Through a combination of Arnold Palmer’s “arrogant” style of play, the sheer strength of Gary Player and the sheer brilliance of Jack Nicklaus, this trio of golf greats has led the game into the modern era.
If the trio came to redefine the way golf was played between the late 1950s and early 1980s, unusually for athletic competitors, they also formed lasting relationships along the way—so much so that the wives of Niklaus and Palmer were good friends, too.
“We went all over the world, Australia, everywhere together. We basically lived together, played a lot of matches and TV shows together.”
The player remembers his encounter with Palmer on one of his courses, but the “affection” they had for each other made it easy to reconcile them.
“We went and had lunch together and I can clearly remember, we were crying because I think we had such affection for each other that we didn’t want it to have an effect on our friendship. And so we laughed together because we also cried together.”
“This guy will be a hero.”
Palmer was the first of the trio to be named star golfer. Even the great Niklaus, the man who won the most championships in a professional golf career, admitted that he was part of “Arney’s Army” during his early years.
Niklaus remembers setting up a driving clinic in Athens, Ohio when he was 18 years old with Palmer and outpacing his opponent by 40 yards.
Niklaus remembers telling Palmer, “I knocked it off your side 40 yards.” “Yes,” Palmer replied, “but I shot the 63 and I shot the 67.”
The South African player remembers seeing Palmer hitting balls on a T-shirt in 1957 and thinking, “Okay, this guy’s going to be a hero.”
The player’s prediction was cautious. A year later, Palmer won his first major title, taking the iconic green jacket at the age of 28. He had to wear the Masters green jacket three more times, as well as win the 1960 US Open and the Open Championship twice.
With the help of his agent Mark McCormack – who would eventually represent both Niklaus and a player – Palmer became a global superstar, traveling the world showcasing his skills with his clubs and with the help of his charisma, according to the South African golf legend.
According to the player, his passion for the game was amazing.
“Even as he got older, he couldn’t really break the 90’s, but he still wanted to go out and play with the members and with people,” said Blair.
Palmer’s rise to prominence was accompanied by the widespread emergence of television across the United States allowing people all over the country to watch him win his first companies.
Nicklaus explained, “They loved the common man who climbed to the top and killed all the dragons.”
But it was Palmer’s style of playing on the track that truly made him a popular spectator. The 18-time main winner Nicklaus calls him a “Robin Hood” of sorts.
“It looked like he wanted to hit her in the woods, so he could take an amazing shot and get everyone excited,” he said. “And he did. He hit her in the woods a lot, and he had these amazing shots that everyone associated with.
“He got everyone excited. He tied his pants and a cigarette fell from his mouth.”
The competitive nature of the “Big Three” has prompted golfers to do bigger and better things.
Niklaus and Palmer often played outside competition for tournaments, as the competition between the two, according to the 18-time main winner.
Nicklaus particularly remembers the 1975 Masters Tournament, both of which were near the top of the leaderboard after two rounds.
“We were playing the third inning and I threw a 73 and Arnold a 75. We shook hands on the last hole and he said, ‘We did it again.’ Here we are shooting ourselves out of the tournament.”
“I came back, and I shot one last good round and ended up winning the tournament. But Arnold pulled himself out of the tournament. And that’s not the way to play golf.
“You play golf by controlling yourself. And you’re the only one you can control, not the field. So you have to take that into account, but we didn’t. We were too stubborn. We were too competitive.”
Including 18 majors, Nicklaus has 73 PGA Tour wins – his third most ever. Palmer collected 62 PGA Tour wins, his fifth all-time. The player has racked up 24 PGA Tour victories, while also racking up an impressive 116 international victories.
The player draws parallels between the trio’s passion and drive and the competitive spirit that Tiger Woods – the 15-time main winner and tie-down on the most PGA Tour victories ever – brings to the game.
“We were as fierce as the competitors the world had seen before,” says Blair.
“But the thing is, we had a lot of kindness towards each other. When we were on the golf course we made it very clear: ‘I want to hit you.'” And if you defeat me, I will look in your eyes and say I master it.”
While the Open Championship is one of the most coveted prizes in golf globally, this was not always the case.
The player won the major in 1959, but before Palmer debuted there a year later, very few American golfers made the trip to the UK for the tournament.
Arrived as the Masters champ and US Open champion, Palmer brought a certain level of oomph to his compatriots who were watching Homecoming en route to second place, according to Nicklaus.
“The Scots loved him,” Nicklaus said. “Playing at St Andrews and Agent Nagl beat him with a shot. And suddenly all the American players wanted to go to the British Open.”
Fast-forward to the 149th Open at Royal St.
Although the player says the World Open “would be what it is today without impact” Palmer, he believes the American’s arrival at the event helped bring his eyeballs back in the States.
The Open Championship with Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen, Peter Thomson, Roberto De Vicenzo and you can go down on the list of hundreds of players who have helped make this Open Championship, this great tournament.
“Did Arnold Palmer boost it when he faced off? Yes. This charismatic man was playing very well in America and he happened to, surely, do at the World Open a tremendous amount of good, but we can never give one man credit for that. Greatest Championship In the world “.
Since his death in 2016, Palmer has been honored throughout golf and even by the US Postal Service – they have issued a commemorative stamp honoring the great golfer in 2020.
“I think most players realized that what Arnold did for the game was more than anyone else,” Nicklaus said, praising his “hero.”
“His influence in the game, his demeanor, the way he treated himself, he needed to be grandiose when he needed to be grandiose, presidential when he needed to be presidential, and humble when he needed to be humble. Arnold has done an amazing job. All That. And I think we all owe him a lot,” Niklaus adds.
“Not only do the pros owe him a lot, golf owes him a lot. It’s been five years, but I miss my friend.
“I spoke to him about two weeks before he died. And he was the typical self. I said, ‘How’s it going, Associated Press?'” ‘ He said, ‘I think I’m getting ready to go out and hit some balls. I feel really good. Best I’ve felt in a long time, looking forward to getting out there.”
“He was nowhere near ready to hit golf balls than a man on the moon, but he didn’t want me to know anything different. So I gave him credit for that, and for that, I love him. We’re going to miss him forever.”