. How and why this tale evolved as it did is a mystery. "Cooking it up over cocktails on a trans-Atlantic flight" makes a great story, and is unlikely to ever fade away and completely disappear. Nevertheless, the well-documented history makes it impossible to imagine Arnie and Drum "inventing" the modern grand slam during their flight in 1960. It'd already been done.

 


1. Katherine Bissell, Arnie Invented The Grand Slam And Much More, Progolfnow.com, December 28, 2016.

https://progolfnow.com/2016/12/28/arnie-invented-grand-slam-much/

2. Arnold Palmer with James Dodson, A Golfer's Life, 1999, pages 233-234.

3. Associated Press, Arnold Palmer Studies Grand Slam Possibility, The Journal Herald, April 12, 1960, page 9.

4. Associated Press, Arnie Top Threat To Equal Jones' Grand Slam Feat, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 12, 1960, page 17.

5. Associated Press, One Down, Palmer Sighting on Three More Crowns And Golf's Grand Slam, Daily Intelligencer Journal, April 12, 1960, page 19.

6. Mercer Bailey, Palmer Eyes Rich Future, Sets His Sights On 'Grand Slam', Clarion-Ledger, April 12, 1960, page 12.

7. Associated Press, Biggest Grand Slam May Be Palmer Goal, Daily News, April 12, 1960, page 90.

8. Charles Bartlett, Palmer Plays With Ike On Augusta Links, Chicago Tribune, April 12, 1960, page 39.

9. Mercer Bailey, Palmer Eyes Rich Future, Sets His Sights On 'Grand Slam', Clarion-Ledger, April 12, 1960, page 12.

10. Ralph McGill, Break of the Day, Gene Sarazen Completes What Amounts to a "Little Slam" and Now Ranks as Greatest Active Figure in the Game, The Atlanta Constitution, June 26, 1932, page 15.

11. Francis J. Powers, Sarazen Rates As First Rank Golfer of 1932, The Ithaca Journal, June 29, 1932, page 13.

12. Associated Press, Sarazen Seeks a Grand Slam, The Los Angeles Times, July 5, 1932, page 27.

13. For example: "Having already won the American and British opens, Sarazen seeks a grand slam in professional golf comparable with Bobby Jones' achievement as an amateur." Sport Soundings By J.K., The Billings Gazette, July 11, 1932, page 6; "Twice a favorite and twice a winner. That tells part of the story of Gene Sarazen's 1932 campaign to become the second of golfdom's grand-slam champions." Claire Burcky, NEA Service, Favor Gene Sarazen To Corral 1932 P.G.A. Tournament Honors, The Piqua Daily Call, August 9, 1932, page 5; "Gene Sarazen's bid for a grand slam in golf honors for which pros are eligible, when he starts his tour of the Keller course in the P.G.A. tournament August 30 to September 4, will be over, around or through a new series of traps." Associated Press, Golfers Facing Tougher Foe In Keller Course, The Messenger, August 10, 1932, page 2.

14. United Press, Craig Wood Heads Golfers In Mahoning Valley Open, The Sandusky Register, June 12, 1941, page 14.

15. Associated Press, P.G.A. Tourney May Give Wood Grand Slam, Asbury Park Press, June 25, 1941, page 13.

16. Harold Heroux, INS, Pros Clash in P.G.A. Tournament, The Dispatch, July 10, 1941, page 41.

17. Slammer Comes In For Bit Of Attention, The Akron Beacon, June 9, 1949, page 45.

18. Will Grimsley, Associated Press, Sam Snead Favorite For Golf Crown, The Daily Times-News, June 9, 1949, page 14.

19. Harry Grayson, NEA Sports Editor, Hogan in British Open, The Daily Inter Lake, June 18, 1953, page 6.

20. Will Grimsley, Associated Press, Sarazen Selects Ben Over Bobby, The Charlotte Observer, June 21, 1953, page 61.

21. Golf's Peak or Bust, By Berger, The Pittsburgh Press, June 12, 1960, page 69.

22. Advertisement for the June 18, 1960 issue of the Saturday Evening Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 14, 1960, page 23.

23. Arnold Palmer as told to Will Grimsley, I Want That Grand Slam, The Saturday Evening Post, June 18, 1960, pages 24, 101-102.

24. Arnold Palmer as told to Will Grimsley, I Want That Grand Slam, The Saturday Evening Post, June 18, 1960, page 24.

25. For example: "And, in getting home first, [Palmer] earned the second leg on his avowed goal to become the first to win the pro grand slam of the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA," Dana Mozley, Palmer Rally Wins Open On Record-Tying 65-280, Daily News, June 19, 1960, page 109.

26. Lauren Tibbals, Palmer Is Riding Towards Grand Slam, Wins Open 'Leg' With Record Finish, The Akron Beacon Journal,  June 19, 1960, page 41.

27. Palmer's Sensational 65 Takes National Open, The Pittsburgh Press, June 19, 1960, page 1. Although the front page story covering the US Open does not contain a by-line, Bill Fields wrote in a 2010 profile that the article was Drum's. Bill Fields, The Mouth That Roared, Golf World, March 24, 2010.

https://www.golfdigest.com/story/golf_bob_drum_bill_fields

28. For example: "'But now I have grand slam ideas of my own,' [Palmer] admitted. 'I'd like to add the British Open and the PGA championships this year,'" Oscar Fraley, UPI, Sport Parade, Simpson's Leader-Times, June 20, 1960, page 9. "In a recent magazine interview, Palmer allowed as how he'd like to win a modern grand slam," Harry Missildine, Twice Over Lightly, The Spokesman-Review, June 20, 1960, page 8.

29. Associated Press, Incredible Palmer Eyes 'Grand Slam,' Fort Lauderdale News, June 20, 1960, page 6.

30. United Press International, Palmer Eyes Greatest Slam In Golf History, The Pittsburgh Press, June 20, 1960, page 24.

31. Don Lawrence, U.S. Star Seeks New Golf Honors, The Age, June 21, 1960, page 24.

32. https://www.theopen.com/previous-opens/88th-open-murfield-1959/

33. https://www.theopen.com/previous-opens/87th-open-royal-lytham-and-st-annes-1958/

34. https://www.theopen.com/previous-opens/146th-open-st-andrews-1960/

35. https://www.theopen.com/previous-opens/91st-open-royal-troon-1962/

36. https://www.theopen.com/previous-opens/95th-open-muirfield-1966/

37. Arnold Palmer with James Dodson, A Golfer's Life, 1999, page 259.

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