Nicklaus vs. Palmer in '64: When money mattered

Arnold Palmer
AP
Arnold Palmer finished second to Jack Nicklaus in the race for the money title in 1964.

This week's season finale at Disney took on added heft when Luke Donald committed to play at the last minute. Donald saw Webb Simpson zoom by him on the PGA Tour money list at the McGladrey Classic last weekend, which didn't sit well with the World No. 1. With a chance to win money titles on both sides of the Atlantic and with a five-year PGA Tour exemption on the line, Donald made his Orlando flight plans.

For those who thought the PGA Tour was all about FedEx Cup points these days, the money chase offers a refreshing throwback to a time when winning the cash crown was a big deal, a very big deal.

My favorite money-list showdown took place in 1964, when Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer descended upon the otherwise lowly season-ending Cajun Classic just to fight over the Franklins. Played at the respectable Oakbourne Country Club, a 1958 Dick Wilson design in Lafayette, La., deep in the heart of the cypress swamps, the Cajun Classic paid a paltry $3,300 to the winner, tied for the lowest first-prize on Tour. It didn't matter to the King and the Bear. They came to compete — and to establish supremacy in their rivalry.

Nicklaus had ventured to the Cajun the year before, "because I badly wanted to top $100,000 in official prize money for the year just for the sake of having done so," he said in his 1997 autobiography My Story. More was at stake in late November of '64. Nearly even in the money race, Nicklaus and Palmer both started strong with 3-under-par 68s. Palmer backpedaled in round 2, slipping to a 74, leaving him three back of Jack. Neither could break par in the third round, though Palmer crept within two of Nicklaus, who himself fell one behind the lead set by Miller Barber. The final round felt like a major, with Nicklaus and Palmer trying to win the tournament — and beat the other.

In the end, it was Barber, Mr. X, who dazzled again, with a 67 that yielded a five-shot victory. In the tournament within a tournament, it fell to the kid, Nicklaus, who matched the par of 71 to tie for second with Gay Brewer, netting him $1,900. Palmer could do no better, a 71 that left him solo fourth — worth $1,500. As Nicklaus recalled it, "I'm sure I played down there as much for the Creole cooking I loved as the competition, but, with Arnie finishing fourth, it was fun to nip him by $83.13 for year's top money winner."

Here's hoping for similarly tasty Disney finish between Donald and Simpson.

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