The Masters tournament is over but golf season has just begun for many weekend warriors. Arnie and Jack: Palmer, Nicklaus, and Golf’s Greatest Rivalry is sure to be a hit among die-hards. Here's a review :
BY JAMES PRICHARD
Legendary golf rivals Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus couldn’t have been more different, both as people and in their approaches to the game that made them rich and famous.
Palmer, the son of a poor western Pennsylvania greenskeeper, was handsome, charismatic and approachable, someone who was adored by men and women alike. He won 62 times on the PGA Tour and captured seven of pro golf’s major tournaments with a short, fast swing that made it appear he was about to jump out of his spikes. He played quickly, aggressively and fearlessly, and always with his heart on his sleeve, which endeared him to many fans. Palmer was as beloved as any athlete of his time, with enough followers to form an army — Arnie’s Army.
On the other hand, it took a while for golf fans to warm up to Jack Nicklaus, as Ian O’Connor points out in Arnie and Jack: Palmer, Nicklaus, and Golf’s Greatest Rivalry (Houghton Mifflin Co., 368 pages, $26).
Early in his career, Nicklaus, whose father was a well-to-do central Ohio pharmacist, was pudgy and cocksure and wore an unflattering buzz cut. His laser focus on his game during tournaments made him seem aloof to fans. But his upright, powerful swing became a model for generations of beginning golfers and helped him to win 73 times on the tour. Tiger Woods, who grew up idolizing Nicklaus, has repeatedly said his ultimate goal as a golfer is to surpass Nicklaus’ 18 majors titles.
Nicklaus played cautiously and deliberately, hovering forever over his shots, particularly his putts, and oblivious to the fans and the golf officials who wanted him to pick up the pace a bit. He almost always wore a poker face, allowing himself to break into his infectious smile only after a great shot or when he realized victory was certain. When he was around 30, he lost some weight, let his blond hair grow out and started becoming a fan favorite.
Palmer, who is 10 years older than Nicklaus, rose to fame first, but it wasn’t long before Nicklaus came along in the early 1960s to challenge Palmer’s greatness and spark a fierce rivalry that continued long past their playing primes and extended deep into their business lives.
Both earned millions of dollars winning tournaments, endorsing products, selling their apparel and golf equipment, and designing golf courses. They weren’t best buddies, O’Connor writes, but they liked and respected each other, sometimes flew together and occasionally enjoyed spending some leisure time together. Their wives, Winnie Palmer and Barbara Nicklaus, became extremely close friends.
Golf fans of a certain age will enjoy Arnie and Jack because it’s bound to stir some memories of televised Sunday afternoon charges and collapses, although they may be put off by some salty language that is better used after unleashing a snap-hook. Younger fans who are tired of waiting for a challenger worthy of being considered a near-equal rival to the magnificent Woods may find the book a satisfying alternative.