Arnie: Big Three was agent's creation

By Al TaysSeptember 10, 2014, 10:00 am

It's Thursday morning, April 10, 2014. The 78th Masters Tournament has begun at Augusta National Golf Club, but the real action isn't happening on the golf course. The place to be, if you're lucky enough to have the proper encoded and hologrammed credential, is the interview room in the media center. That's where Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player are holding court after hitting the ceremonial tee shots that signal the beginning of the tournament.

After the usual ribbing about who outdrove whom (Player, while conceding that Nicklaus outdrove him by a yard or two, added, "But he did hit on a sprinkler"), the three were asked, for approximately the millionth time, to reflect on their long association.

"It's been a wonderful journey with these two gentlemen here," Player began. "We went across the world. We went down gold mines together. We visited my ranch.  We've slept at each other's homes and our wives have known each other, and we have had a great friendship. We've always wanted to beat each other; we've never hidden that. But when we did win, we congratulated the other.  When we lost, we congratulated the other. It's been a special journey, and I don't think there's ever been, if I may be so forward, not boastful, but factual, that three athletes have ever in the history of any sports traveled together, been together so much across the world, not just in the United States, but across the world and had an association like we've had."

Palmer, Player, Nicklaus. They've been on the world stage of their profession longer than the Beatles, but they've never been joined at the hip the way John, Paul, George and Ringo used to be. They're more like a supergroup, each having forged his reputation as an individual, then playing a lot of gigs together to the point where they did become  almost  joined at the hip.

If you're too young to personally remember presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, persimmon and balata, cardigans and kilties, you probably don't know how these three golfing greats became the Big Three. The Big Two would have made more sense, as Nicklaus and Palmer established the greatest rivalry in golf, right from its 1962 heavyweight title fight, Overthrow at Oakmont of a beginning when rookie pro Nicklaus KO'd the King on Palmer's own western Pennsylvania turf in the U.S. Open. Palmer already had five majors, a money title and a Vardon Trophy under his hitched-up belt, but Nicklaus served notice that from then on, things were going to be different. Player's role in the troika was less obvious. When Nicklaus made that 1962 U.S. Open his first professional major, Player already had two majors and a PGA Tour money title. The South African also had a slew of international victories.

So why the Big Three? And who came up with that name?

"It was Mark McCormack that gave us that moniker," Nicklaus said. "I don’t know when that actually came about. Probably late ’62 when the three of us played in the World Series of Golf. Arnold had won the Masters and the British Open that year. I had won the U.S. Open and Gary had won the PGA Championship."

Mark McCormack and Arnold Palmer

Mark McCormack and Arnold Palmer

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McCormack, founder of the mega-agency International Management Group, personally represented Palmer, then added Player and Nicklaus as clients. In addition to securing endorsements for them individually, he packaged them together for exhibition matches and even created a television show, "Big Three Golf," in which they competed against each other.

If any of the three had an objection to being turned into golfing gladiators, they kept it to themselves. "None of us rejected it," Nicklaus said.

Televisions were quickly taking hold in American households, and the new medium needed content. Canned matches had the advantages of a finite time period, optimal camera placement and in-game interviews with the competitors. What was not to like? Television helped grow the popularity of Palmer, Player and Nicklaus, and they returned the favor.

It didn't hurt that each member of the Big Three was so different from the other two. Palmer, ruggedly handsome with heavily muscled, deeply tanned forearms that could extricate a golf ball from just about any trouble his explosive but untamed driver got it into. A man of the people who never forgot what his father taught him: "Just remember where you came from and treat people like you’d like to be treated." Nicklaus, overweight and doughy at the beginning of his career but freakishly strong and so skilled that none other than Bobby Jones proclaimed, "He plays a game with which I am not familiar." And Player, much smaller than the other two but able to hold his own through fanatical devotion to exercise and practice. Willing to fly just about anywhere to play, he was golf's supreme international ambassador.

The exhibitions and "Big Three Golf" matches forced the participants  and their families  to spend considerable time together. The wives  Winnie Palmer, Barbara Nicklaus and Vivienne Player  already knew and liked each other from the tournament circuit, but these TV matches were a different experience, without the usual 140-odd other players and their families as options for socializing. Barbara Nicklaus said the Palmer, Player and Nicklaus families were "thrown together.

“But we loved being thrown together. Vivienne Player and Winnie and I have always gotten along well and it’s just been a great friendship through the years."

"That made a huge difference," said IMG's Alastair Johnston, who handled much of the company's representation of Palmer.  "That meant they stayed at each other’s homes, that meant that the wives did things together."

Throughout the '60s, the Big Three dominated golf. They won four of 10 Vardon Trophies for low scoring average (all by Palmer), seven of 10 PGA Tour money titles and 17 of the decade's 40 majors. If the nickname had been contingent on performance, the Big Three might have had to add a fourth  Billy Casper. During the '60s Casper won more Vardon Trophies than Palmer (five to four) and nearly as many money titles as Palmer or Nicklaus (they each won three, Casper won two). Casper even titled his autobiography "The Big Three and Me." But Casper's chances of crashing the Big Three's party were nil because of one fatal flaw: He wasn't represented by McCormack.

Nicklaus and Player both eventually replaced McCormack as their agent, but by then the Big Three concept was firmly rooted in the golf culture. It only got stronger when first Palmer, then Player, then Nicklaus, moved on to the senior tour. Tournament directors fortunate enough to have all three in their fields would invariably group them, insuring added exposure for their events.

But it has been their association with Augusta National, where they combined for 13 Masters wins (six by Nicklaus, four by Palmer and three by Player), that has done the most to keep the Big Three concept alive. The Masters has used former winners as honorary starters since 1963, when Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod (not Masters winners, but winners of the PGA Seniors' Championship when it was played at Augusta National) performed the duty. Palmer assumed the role in 2007. Nicklaus joined him in 2010 and Player made it a threesome in 2012.

The remaining Big Question about the Big Three is how much longer they will continue as honorary starters for the Masters. Player jokes that it won't be more than another 20 years. At this year's tournament, Palmer said, "I suppose as long as they ask me to do it."

Chimed in Nicklaus, "There's your answer." 

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.

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Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

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“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.

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“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.