Book Review Thirty
April 9, 2011
The Masters Golf Tournament is coming and with it comes the echoes of one of the fiercest rivalries in all of sports. The battles between Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus on the course at Augusta National provide much of the setting in Ian O'Connor's 2008: Arnie & Jack: Palmer, Nicklaus, and Golf's Greatest Rivalry.
Nicklaus and Palmer met each other at an honorary tournament in Athens, Ohio, in 1958, the same year Palmer won his first Masters. Arnold Palmer was almost 29 and Jack Nicklaus was 18. Over the next 50 years, these true opposites brought the game of golf to the national spotlight that it is today. During the course of Arnold Palmer's career he claimed the trophy at the Masters four times: 1958, 1960, 1962, and 1964. Nicklaus triumphed twice more than Palmer with his first in 1963, back to back wins in 1965-1966 and again in 1972 and 1975. With his son Jackie as his caddy, Nicklaus became the oldest player to capture the Masters at the age of 46. Until Tiger Woods in 1997, Nicklaus had also been the youngest player to have the green jacket draped on his shoulders. The competitive nature between the two men was also exhibited off the playing field. Nicklaus felt he had to own an airplane because Palmer did. They were both members of the same marketing group for a period. Once while sharing the same hotel room, one of the two happened to brush the other's trouser leg with the tip of his shoe. Before they left, both men left with badly bruised shins. An unlikely and deep friendship developed between Winnie Palmer and Barbara Nicklaus that help keep the rivalry balanced. The Nicklaus' left a tournament their son was playing in to be at Winnie Palmer's funeral. In his acknowledgments, O'Connor pays tribute to the Nicklaus and Palmer families as well as the large amount of time spent with the two participants, neither whom profited in any way from O'Connor's book.
Arnold Palmer's last presence at the Masters was in 2004 at the age of 74. Jack Nicklaus exited the Tournament a year later when he was 65. Both men had the respect of Bobby Jones. O'Connor quotes Jones once telling Palmer "If I had to have a putt for my life, you can putt it for me". Nicklaus has one of the most remembered accolades from Mr. Jones who stated that Nicklaus "played a game with which I am not familiar".
O'Connor provides probably the most forthright and complete book about the Nicklaus and Palmer rivalry that has been written. The history of "Arnie's Army" and how its members heckled Nicklaus unmercifully gives a comparison to the golfers of today who hear only a few wayward remarks. Although it is a relatively short read, Arnie & Jack allows the reader to walk in the shadows of these two great golfers as they changed the sport with his own distinctive style and personality.