Arnie on Jack, and Jack on Arnie: Great Recognizes Great

Golf's Great Rivalries: a portrait of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, taken in 2003.
Walter Iooss Jr.

This article first appeared in the commemorative December 2016 issue of GOLF magazine.

I first met Arnold in 1958. I was 18. I went to Athens, Ohio, for Dow Finsterwald Day, and the three of us played in an exhibition. We had a driving contest on the first hole, and it was the first time Arnold had ever seen me and maybe the first time he'd been outdriven in a while. I think he shot 64 that day. I shot around 67. I don't know if he was looking over his shoulder after that, wondering when I might come along. [Laughs]

He put his arm around my shoulders as we walked to the 18th tee. He said, "You can birdie this hole and finish second. Just play it smart."—JACK NICKLAUS

I played the final round of the Phoenix Open with Arnold in 1962. He was ahead by a bunch. I think he won by a dozen shots. He put his arm around my shoulders as we walked to the 18th tee. He said, "You can birdie this hole and finish second. Just play it smart." Later that year we played together at Oakmont for the first two rounds of the U.S. Open, and then again in the Sunday playoff. You've probably seen that picture of Arnold coming to me on the practice tee before the playoff. Arnold said, "Would you like to split the purse?" Because in those days you could split the purse and the playoff gate. [First prize was $17,500, and the runner-up got $10,500.] I thought about it for a second and said, "No thanks. We'll just play for it." But it was a nice gesture on his part. [Nicklaus won the playoff for his first Tour victory and his first of 18 majors.]

Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus sitting at a table at Laurel Valley Country Club during the 1965 PGA Championship in Ligonier, Pa.
Walter Iooss Jr.

***

I first saw and played with Jack in Athens, Ohio [in 1958] at an event honoring Dow Finsterwald. [Jack] was 18. I could see that he was a good player. He appeared to be very strong and very competent. I was impressed. I remember we had a driving contest, and I beat him by a hair. I hit the ball farther in those days…I made a mental note to keep my eye out for the kid.

I knew he was perfectly capable of taking the [1962] U.S. Open at Oakmont…because young Mr. Nicklaus simply had the look of a champion. He didn't seem bothered by the electricity of my charge [in the playoff at Oakmont]. You just couldn't crack his concentration. It was like he was in a cocoon. Losing at Oakmont, that hurt.

We want to beat each other. He's my friend, but I still want to beat him just as bad as ever. —ARNOLD PALMER

We're friends. But Jack and I are similar in that we both have two arms and two legs.

Arnold Palmer and his partner Jack Nicklaus won the $250,000 prize at the 1966 PGA National Team Championship with a low score of 256.
Toby Massey

We were competitive on the course, and we are in business, too. We want to beat each other. We compete for the same course designs. He's my friend, but I still want to beat him just as bad as ever.

Jack likes golf, but I don't think he actually loves and needs the game the way I still do. I try to play every day, and when I don't play—if you'll pardon the expression—I feel like a bear with a sore tail.

Jack navigates more by brain. I go by heart. Intellect versus instinct. Jack versus Arnie.

 

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