They were golf for a long time, and to many they still are.
Not too full of themselves in victory, always gracious in defeat, with swings you could remember and autographs you could read--Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus shared much besides a thirst to be the best.
But as they went at each other and after championships, it was their differences that fueled the journey and made it so much fun to be along for the ride.
Palmer had the hands of a blacksmith, Nicklaus those of an accountant, but his thighs were golf's sequoias. Palmer hit a searing draw then cocked his head to see where it went. Nicklaus cocked his head before launching a power fade. Palmer attacked a course, trying to shake the birdies out of it; Nicklaus dissected it, capitalizing on the mistakes of others.
Palmer's aggressiveness courted the trouble Nicklaus' conservative strategy sought to avoid. Going for broke cost Palmer plenty, but he would have it no other way. Bold was as beautiful to Arnie as a green in regulation was to Jack.
Nicklaus, with his crouching open stance, putted better for a longer time than Palmer and his knock-kneed, pigeon-toed method, but both were effective--Palmer winning seven professional major championships among 62 PGA Tour titles, Nicklaus a record 18 majors and 73 victories.From 1958 through 1980, either Palmer or Nicklaus or both enjoyed a top-three finish in at least one major every year except 1969, a period in which Palmer had 36 top-10s in Grand Slam events, Nicklaus a whopping 59.
Their rivalry extended off the course to business, particularly golf course design. "I think Arnold and I are adversarial friends or friendly enemies," Nicklaus told Golf Digest's
Jerry Tarde in 1991. "All our lives we've competed against each other. Arnold and I fight like the devil about stuff."
The back-and-forth may have been as lively as it was because it was rooted in respect. Palmer's army of fans wasn't always nice to Nicklaus when he arrived on the scene as a threat to the throne, but Palmer never chimed in. A decade older than his biggest rival, Palmer was generous with advice if Nicklaus wanted it, a largesse Nicklaus never forgot even while their spirited competition endured.
-- Bill Fields