Arnold Palmer – the King of Golf. Only two men were better than Palmer at his best. One is Tiger Woods. The other is Jack Nicklaus.
Palmer and Nicklaus had a rivalry that could easily have become enmity – or at least a situation of polite avoidance. Instead, the two men became friends – because Palmer would not let their relationship become toxic.
Arnold Parmer died at the age of 87 of complications from heart problems. He was a Presidential Medal of Freedom holder who related to everyone from children to the highest leaders of the land. Arnold’s “Army” dominated the sport – but Nicklaus was one of his strongest rivals, the two going head to head on the course many times.
After hearing about Palmer’s death, Nicklaus wrote a beautiful, moving tribute to the great man on his Facebook page. Amongst other things, Nicklaus said that Palmer “transcended the game of golf.” He also said “Arnold always had my back, and I had his.” The friendship between the two – and Nicklaus’ tremendous respect for the older man – shines through in his words.
When asked on Golf channel he added “I sort of felt part of my life went with it, which it did.” Needless to say, the strong relationship between the two meant that Palmer’s death had a strong influence on Nicklaus. Nicklaus is eleven years younger than his friend and was coming up on the scene when Palmer was already established – but his talent made them equals. Palmer, Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are the only men to have four or more Masters jackets in their wardrobes. (Nicklaus has five).
The friendly rivalry between Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, especially the friendly part, had a positive influence on the sport of golf for many years. Palmer was a lifelong ambassador for the sport and everyone liked him, including the men who had to try and beat him on the fairway. He inspired many more people to try, and learn to love, the sport of golf. He also influenced the sport in another way – by being a talented course designer. He was a mentor and friend to many and an inspiration to thousands upon thousands of fans who appreciated not just his talent on the course but his accessible, approachable manner.
It is best to end with another quote from Nicklaus’ beautiful tribute. “Arnold was someone who was a pioneer in his sport. He took the game from one level to a higher level, virtually by himself.”