Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown
Here it is, August 16, 2018. On this date in 1976, another major golf championship was awarded. On Aug. 13, 1970, a previous major title had been awarded.
Pro golfer Dave Stockton taught me a lesson about sports I never forgot.
I’d never met the San Bernardino native. I’d interviewed him a couple times – years ago – by telephone. A onetime Pacific High School star, who won the 1959 CIF-Southern Section championship, had a stalwart golfing career.
He’s won the PGA Championship twice, in 1970 and 1976. He’s a Senior U.S. Open champion. There have been other championships, including the Los Angeles Open and a few other prominent tournament titles. Around these parts, Stockton’s considered a General among those who’ve achieved at the highest levels in any sport.
The seeds of my life’s lesson were planted in August 1970. That’s when Stockton, who was in contention at the 1970 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Golf Club in Tulsa, Okla. was taking on a rather large challenge.
Arnold Palmer – not to mention Arnie’s Army – was the hurdle standing in Stockton’s pathway.
(A curious note, perhaps: About 15 miles from Redlands, the city of Beaumont includes a housing complex dubbed Tournament Hills. Street names include Trevino Trail, Woods Way, Casper Cove, Hogan Drive, Nicklaus Nook, Palmer Ave.
Other streets are named Crenshaw, Bean, Miller, Mickelson, Runyan, Irwin, Bean, Venturi, Shore (as in Dinah) and Pepper (Dottie), among others, plus parks named for Trevino, Palmer and Nicklaus.
I happen to live on the corner at Stockton Street.)
At age 15, I’d only caught a minor glimpse on how formative Arnie’s supportive fans could be. I also had no idea how rugged they could get against a player who was challenging Palmer’s run to a memorable golf championship.
The PGA Championship is the fourth major golf tournament, following the Masters, U.S. and British Opens. I believe only Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and, eventually, Tiger Woods have won the Grand Slam of Golf.
Nicklaus and Woods are multiple ’Slam winners.
My Dad, Neal Brown, and I watched Palmer go after that elusive fourth major in 1970, a title he’s never won despite an otherwise illustrious career. Dad was such a fan of Palmer’s that he actually fashioned his own golf swing after Arnie’s, whose swing was often a source of discussion among the sport’s purists during his days.
In August 1970, Dad and I sat and watched, rooting for Arnie. We were definitely part of Arnie’s Army, TV-style.
Stockton stood up under the heat and the pressure.
Pressures of a major golf championship are immense. It included the likely possibility that gallery members – Arnie’s Army supporters – were doing things to irritate him.
Like Dad, I was disappointed that Arnie didn’t win.
INSIGHT INTO THAT 1970 PGA TITLE
Fast forward a decade, or so.
I was now working for the Redlands daily sports section.
The Stockton family had moved back to Mentone, a neighboring community next to Redlands. I got the telephone number where Stockton was staying while he was playing at a tournament in Canada.
He was obliging, honest and frank in his answers. I could hardly wait to hit him up with my remembrance on how he knocked off Arnold Palmer at the 1970 PGA Championship.
I was certain he could fill in some of the gaps from that experience.
It was likely the highlight of his career. When the subject came up, the onetime Pacific High and University of Southern California golf star was ready.
Arnold Palmer? The missing link in his trophy case? The destiny with history? Golf’s Grand Slam?
“My family,” said a serious Stockton, without missing a beat, “needed it more.”
Palmer, who was a remarkable golfer for decades, had won four Masters titles, two British Opens and the 1960 U.S. Open. He tied for second at the PGA Championship on three occasions — including 1970.
For the record, veteran golfer Bob Murphy tied for second with Palmer at one-over par. Stockton was two-under.
Jack Nicklaus was four shots back.
Johnny Miller held the first-round lead.
Stockton shared the second-round lead with Larry Hinson.
After three rounds, Stockton held a three-shot lead over Raymond Floyd heading into the final 18 holes. Palmer trailed by five.
Stockton, who shot a final round 73, shared the experience of holing out a 125-yard wedge shot.
He’d also shared that the media referred to him as an “unknown.”
After he notched the victory, he was no longer that unknown.
“I hit a tee shot into the trees,” he recalled, “and I heard (an Arnie Army reserve) holler, ‘go get ’em, Arnie.’ That made me hot.”
Said Stockton: “I had some work to do. That (final round) wasn’t easy.”
That was the lesson, folks. Who cares if there was a blank spot in Palmer’s trophy case? Palmer needed that championship about as much as the Yankees needed another World Series trophy.
The esteemed Palmer seemed to do quite well, I noticed, never having won that fourth major. It might be a blank space on his trophy case in 1970, but no matter. His bank account probably didn’t suffer all that much in 1970.
Neither did his career.
ONE MORE WANAMAKER TROPHY ADDITION
Stockton, however, added a jewel to his trophy case, which also included the L.A. Open. At Riviera Golf Club, Stockton outdueled another golf legend, Sam Snead a few years earlier.
Since learning that lesson from Stockton, I don’t necessarily root against the Yankees. Or against Notre Dame’s football machine. Or against the Lakers or the Celtics pulling out another NBA title.
I love the Final Four when a mid-major like Gonzaga or Marquette or George Mason or Butler, challenges for that elusive prize ahead of North Carolina or UCLA or Duke or Kentucky.
What I do love are the good stories coming from unexpected winners.
That lesson came via Stockton.
“My family needed it more,” keeps shooting through my mind.
The Wanamaker Trophy, symbolizing the PGA Championship, found its way back into the Stockton family six years later.
On the 72nd hole in 1976 at Congressional Golf Club, Stockton connected on a 15-foot par putt to beat Floyd and Don January by a single shot.
The ever-dangerous Nicklaus, defending champion and looming closely to the top, was beaten by two strokes.
Let’s not overlook Stockton’s other top finishes at major championships.
He tied for second place at the 1974 Masters, trailing Gary Player by two shots alongside Tom Weiskopf.
In the 1978 U.S. Open, he tied for second place with J.C. Snead, one shot behind Andy North at, of all places, Cherry Hills (Colo.) Country Club – the site where Palmer notched his only U.S. Open victory.
Stockton’s best finish at the British Open, a tie for 11th place, came one year after winning the 1970 PGA Championship. Lee Trevino won at Royal Birkdale.
As for the San Bernardino native, Stockton moved to Mentone in the 1980s. A couple decades later, his family moved again — this time to Redlands, near the traditional country club.
Along with comedian Bob Hope, President Gerald Ford and Dodger owner Walter O’Malley, Stockton was presented as an honorary member at Redlands Country Club.
He told me, again by telephone, “I had no idea there were honorary members at Redlands.” Stockton seemed moved. This wasn’t an Arnie’s Army remembrance party.
It was part of that Redlands Connection.