Golfs Greatest Rivalries

By Randall MellApril 3, 2010, 5:50 am

Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

Friends and still rivals.

When these two giants of the game reach the first tee at Augusta National Thursday morning to hit ceremonial first tee shots together for the first time at the Masters, you can’t help wondering how determined they’ll be to best each other with the better drive.

As much as the Golden Bear and the King will talk about their bond over the years, their intense desire to beat each other will forever distinguish their relationship.

They top our list of the five greatest rivalries in golf history.

Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer
Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer at the 1994 Masters. (Getty Images)
The rivalry isn’t distinguished so much in the closeness of the Nicklaus-Palmer competition but the classic nature of it. The distinction is in the fierceness of their early battles and the differences in their personalities. Nicklaus may be the greatest player who ever lived, a gentleman champion who won as much respect for his sportsmanship as his victory total, but Palmer will always be remembered as the most beloved player.

Nicklaus won more trophies, Palmer won more hearts.

The special nature of their relationship makes their new roles as honorary starters a moment to celebrate this week.

“There were times we were a little testy years ago, but we’ve always been close friends,” Nicklaus said. “I think we both felt the same way. If either one of us needed something, we could just pick up the phone and call and the other would be there.

“We’ve played [as partners] in the Ryder Cup and World Cup together. We’ve played tons together. Two guys who don’t like each other are not going to play together.”

Still, it’s not the Nicklaus-Palmer mega-star collaborations as teammates that excited golf. It was their showdowns.

“No matter where we played, we always wanted to beat each other,” Nicklaus said. “I don’t care if it is in golf or golf course design or commercials. We always wanted to beat each other. That has always been our nature. But then we go home and have dinner together and a glass of wine and slap each other on the back.”

Even with Palmer turning 80 and Nicklaus 70, the competitiveness is still there.

Nicklaus won six Masters titles, more than anyone else, Palmer won four, but they still compete over turf here. Palmer began hitting a ceremonial first tee shot three years ago. When Golf World’s Bill Fields asked Palmer two years ago how he would feel about Nicklaus joining him on the first tee, Palmer sounded like a man who was being asked to step back into Nicklaus’ shadow.

“No, I think one starter is enough,” Palmer said then. “When Jack’s ready, I’ll step aside.”

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Jack was ready after last year’s Masters, but exactly how he made his way to joining Palmer as honorary starter this year is uncertain. Nicklaus said Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne extended the offer at Palmer’s behest.

“Billy came to me and said, `Arnold would like to have you join him,’” Nicklaus said. “I’m delighted to join Arnold. I’m delighted that Arnold has welcomed me to join him.”

Palmer was asked at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week if he invited Nicklaus to join him.

“No,” Palmer said. “Well, I wouldn’t say I didn’t. It’s been suggested that we might do it together.”

This isn’t to say Palmer isn’t looking forward to sharing the stage with Nicklaus, but it’s another example of the complexity of their relationship.

Ian O’Connor explored the complex nature of the men with the release of his book “Arnie & Jack” two years ago.

The book showed how these rivals could warm to each other, revealing how they fell into each other's arms crying at the funeral of Palmer's wife, Winnie. They wept in both sadness and joy that day with news that Nicklaus' son, Gary, had just earned his PGA Tour card.

The book also explored how their personalities can still clash. Nicklaus was quoted saying he was never more irritated with Palmer than in their pairing with Gary Player at the Masters in 2000. Nicklaus wasn't ready for the nostalgic pairing, and the book details his offense when Palmer wouldn't shake his hand after the round.

'I think Jack was an easy lightning rod for my father's desire to be perceived as the best at everything that had to do with golf,” Palmer's oldest daughter, Peg, told O'Connor in the book. “I don't think it was really personal, but there were things about Jack's personality and character that were irritating to my dad.”

We wouldn’t expect anything less among great rivals.

It's part of what we loved about their competition.

Here’s our listing of the game’s other top rivalries:

Ben Hogan vs. Sam Snead

Like Nicklaus-Palmer, the classic nature of this rivalry wasn’t all about the competition. The nature of these men added to the intrigue.

Like brothers born too close together, they were polar opposites. Snead's swing seemed like a heavenly gift. It was so natural; the most effortless and rhythmic in the game. Hogan's was a technical masterpiece, a laborious work fashioned blacksmith-like in the dust and dirt of Fort Worth, Texas. Snead wore the straw fedora hat and was outgoing, a hillbilly boy from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia who loved to tell stories and jokes. Hogan wore the tam-o'-shanter and was introverted, a quiet, mysterious man who intimidated just about everyone who teed it up with him.

“The things I fear most in golf are lightning, Ben Hogan and downhill putts,” Snead once said.

The frustration Snead faced competing with Hogan was never clearer than in 1950, when Snead won 11 times and Hogan won just once and yet Hogan was named Player of the Year. That’s the year Hogan came back to win the U.S. Open after nearly dying in a car crash.

Bobby Jones vs. Walter Hagen

The gentleman amateur and the flamboyant pro staged some legendary exhibitions in their time.

Though Jones is regarded as the greatest player of that era, maybe the greatest ever, Hagen trounced him in the special “World Championship” match they staged in 1926, a 72-hole exhibition. Hagen won 12 and 11. Two weeks later, they had “The Rematch” at the Florida West Coast Open. Hagen won again. But it’s reported that when sportswriters elected Jones the best golfer of the first half of the 20th century, Hagen said: “I would have voted for Jones myself. He was marvelous.”

Jack Nicklaus vs. Tom Watson

 Nicklaus won more than twice as many majors as Watson (18 to 8), but nobody beat Nicklaus in more dramatic fashion on the game’s largest stages. Watson’s chip in at the 71st hole at Pebble Beach to help him beat Nicklaus at the U.S. Open in 1982 stands out, but he gave golf its most dramatic finish beating Nicklaus in their Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in ’77. That’s the year Watson shot 66-65 on the weekend to win by a shot with Nicklaus shooting a pair of 66s.

Harry Vardon vs. James Braid vs. J.H. Taylor

The trio can’t be separated. In fact, they were known as “The Great Triumvirate” overseas.

From 1894 to 1914, the trio combined to win the British Open 16 times. England’s Harry Vardon won it six times with England’s J.H. Taylor and Scotland’s James Braid winning five times each.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.



It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.



Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.



Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.



Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.



After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.



Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.


Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters


Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.