By Mike Lupica
September 26, 2016
Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer at the 1964 Masters.
This was last spring, an event at Jack Nicklaus’ Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Fla., not too long before the Masters tournament.
Barbara Nicklaus, Jack’s wife, was introducing a new cookbook, and she and Jack had acted as celebrity chefs for a small gathering of club guests and their friends. Some friends of my wife and I had invited us and near the end of the night, I was talking to Jack about Arnold Palmer. It has been impossible for more than a half-century in America to talk about one without talking about the other. Arnie and Jack. Jack and Arnie.
Once it had been the rivalry to watch and talk about in golf, the kid from Ohio coming along to take on the acknowledged king of the sport, the guy known to the golf world as “The King” — Arnold — and beat him for the first time at the U.S. Open of 1962, and keep beating him on his way to winning 18 major championships and becoming the greatest golfer of them all.
But out of that rivalry came something more important: A deep and lasting and splendid friendship. Now, in the spring of 2016, everybody in Jack’s world and Arnold’s world knew that Arnold was failing, it was no secret any longer, Arnold had barely been visible at his own tournament at Bay Hill, in Orlando.
There was even some question about whether or not Arnold Palmer, 86 then, would make it to the first tee at Augusta with Nicklaus and Gary Player, for the ceremonial opening to another Masters tournament.