I am not a golf guy, but when I had a chance to acquire a vintage APBA Golf game for a reasonable price, I had to do it. The game came with a set of golfers from the 1962 season AND two courses: the melange of famous golf holes from around the world that make up the “APBA Course” and all 18 holes from the Augusta National Golf Club.
Now, it’s not realistic for me to play the entire 1962 Masters tournament (for one thing, there are only 32 golfers in the card set, and for another thing, it would take forever), but, as it happens, the 1962 tournament was particularly notable because regulation play ended in a three-way tie between Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Dow Finsterwald. That set up an 18-hole playoff1And the first three-way playoff ever at Augusta., only the fourth to that point in Masters history2There have been 13 since. I did not know that., on Monday, April 9. And all three of those guys have cards in the 1962 APBA set, so with course and competitors at hand, I decided to replay the playoff.
As you can no doubt tell by the headline3Which was really just an excuse to make a late-1970s musical reference. Bonus points if you got it., Player won, but how it all happened was interesting and fun.
First, a quick primer for those not versed in APBA Golf, or any APBA game for that matter: each player has a card with play results calculated based on his performance in the previous year or season4For golf, it was more of a sense of their abilities at the time, not so much an actual calendar year.. APBA’s game engine uses two six-sided dice (one red and one smaller white one) that are combined, not added (a red six and white four is not ten, but 64), giving the possibility of 36 possibilities for each dice roll. Players are rated for their ability to hit woods and irons, and how well they putt. You get to choose which club they’ll use in a given situation and the dice rolls reveal numbers that are then checked against the playing board to determine the distance and direction of each shot. Got it? Good.
Finsterwald was hot early and birdied the first three holes to jump in front. The 1958 PGA Champion5Who is still alive at age 89 as of this writing., known for his outstanding putting during his career, sank 10-, three- and eight-foot birdie putts, while Player parred all three and Palmer hit an eight-foot birdie putt on number two6Hold that thought..
Player lipped out a six-foot birdie attempt on four, as all three competitors parred the hole. Palmer hit a 6-iron to within six feet of the hole on the par four fifth, then sank the six-footer for birdie to get within a shot of the lead as Player and Finsterwald both hit short putts for par.
Finsterwald hit his tee shot on the par-3 sixth into the bunker, but recovered to hit a wedge to within 10 feet, then hit the putt for par. Palmer, meanwhile, left a nine-foot par putt an inch short and bogeyed, while Player hit a 10-footer for his sixth consecutive par to stay in the hunt.
The old adage, “Drive for show, put for dough” was evident as the competitors neared the turn. After hitting a 9-iron to within eight feet of the pin on his second shot on the par 4 seventh hole, Palmer missed his birdie attempt by inches and tapped in for par to stay at minus one. But after hitting his third shot, a wedge from 45 yards away, to within 10 feet, Finsterwald missed the par putt and bogeyed to go to minus-two, a shot ahead of Palmer and two up on Player.
Player holed out with a wedge from 30 yards out for birdie on the par 5 eighth and Finsterwald birdied, but Palmer missed a five-foot par putt and bogeyed to fall three shots off the lead. Palmer and Finsterwald both then two-putted for par on nine, but Player’s 15-foot par attempt stopped just inches short and the defending champion bogeyed to fall back to even. At the turn, Finsterwald was back to minus-three, with Palmer and Player both at even par 36.
Finsterwald hit his second shot on the par 4 10th hole to within 11 feet of the pin, but left the birdie attempt three inches short before tapping in for par. Player and Palmer left 33- and seven-foot par putts, respectively, short, and dropped to plus-one, four shots off Finsterwald’s pace.
A four-shot lead with eight holes to play forces the trailing golfers to make something happen quickly, and Player did that on 12 by sticking a 2-iron to within 10 feet and then hitting the birdie putt to get back to even. Finsterwald and Palmer, who both hit their third shots within two feet, settled for pars and Finsterwald’s lead was three with seven holes left.
All three players hit their second shots on the par 3 12th close to the pin and hit short puts for par, and Finsterwald’s lead was still three, but with just six holes to play. That’s when things started to get really interesting.
After driving 290 yards off the tee on the 475-yard par 5 13th, Palmer hit a 4-iron to within 35 feet, then nailed the long eagle putt to get back to minus-one. It was the shot of the day to that point7Again, hold that thought.. Player hit his second shot to within 20 yards of the green, then hit a wedge within 12 feet and hit the birdie putt to also get to minus one. Finsterwald put a wedge from just off the green to within two feet and hit that for par, but he had lost half his lead in the space of three holes.
Palmer and Finsterwald both hit short putts for par on 14, but after putting his second shot on the par 4 hole within 40 feet of the pin, Player three-putted for bogey to drop to even par. Trailing by three shots with just four holes left, Player’s chances seemed slim.
Finsterwald put his tee shot on the 520-yard, par 5 15th to the right and in the rough. He then went from the rough to the trap, then hit a wedge within 10 feet but missed the bogey putt. His seven dropped him out of the lead because Player and Palmer were on the green in three and both hit short putts for birdies. With three holes left, Palmer led at minus-two, with Player and Finsterwald a shot back.
Things got worse for Finsterwald on the par 3 16th when his tee shot hit the water to the left of the green. Player recovered from a short tee shot to knock his wedge to within four feet, from where he parred to stay at minus-one. Palmer, whose tee shot left him with a 75-footer for birdie, played it safe and put his second shot within six feet.
And he missed it.
Tapping in the six-incher for bogey put Palmer at minus one, tied with Player.
Meanwhile, Finsterwald took his drop and hit his third shot 71 feet from the pin, putted to within three inches, and tapped in for his second straight double bogey. At plus one, he was two shots back with two to play and his chances seemed slim.
While he could have completely fallen apart on the par-4 17th, Finsterwald nearly birdied. He knocked a wedge to within two inches on his third shot and tapped in for par. Palmer and Player also hit short par putts, keeping them tied, two shots up on Finsterwald heading to the 18th hole.
Finsterwald drove the ball 250 yards off the tee, Palmer 2908Heavy hitter, Arnie. and Player 265 but 15 yards to the right of center. Player recovered and hit a 6-iron five yards off the green, while Finsterwald got within 10 yards with his 6-iron and Palmer knocked an 8-iron shot to within 25 feet of the pin.
Finsterwald then hit a wedge to within seven inches. But Player holed out with a wedge for birdie, forcing Palmer to go for the 25-foot putt9You can choose to “play it safe” and reduce your chances both of making the putt and of putting it well past the hole, or “go for it” if need be. to keep the playoff going.
And Palmer missed it by four feet. (Finsterwald hit his par putt to finish at plus-one 73.) The win in this alternate universe gave Player his second straight Masters title, both by a stroke, and denied Palmer his third green jacket. (He’d eventually get another one in 1964.)
The final scorecard is below:
Some things I learned from this replay:
- APBA Golf is pretty fun. I don’t think I’ll play it a lot, but I like having the vintage version of the game. Like most things APBA, the original looks and feels better than the current version and it’s interesting to see how realistic it is. The game engine works.
- I lost track of time a little bit, but it took me a bit over four hours to play the 214 shots. As it was my first time ever playing the game, I probably can shave some time off that, but pretty basic math says it would take nearly six hours to play one foursome’s round, 48 hours to play eight foursomes’ rounds and 192 hours – eight days to play a four-round tournament with 32 players. That’s a long-term project. But…
- …having replayed this bit of history already, and with no desire to replay the Kemper Open10Doesn’t exist anymore, right? Like I said, not a golf guy. or some other random tournament, I may do a tournament with the all-time greats that also came with the game11I’m missing Ben Hogan‘s card from that set, though, so if anyone out there has one, send me an image. and have them play on the “APBA Course.”