Arnie and Jack -- Enough Said
If rivalries are what you’re looking for, then there’s nothing like the past. We give you Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, the original odd couple rivalry, together again, playing in the same PGA Tour event, probably for the last time.
For a while, it was the best show going: Palmer, the dashing, heart-on-his-sleeve, go-for-broke, made-for-TV superstar, the king
Together, they won 135 tournaments and 25 major championships. Together, they pushed modern golf out from the wings of the sports stage and into the spotlight, where television minted two new stars and afforded them their identities.
Nobody needed anything but their first names.
They were so very different. Arnie was the establishment and Jack was the new order. No one could have asked for a more distinct class rivalry, which is what made their battles in the majors such compelling drama.
When Palmer won his only U.S. Open in 1960 at Cherry Hills in Denver, the runner-up was a 20-year-old amateur from Ohio named Nicklaus.
When Nicklaus won his first major in 1962 at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pa., the first of his four U.S. Open titles, he beat Palmer in a playoff. Nicklaus won it again in 1967 at Baltusrol in Springfield, N.J., and Palmer was second again.
It was a spirited competition, even if their fans would have preferred something a little more personal, such as spooning on large helpings of animosity. Arnie and Jack would have none of that and in the proper spirit of sportsmanship, they simply went out and tried to beat the daylights out of each other.
Palmer won four Masters, but Nicklaus won six of them. In 1964, when Palmer won at Augusta for the fourth time, Nicklaus was second. A year later, Nicklaus won and Palmer was second.
And so it went for Arnie and for Jack. Linked at the hip, never at the lip, they simply shared too much respect to start dumping on each other.
Which brings us to this week at Bay Hill, where Palmer and Nicklaus are stirring things up again. Chances are, it’s going to be the last act in the longest-running play in golf.
The last PGA Tour event Palmer and Nicklaus played in together was the 2001 Masters. They both missed the cut. Since then, well, let’s just say they haven’t gotten any younger.
Arnie, 73, is hard of hearing and a survivor of prostate cancer.
Jack, 63, had a hip replaced and his back aches.
Palmer, the host at Bay Hill, hasn’t won a major in 39 years, hasn’t won a PGA Tour event in 30 years and was last in the only Champions Tour tournament he has played this year, 28 shots behind winner Dana Quigley.
He says he isn’t getting a lot of fun out of his scoring and won’t play the Masters, his favorite tournament, for the first time since he made his debut at Augusta National in 1955.
Nicklaus’ last PGA Tour victory was the 1986 Masters. He wants to know if his game will hold up enough for him to play the Masters for the 42nd time.
He missed the cut two weeks ago at Doral, but Nicklaus has played three times on the Champions Tour and shot three rounds in the 60s.
They’re not going to be playing in the same group, though, and Palmer said Wednesday that neither he nor Nicklaus felt strongly about doing so. On the course, you see, it’s still not about nostalgia, for either one.
Nicklaus wants to play some more. Palmer wants to play better. For the last several years, he has dropped hints that he would quit unless he started to see results. In reality, he already has chopped his schedule. Palmer quietly stayed away from the Bob Hope this year and has played only that one Champions Tour event. Last year, he played eight, and seven the year before.
Palmer’s entry at Bay Hill marks the 51st consecutive year that he has played a PGA Tour event. Nicklaus says he thinks Palmer will continue his streak until he’s 93. That made Palmer laugh.
“God, I hope so,” he said.
This week, his caddie is his grandson, Sam, a high school freshman, who hopes he’s still carrying Grandpa Arnie’s bags on the weekend because that would mean he has made the cut.
That’s probably not in the cards for Arnie or Jack. Not this week, not this year, not anymore.
At least they’re together, on the same course, playing a PGA Tour event.
And if it is the last time, then watch them closely. Watch the way Nicklaus hunches over his putts. Check out Palmer’s swing and the way he moves his head to follow the flight of the ball. We’ll probably never see that again in a regular tour event. On the other hand, maybe there’s a chance we will again, however small it is.
Gosh, let’s hope so.