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Golf Legends Share Their Favorite Jack Nicklaus Memories

In Conversation With: Gary Player On His Friendship With Jack Nicklaus
In a preview of Golf.com's new interview show, Gary Player talks with SI's Michael Bamberger about his special friendship with Jack Nicklaus.
Jack Nicklaus turns 75 this week, and to celebrate the game's greatest player, we asked legends of the game who played against Jack, learned from Jack or grew up idolizing Jack for their favorite memories of the Golden Bear.
 
Tiger Woods

“I have so many great memories of Jack. From watching the final round of the 1986 Masters on TV, to playing a practice round and the Par-3 Contest with him and Arnie at Augusta in 1995 to talking and sharing a lot of laughs each year at the Memorial."

"One of my favorites is the second round of the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla. It was Jack’s last start in the PGA. We played together, and when we walked up No. 18, I said to him, ‘Let’s finish it off the right way.’ We both knew what that meant. Jack needed an eagle to make the cut, and his third shot just slid by the hole, but he made birdie. It was an amazing performance."

"No one did it better than Jack.”

Photo:

Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods share a laugh as they walk up the seventh fairway during the second round of the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky.

Arnold Palmer

“I got my first good look at the golf game of Jack Nicklaus in September of 1958 and discovered that he was as promising a player as I had heard he was. Athens Country Club in Southeast Ohio had set up an exhibition match as part of a special day celebrating the PGA Championship that the club’s favorite son, Dow Finsterwald, had won earlier that summer in Philadelphia. Dow was a close friend of mine from our early days on the Tour and I was happy to accept his invitation to play in the event. The foursome was made up of Dow and I, a fine local amateur by the name of Howard Saunders and Jack, then 18 years old and attending Ohio State.”
 
“The format was four-ball and they teamed up Jack and me, the first of many times we partnered in competitions all over the world in the years ahead. We won the match fairly easily. I had the hot putter that day and shot 62, a course record. Jack shot a very respectable 68 and showed what a powerful game he had with some booming tee shots in an informal driving contest preceding the match.”
 
“Which reminds me of what I said after Jack beat me in the 1962 Open at Oakmont. Of course, that was his first victory in his first year on the Tour. I said something like: ‘The bear is out of the cage and everybody better look out for him.’ That was certainly prophetic, if I do say so myself.”

Photo:

Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus check their drivers before teeing off for a tie breaking playoff in the 1962 US Open.

Rory McIlroy

“I think it was after my Saturday round at Memorial in May 2014 when I bumped into Jack. I had met him a few times before but this time he invited me to call into his office in Florida, literally a stone’s throw from my place in West Palm. I was delighted, of course, and agreed immediately to meet as soon as I was back home -- which happened to be a few weeks later."

"Essentially, what I believed would be a coffee and a brief chat turned into the most memorable experience, a two-hour meander through golf, life and business. It was truly an insightful time. This was no lecture or attempt at fatherly advice; it was a casual, fun and easy conversation, full of great stories and colourful characters -- it just went by far too quickly. I wasn’t there to learn anything in particular but came away with an education money couldn’t buy."

"How much of my success during the latter part of the year was related to this wonderful meeting with Jack, I can’t honestly say.  What I do know, however, is that Jack often referred to the journey, the lengthy process of a golfing career. I think I took away from the conversation an understanding of a much bigger picture: Jack never actually mentioned that I should take my time but I now feel he was saying that golfing success and patience were one in the same.”

Photo:

Rory McIlroy shakes hands with Jack Nicklaus on the 1st tee at Gleneagles during the 2014 Ryder Cup.

Nick Faldo

“It's often been written that Jack was my teen inspiration to pick up golf. At the 1989 Masters we were out on the putting green on Monday. He approached and said, ‘Nick, how are you playing?’ I took the chance to ask my question: ‘Jack, I'm wondering whether I should let it happen or make it happen.’ He looked at me and paused and replied, ‘I know what you mean.’ And I thought, ‘What?!’ Fortunately I took his 'between the lines' advice and went on to do both as implied by the greatest player who ever played this game. Thanks for the inspiration, Jack. And Happy Birthday.”

Photo:

Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and their caddies pose on the Swilcan Bridge on the 18th hole of the Old Course at St. Andrews prior to the 134th Open Championship.

Gary Player

"I have enjoyed every moment with Jack on the golf course, but most importantly, I have enjoyed his friendship -- a friendship that has lasted for decades. Jack is one of my greatest friends and we have had so many wonderful times together for over 50 years now."

"Jack and I would always compete fiercely on the golf course, but win or lose, we would shake each other’s hand and say, 'I’ll get you next time.' There are so many admirable qualities in Jack, who is a devoted family man, but one thing about him is that he was as gracious in defeat as he was in victory, which is very impressive. I’ve called him the greatest loser in golf, but I do not think he took that as much of a compliment."

"As I said, we have enjoyed countless, memorable moments together -- on and off the golf course. From staying together during tournaments, to safaris in South Africa, to seeing each other’s families grow over the past 50 years, I will tell you that it is hard to single out anything in particular."

"Jack has always been a fun guy to be around, and we have shared many laughs over the years. There was a time when I stayed with Jack at his home during the PGA Championship, which was fantastic. Going into the last round, Jack was one shot ahead of me and we were both playing exceptionally well. Barbara had made scrambled eggs for breakfast and had put two plates on the table -- one for me and one for Jack. I was already sitting at the breakfast table, while Jack was puttering around in another room. As Barbara turned her back, I quickly swapped the plates, just in case she had put something in my eggs so that I couldn’t beat Jack! After we finished breakfast, I told her what I did -- we still laugh about that today!"

"On the golf course, one of my greatest memories is one where neither Jack nor I even had a club in our hands. The 2003 Presidents Cup played at The Links at Fancourt in South Africa was a very special time for me. As a South African, I had always had to watch from a distance as years of Ryder Cup matches involving my fellow professionals took place. So to be appointed captain of the International Team for the Presidents Cup was an honor. Add to that the fact that the matches took place in my home country on a course I had the privilege of designing and you can understand how special an occasion it was. But most special was the fact that my old friend and rival Jack Nicklaus was my opposing captain, leading the U.S. side for the second time. The Presidents Cup has always been played in a magnificent spirit. Under the leadership of Jack, the U.S. side played just the way we all believe golf matches should be played -- sportsmanship is paramount without forgetting the reason for being there, which is to win. When our matches were tied after regulation play and the playoff between Ernie Els and Tiger Woods was headed for darkness, it came as no surprise that Captain Nicklaus and I agreed to share the cup because that is who he is: sporting and fair to the end. What a wonderful result and something that I will never forget."

Photo:

Gary Player, left, defending Masters champion, put the green jacket on Jack Nicklaus at Augusta National in 1975.

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