Stockton returns to Southern Hills, site of 1970 PGA Championship triumph

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By Ken MacLeod

It’s been a fat minute, as young folks say, since Dave Stockton held off Arnold Palmer to win the 1970 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club.

That’s 54 years in earth time, but you wouldn’t know it by watching the 82-year-old Stockton and son Ron deliver an enthusiastic putting and chipping clinic at Southern Hills Wednesday afternoon. Today he and his traveling friends from Redlands (Calif.) Country Club plan to play 36 holes, 18 at Southern Hills and 18 more at The Patriot in Owasso, where Stockton will also do another clinic Friday through his relationship with Dan Rooney and the Folds of Honor. Southern Hills has made him an honorary member.

Stockton has been back to Southern Hills previous times, the most recent being for the past champions dinner at the 2022 PGA Championship. But this is his first opportunity to play it since the Gil Hanse restoration was completed in 2019 and he was eagerly looking forward to it.  It’s also the first opportunity for Ron but not his first visit. Stockton’s wife Catherine was eight months pregnant with Ron during the 1970 championship.

Stockton has already viewed in 2022 what Hanse did to the seventh hole, where he made eagle in the final round in 1970. Combined with his birdie on the par-3 sixth hole, the 2-2 on the scorecard put him seven shots ahead of Palmer at the time and meant he could pretty well coast home.

“Gil moved the tee box back 20 yards and moved the green back 50 yards and to the right,” Stockton said. “That water wasn’t really even a consideration when we played it then but it certainly is now. I spun a wedge back into the hole in 1970 so I couldn’t have had more than 120 yards. Now it would be 180 yards easy.”

After the eagle Stockton promptly made double bogey on the par-3 eighth, his least favorite hole at Southern Hills, to give Arnie’s Army a glimmer of hope that he would finally achieve the Grand Slam by winning the PGA Championship. Stockton said that he would have been cheering for him as well.

“I almost felt bad because I wanted him to win the Grand Slam,” Stockton said. “But this meant so much to me and my career.”

Stockton drew inspiration from two sources in that final round. He said the local paper had the headline “Unknown leads PGA Championship” and he was already a four-time winner on the PGA Tour. And when he three-putted the fifth hole, a gallery member yelled out “You got him now Arnie.”

“After that, I was okay, game on,” Stockton said.

His father had recently convinced him to read the book Psycho Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. The book was about self-image and its ability to help an individual achieve any goal.

“What I took from it is you had to picture that you had already accomplished what you are trying to accomplish,” Stockton said. “So when I stepped foot on there Monday morning I knew I had won the tournament and said I’m going to enjoy the ride. That’s a totally different approach from standing there hoping I would have a good week.

Southern Hills General Manager Jay Johnson, Director of Golf Cary Cozby, Dave Stockton and historian Clyde Chrisman.

“So I’m looking at the people and they have no idea I’ve won this tournament. I went and stood in the amphitheater of the 18th green and I’m thinking on Sunday there will be 20,000 people watching me win the tournament here. Little did I know I would be playing with Arnold Palmer and there would be 40,000 or however many people could squeeze in there.”

When he arrived at Southern Hills, he found the course immediately to his liking. He had previously won at The Colonial in Fort Worth on a course that also had some Perry Maxwell heritage.

“It was just a dream land for me,” Stockton said. “You get down there and all the holes go in different directions. It was just the kind of course I was made to play well.”

Stockton had fired his caddie provided by the club prior to the tournament and wound up with Tulsan Jed Day, at that time a 21-year-old member with a one handicap, who provided him invaluable advice throughout on how to play Southern Hills. Day went on to a prominent career as a banker in Tulsa and was a long-time Southern Hills member. He passed away in 2018. He and Stockton remained friends and Stockton spoke fondly of him Wednesday evening in a question and answer session with Director of Golf Cary Cozby for the members who attended the clinic.

His playing career ended with two PGA Championships (1970 and 1976 at Congresional) and 10 wins overall. He made the cut in 421 of 599 events and was known as one of the best putters on tour. On the Champions Tour, he amassed 14 wins and 25 runner-up finishes including the U.S. Senior Open in 1996, and the Senior Players Championship in 1992. He and his sons have worked with PGA and LPGA stars and thousands of amateurs on improving their putting at clinics across the country and world. One of his favorite examples is that Annika Sorenstam had won twice in 18 months before working with him and won 18 times in 18 months afterward.

David Stockton holes a putt for par on the fourth hole Sunday in the 1970 PGA Championship at Southern Hills.

Stockton emphasized to the Southern Hills members that making putts consists of learning to read greens and judge speed and then letting the body do the rest without the mind getting in the way.

“It’s not that hard and you can’t care that much,” he said, comparing putting to playing pool or throwing darts. “You don’t see someone throwing darts looking down at their feet and shuffling around. They look at the target and go.”

Stockton missed the cut in the 1977 U.S. Open at Southern Hills won by Hubert Green and again in the 1982 PGA Championship won by Ray Floyd. This will be his first round there since as he did not compete in the 1994 PGA Championship in which Palmer bid his farewell to the event.

“We’re really looking forward to it,” he said. “This is one of the best restorations I’ve seen of any course.”

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Ken MacLeod

Publisher Golf Oklahoma | Oklahoma's No. 1 Golf Source