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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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.