Golf Magazine Interview: Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus

In an exclusive GOLF MAGAZINE interview, Arnie talks frankly about his slump and the problems of being 43.

GOLF Magazine: Jack, you touched on Arnold's popularity with the fans. When your rivalry was most heated, what effect did the public's preference for Arnold have on you?

Nicklaus: I was very much aware of it, of course, and I can't say I was able to blot it out. When the fans are rooting for the player you are trying to beat and not for you, you can't ignore it. But I don't think it ever hurt me — probably in more cases it helped: it made me more determined.

GOLF Magazine: Was it worst in the 1967 U.S. Open at Baltusrol, where a couple of fans stood deep rough with signs that read "Hit it Here, Jack"?

Nicklaus: No, I certainly saw those guys and felt a bit of pressure, but to tell you the truth, I probably feel it more these days — in events like the Senior Skins Game. The reason is that at age 54 I'm not able to focus as sharply as I used to.

GOLF Magazine: Do you guys see any players on today's PGA Tour who remind you of each other?

Palmer: No, I don't see anyone who is close to Jack, either in personality or overall game. But I do have to qualify that a bit, because I'm not out on the regular Tour and I don't know the younger guys that well.

Nicklaus: I don't see anyone who can do what Arnold did, but frankly I think it's because today's equipment doesn't allow the emergence of an Arnold Palmer.

GOLF Magazine: How so?

Nicklaus: Arnold won a lot of tournaments by playing scrambling, aggressive golf. So did I — I won a bunch of tournaments not playing my best. And Arnold I don't mean that derogatorily.

Palmer: No, I know what you're driving at, and I agree with you.

Nicklaus: Today, because of high tech equipment that minimizes errant shots, if a player hits too many shots offline, there are enough other guys out there hitting the fairways and greens and making putts that someone's gonna pass him. So there really isn't room for a personality like Arnold to show that exciting brand of golf — to come out of trouble and into the winner's circle.

GOLF Magazine: What about Watson?

Nicklaus: He was the closest as far as the type of game, but he didn't have Arnold's personality.

GOLF Magazine: You guys said that when you were out there your sole object was to win; finishing second and just making money didn't mean much. How many players on the current Tour do you think feel that way?

Nicklaus: Norman and Faldo. Those two guys are about the only ones who when they step onto the first tee of any golf tournament, feel they are there solely to win. They don't all the time, of course, and Nick's had a better record than Greg but I think they are the only two guys.

Palmer: I'd agree with that — they're the only ones.

GOLF Magazine: Some would argue that guys like Norman and Faldo can afford to take that all-or-nothing attitude because they're financially secure, whereas most players have to worry about mortgage payments.

Nicklaus: That's rubbish. Don't you think so, Arnold? For the guys who are playing this game professionally, money doesn't mean anything.

GOLF Magazine: Then why don't more play to win?

Palmer: What makes you think they don't?

GOLF Magazine: You guys just agreed that only Faldo and Norman play that way.

Nicklaus: But that doesn't mean that others don't have that attitude — they just don't have the games. Greg and Nick are the only ones who can legitimately step on the first tee and expect to win.

GOLF Magazine: So today's big purses — which allow a player to finish back in the pack each week yet still make a living — have had no effect on the player's incentives?

Palmer: Certainly times have changed. Years ago, I argued that more money should be spread among the top spots because the Tour had a lot of laggers — guys who were finishing 20th or worse every week and barely making a living. The Tour wasn't doing them any favors by keeping them out there. But with today's big purses the situation has changed tremendously. Now there are guys out there who have been on the Tour for 15 years, have never won a golf tournament, and are making a pretty good living.

GOLF Magazine: And do those guys deserve to be out there?

Palmer: I'll abstain from answering that one, but, personally, I don't think I'd stay on the Tour if I didn't think I could win, if I weren't winning at a reasonable pace.

Nicklaus: Arnold, when you played college and amateur golf, what kind of golf did you play? Matches. And in each of those matches, you played to win. Today, the kids in college play a lot of medal tournaments. Their whole attitude is "if I can finish well, it's okay." They aren't even conditioned to win.

GOLF Magazine: So you're saying that for a lot of today's players, 20th place is fine.

Nicklaus: For some of them. But remember, when Arnold and I came on the Tour, a lot of events didn't even have full fields. Today, there are thousands of guys trying to play the Tour — it's completely different. We only had 10 guys to beat, and we knew if we beat those guys we'd win tournaments. Hell's bells, the guys today have about a hundred guys to beat!

Palmer: Yes, Jack, but at the same time, they're playing for 75 money places instead of 15.

GOLF Magazine: What about the most successful players? Has all the money spoiled some of them?

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