San Diego moment: Arnie and Jack in an early bond
For all that this month means to him, “January Jack” would be another good Nicklaus nickname to complement the “Golden Bear.” Not only is January his birthday month -- he turned 76 on January 21 -- but it was the month he announced in 1962 that he would represent MacGregor equipment, and the month he made his PGA Tour debut at the 1962 Los Angeles Open, where he famously made $33.33 for finishing T-50. That was the final spot that paid out money; 13 players did not make a penny.
Nicklaus actually played his first round as a pro on Dec. 30, 1961, in an exhibition at the Country Club of Miami, which was a newly opened Robert Trent Jones design, with Arnold Palmer as its professional rep. Nicklaus played 18 holes with Sam Snead, Gary Player and Palmer, the match thus being a precursor to “Big Three” matchups to come. Golf World reported that each player received $2,500 from the $10,000 pot, the golfers having decided to take equal shares, which was a common practice at the time. On the scorecard, the results were Player (70), Snead (71), and Arnie and Jack 73 each, with Nicklaus splashing his tee balls on the first and 18th holes.
The following week after the L.A. Open, the tour went down the California coast to Stardust Country Club for the San Diego Open, which is where we have some visual evidence to back up what Jack has always said about Arnold. Although Arnie’s Army was hostile to Nicklaus as the usurper to the King’s throne, Jack continually stated that Palmer was always helpful to him when he joined the tour.
In this photo, we have the two Munsingwear-attired titans joining up for some tournament talk. Arnold, 32 then, looks like he’s giving Jack, about to turn 22, the lay of the land. A significant aspect is their size proportions; Arnie slim of waist and Jack looking like he’d be ready to run blocks for him.
Perhaps when they wrapped up this convo, Arnie told Jack he didn’t need to keep wearing the Los Angeles Open hat now that he was in San Diego. Of course, if he did, as we know now, five months later it would be Arnie tipping his cap, having lost a U.S. Open playoff to Jack at Oakmont.