Nicklaus, Palmer were friendly rivals

Jack Nicklaus arrives for the Champions Dinner, where Arnold Palmer’s absence was sure to be felt. Nicklaus said Palmer gave him plenty of lessons on and off the course.

Jack Nicklaus admitted that he didn’t always get along with Arnie’s Army.

But with Arnold Palmer, the most popular player in the game? That was a different story.

“I don’t know how many people realized how much Arnold took me under his wing when I was 20, 22 years old,” Nicklaus said Tuesday. “When I first started on the Tour, Arnold was very good to me. … I may have had to fight Arnold’s gallery, but I never had to fight him.”

Palmer, the first four-time champion at the Masters, died in September. Only Nicklaus (six) and Tiger Woods (four) have won as often at Augusta National.

Nicklaus and Gary Player will hit honorary tee shots Thursday morning, but filling the void left by Palmer’s absence will be difficult. Nicklaus was asked to tell stories about Palmer that might not be readily known, and he obliged before heading off to the Champions Dinner.

When Nicklaus turned professional in the early 1960s, Palmer was the top player in the game and already a winner of major championships. But he befriended Nicklaus, and the two and their wives often traveled together. Palmer’s first wife, Winnie, was adept at managing their lives.

Nicklaus’ wife, Barbara, said that Winnie once told her how she handled it.

“She said, ‘Well, on Tuesday if I got mad at Arnold, I would be afraid to say anything because I was afraid of ruining his game. And then when Sunday night rolled around and I could say something, and I forgot what I was mad at him about,’” Nicklaus said.

Nicklaus said Palmer also taught him plenty of lessons off the course.

“One of the things early on, I asked him, ‘What do you do after a round?’” Nicklaus said. “He said, ‘I always drop the sponsor a note.’ I said, ‘I think that’s a good thing to do.’”

Nicklaus took the advice, but not everyone was as diligent, he said.

“My later years of playing, part of that habit probably got relaxed by a lot of people, because I’ve had a lot of sponsors come to me and say, Jack, every year I get a letter from you,” Nicklaus said. “I don’t get one from anybody else. And that came from Arnold.”

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