Golf Magazine Interview: Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus

Palmer: I think today's athletes generally are spoiled by what's happened to salaries, but I also think that golfers have maintained the best demeanor of any sport.

Nicklaus: Some Tour players have been spoiled, but not anywhere near to the point of baseball and basketball players sitting on the bench and earning $7 million. Whatever our guys earn, they earn.

GOLF Magazine: Arnold, recently a controversial book was written about you, and Jack, you've had your share of less-than-flattering coverage. Overall, however, hasn't the golf press been relatively soft on you guys and pro golfers in general, compared to the way the press has put some other athletes under the microscope?

Nicklaus: Define "soft." Do you think they've been soft on Couples over the last year or so? Do you think the British tabloids were soft on Tony Jacklin? I think for the most part, the press we've had has been very good. I think the golf press wants to relate to what we do and be a part of what we so. I also think we've been very fair with them. And that isn't necessarily the case in all sports — not all athletes give the press as much as Arnold and I have — and as a result some of those athletes have gotten some rough treatment. But maybe they've gotten what they deserved. If the athlete is fair with the press, he deserves fairness back.

GOLF Magazine: Is it as simple as that? What about the issue of personal privacy?

Palmer: That gets to the book that's been written about me [Arnie, Inside the Legend, by Larry Guest]. My objection to that book has little to do with the things that were written — a lot of the comments were very flattering, and people tell me they think the book was a positive one. But in writing parts of that book, the writer tried to destroy some private relationships that I'd had all my life — personal relationships that the writer was privileged to observe only because I befriended him, not for any other reason. I think I have every right to be hot at him because he betrayed me.

GOLF Magazine: There's a whole chapter in that book entitled "The Bull and the Bear" on the relationship between you and Jack...

Palmer: Sure, that's one of the areas where he tried to stir things up, but Jack and I can laugh about some of the stuff in that book, because our relationship is stronger than the stuff that was written.

Nicklaus: Yeah, I haven't even read the book, but Arnold and I have talked about it, and I must say I agree with everything Arnold says 100 percent.

GOLF Magazine: Is the game of golf better off than it was, say, 30 years ago?

Palmer: Sure it's better because more people play it. Golf has spread all over the world in the last 30 years — it's become available to virtually everyone, and that's a good thing.

Nicklaus: That's right, and it's still growing like crazy in some areas. Arnie, have you designed any courses in Germany?

Palmer: We're working on two right now.

Nicklaus: Well, you're ahead of me then, but last week I had a couple of German gentlemen in my office. Because of the East German situation there has been only one public course in the country. But these guys want to bring public golf to the country, and we're talking to him about doing 25 courses. I think that's a fabulous thing for the game.

GOLF Magazine: Okay, now why is the game worse than it was 30 years ago?

Palmer: I have a concern that — as part of this same expansion — we might lose some of the integrity and etiquette and tradition that has made the game so great. I think it's incumbent on those of us who know and revere those things to preserve and protect the game. I hate flimsy things, and I fear that golf could become flimsy if we don't all pay attention to educating new golfers on the rules and etiquette.

GOLF Magazine: Part of etiquette is pace of play. It's no secret that golf in America has become slower over the last three decades, and Jack, there are those who say you're one of the causes — that the generation who revered your achievements also has adopted your pace of play. Have you ever been sorry that you're not a faster player?

Nicklaus: That's absurd. Do you think Hogan was a fast player? Or Middlecoff?

GOLF Magazine: No, but Hogan and Middlecoff weren't on television.

Nicklaus: Well, I didn't invent slow play. And I don't think I'm a slow player anymore, either. Granted, I'm not the fastest guy on the Tour, but I'm not the slowest either. I've always taken my time over the ball, but I don't take time getting around a course. For years I did take my time, but that was because I hated waiting to hit shots — I adopted a pace where I didn't have to stand by my ball and wait. Recently, the Tour has picked up its pace, and I think that's great, but even with that faster pace, I don't think you've heard any complaints about my speed of play. Whatever pace you tell me to play at, I can hit.

GOLF Magazine: When you play all by yourself, how quickly do you get around a golf course?

Nicklaus: That depends. If I'm trying to shoot a score, about two and a half hours. If I'm just hitting shots and seeing the golf course, about two hours. Just like anyone else.

GOLF Magazine: Okay, if we're improving a bit in the pace-of-play area, where, if anywhere, do you see the game threatened?

Nicklaus: The one thing that has really upset me is in the equipment area. And it's happened only in tournament golf. Thirty years ago the best players — Nelson, Snead, and Hogan — were shotmakers. Today, because of the advancements in equipment — many of which admittedly have been good for the average player — the game's best players are not shotmakers, and in that I think the game has lost something. The manufacturers have taken over a lot of the game. I'm not against that — heck, I'm a manufacturer, too — but I am against making golf courses obsolete, going to the national Open and playing half the holes with a one-iron.

GOLF Magazine: Is the best technology the kind that helps the average golfer but doesn't help you?

Nicklaus: Yeah, I think the average guy should get all the help he can. This is a very very difficult game. But we shouldn't let those advancements creep into professional golf.

GOLF Magazine: How do you stop them?

Nicklaus: The best way is by throttling back the distance of the ball, say 5 percent, so that the biggest tee shot hit by Greg Norman or Fred Couples or Davis Love III comes to rest at about the same point in the fairway that mine and Arnold's did in the '60's. Heck, that's one of the things that made Arnold great. I remember playing with Arnold in 1962 at Phoenix and he won the tournament by 12 shots at 269. I finished second at 281, and he won that tournament by whipping out a driver on every hole on a course that wasn't any wider than this room. I marveled at that. I could never have hit a ball that long with that accuracy. He took charge of that course and separated himself from the field. Today's longest hitters can't do that because the ball goes too far and the courses are set up so that you can't hit a ball long and straight.

GOLF Magazine: Do you agree with that, Arnie?

Palmer: Not completely. I still think it ties to the abilities of a player. If the long hitting player can't hit his drives straight enough, he should have the ability to throttle back and lay up. Gary Player won a couple of major championships without ever pulling a driver out of his bag. You know that, don't you?

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