Arnie and Jack at It Again

By Mercer BaggsDecember 3, 2006, 5:00 pm
Arnold Palmer remembers it being 1958. Jack Nicklaus cant really recall if it was 58 or maybe two years prior.
 
What they agree on is that it occurred at an exhibition event in Ohio. That was where a pair of legends in the making competed against one another for the first time.
 
I remember that I was impressed by his golf, Palmer said this past week of seeing Nicklaus for the first time. I thought that the right elbow might give him some trouble, though.
 
Jack and Jackie Nicklaus
Jack and Jackie Nicklaus celebrate a birdie by the old man.
Of course, Jack managed to forge a decent enough career in spite of his flying right elbow.
 
Fifty years, maybe 48, later, the two are still going at one another ' on and off the course.
 
Neither man plays much anymore, certainly not in professional competition. They now spend more time battling each other in the business world of golf design.
 
Nicklaus decided that he had enough after the 2005 Open Championship at St. Andrews. Palmer came to the same conclusion this year at Augusta ' Augusta Pines Golf Club in Spring, Texas, site of the Champions Tours Administaff Small Business Classic.
 
Ive always said that at some point you need to turn in your guns and holster. Even old cowboys did that. They either got shot or they turned them in, Palmer analogized a few days before the start of the Del Webb Father/Son Challenge.
 
Palmer, 77, and Nicklaus, 66, havent given up the game. We just dont get to watch them play nearly as much, which is the way they prefer it.
 
In gunslinger terms: they arent as quick on the draw as they used to be. Golfs not a matter of being quick or dead, but there is a matter of pride. And repeated poor play ' especially when you were among the all-time greats ' can kill one's desire.
 
Oh, I shoot my 72-to-76 or 77, and thats about what I shoot ' and its from the member's tees, Nicklaus said. I went to Augusta (National) a couple of weeks ago and took six fellas and I think I shot 72, 73 the two days, and I looked back 80 yards behind me at the member's tees to where I used to play from. I said, I used to play back there.
 
Palmer still plays with his buddies, too. And he enjoys it. Its nice to play a round at your own pace, on your own time ' and not have to sign the scorecard afterwards.
 
But dont go thinking weve seen the last of him playing in public.
 
I dont think Ill say that Im through, clarified Palmer. If I play at all, this will be the kind of thing that Ill play in.
 
The Father/Son is the one event above all others during the silly season that players would willingly pay an entry fee to grab a spot in the field.
 
Its open to past major champions and their offspring. It doesnt necessarily have to be a father-son combination. Palmer, for instance, is competed with his grandson, Sam Saunders. Nicklaus did so with his oldest son, Jackie.
 
The two played alongside one another on Day 1 of the two-day competition. Jack and Jack II shot 10-under 62, while Arnold and Sam had a 64.
 
Team Nicklaus made eight birdies to close out their round, thanks in large part to Dads putting.
 
Nicklaus is putting better than he , Palmer started to say, before amending with, well, no; hes putted that way all his life.
 
I told him, If we can get Jackie to drive it for you, you can go back and play the majors.
 
Said Jackie, who was on his fathers bag for his famed 86 Masters triumph: Hes still a competitor when he wants to be.
 
When the final bell rang Sunday afternoon at ChampionsGate in Orlando, Fla., and the final shot had been struck, Team Nicklaus tied for sixth, the Palmer-Saunders combo finished 15th.
 
Winning and losing, however, are secondary at the Father/Son; its about playing golf with family and old friends, and having a good time.
 
Palmer and Nicklaus relish this opportunity. They both had strong relationships with their fathers and thoroughly enjoy being the patriarchs of their own families.
 
Arnold Palmer and Sam Saunders
Arnold Palmer poses with his grandson, Sam Saunders.
Palmer found out Friday that he is a going to be a great-grandfather for the first time, as his granddaughter Katie is expecting a child next year.
 
Theres nothing Id love better than to hang around and play with that great-grandchild, girl or boy, said the proud Palmer.
 
Arnold would love to pass on the lessons his father taught him, like the one about controlling your temper: One of the rules in Deacon Palmers house when I left there, and that was you can get angry if you want to, but dont show how stupid you are. If you hit a club on the ground once in a while or if you talk to yourself a little bit, thats one thing. But making an ass of yourself is not something he permitted,' he said.
 
Palmer is trying to pass along little pearls like this to Sam, even if he couldn't convince him to go to his alma mater of Wake Forest. He said his grandson has a tendency to get a overly upset with himself after a poor shot, and then he starts ' like many of todays youth ' worrying about his technique.
 
It isnt going to make a damn bit of difference on the next shot where his hips are or his shoulders are or anything, Palmer said in his old-school manner. What he just has to do is just continue to play his game.
 
Jacks doing the same thing. Hes doing with his kids and grandkids what his father did with him.
 
My dad introduced me to everything, and he did it with me, Nicklaus said of his father, Charlie.
 
Fundamentally, he taught me everything in every sport the way he did it. And thats what I try to do with my kids ' teach them the fundamentals, then get away from them, let them do their own thing.
 
Worked pretty well for Nicklaus ' imagine if someone had told him: Tuck in that right elbow on your backswing.
 
Or imagine if someone got a hold of Palmer at a young age and said: Hey, kid, why dont you try to hit it like Hogan? Or: How about you learn to hit the ball a little higher?
 
They wouldnt have been who they were; they wouldnt be who they are.
 
These two are legends, even if their holsters have been hung up and their guns have no more bullets. They are fathers and grandfathers, and one will soon be a great-granddad.
 
And, yes, they are still rivals.
 
Nicklaus, with a little help, got the better of his old foe, who had a little bit of help of his own, this time around.
 
But, these days its not all about who beats whom. Its not about who wins the fight. Its about who gets in the most verbal jabs.
 
Jack and Arnold needled each other throughout their 18 holes together Saturday. They had the kind of fun that you just cant imagine any of todays rivals having in the future.
 
Jacks hitting it very well for a man his age, Palmer said afterwards with big smile.
 
Nicklaus countered with the fact that he just hopes to one day reach Palmers age.
 
Who would have ever imagined this kind of relationship 50 years ago? Or, maybe it was 48.
 
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