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"Arnie and Jack: Palmer, Nicklaus, and Golf's Greatest Rivalry"

This article is more than 12 years old.
arnieandjackRivalries make sports what they are.  They bring fans in and light fires under competitors, bringing out the best in the world's most superior athletes.  Ian O'Connor's new book, Arnie & Jack, chronicles the rivalry between Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.  The book revels in the accomplishments of two of golf's most prolific figures, and as Bill Littlefield says, it provides even die-hard fans with some insights on the legends that they may not be familiar with.

At their best, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus were both exceptional entertainers. Palmer relished the role. He loved the fact that his competitive drive and his obvious enthusiasm inspired an “Arnie’s Army” of fans. Sometimes he would interrupt his walk down the fairway to chat with the people who adored him and identified with him. When he was no longer competitive, Palmer happily played the role of living legend at tournaments and elsewhere. In comparison to Palmer, Jack Nicklaus was standoffish. He relished the competition, but not the glad-handing. His intensity inspired his fans, but he was admired rather than loved, except in Scotland, where the purity of his game so thoroughly endeared him to galleries and to the country in general that his likeness appeared on the currency there. Once he could no longer compete, he preferred not to clutter up the field. Arnie and Jack is full of stories about the tournament triumphs of each of the two men, and some of those stories may surprise even golf’s most knowledgeable fans. There is, for example, the tale of the playoff that Palmer fell into when his next-to-last putt on the 72nd hole of the 1962 U.S. Open lipped out. Palmer was a heroic figure in golf at the time. Nicklaus was a rookie on the circuit. As the two men walked toward the first hole of the playoff, Palmer asked  Nicklaus if he’d like to “split the purse,” meaning that each of them would take half the combined prize money for first and second. “No, thanks,” the rookie said. “Why don’t we just play for it?” It’s a revealing moment. If Nicklaus won, he’d be the acknowledged Open champ and he’d get credit for knocking off the king, no matter that they’d end up with the same amount of cash. One might assume that knowing he’d get half the combined sum might well have eased the pressure for the young man who’d yet to win on the tour. But Nicklaus said, “No, thanks.” Then he went out and buried Palmer in the playoff. O’Connor characterizes the offer as “a nice gesture on Palmer’s part,” but it was a gesture rejected, and then Nicklaus won his gamble. What fun to speculate on the ground gained and lost that day in the competition between the two men, both on and off the course.

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