Golf’s oldest living Major champion Kel Nagle died today in Sydney at the age of 94. The Australian won the 1960 Open Championship at St Andrews, defeating Arnold Palmer by a single shot.
A winner of 61 tournaments on the Australasian Tour, Nagle wasn’t a frequent traveller in his early years as a professional. He played just twice in The Open Championship through the 1950s, finishing tied for 19th in both 1951 and 1955.
In his mid 30s Nagle changed his game, he shortened his swing with a view towards keeping the ball in play. He relied on his unerring accuracy with his irons, his excellent short-game and his deadly putting.
Together with his great pal Peter Thomson, Nagle won the Canada Cup (the World Cup of Golf) in both 1954 and 1959. In 1960, the Australians travelled to Europe to defend their title at Portmarnock in Dublin. Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer triumphed in that event, but Nagle had played well and he went on to St Andrews to contest The Open Championship with a good degree of confidence.
At the Home of Golf, Nagle enjoyed his finest week in the sport. He played brilliantly for the first three rounds to carry a two-stroke lead over Roberto De Vicenzo into the final 18-holes. He played steadily, but Arnold Palmer was on a charge. The American birdied the 72nd hole for a 68 to finish on nine-under-par. Nagle was still one clear playing the Road Hole, but he left himself a testing eight-foot putt on the 17th green to stay ahead. Showing nerves of steel, he rapped his ball into the cup. He then pitched to within three feet on the final green and could allow himself the luxury of two-putts for the win.
Nagle proved his victory wasn’t a flash in the pan – he finished in the top-10 in six further Open Championships through the 1960s and he was runner-up to Gary Player in the 1965 U.S Open at Bellerive Country Club – losing out in a 36-hole playoff.
Nagle remained competitive as he became older. As late as 1977 (at the age of 57) he finished second on the Australasian money list.
Nagle was a friend and mentor to many great Australian players and he will be fondly remembered.