An interview with Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player following the ceremonial Masters tee shot Thursday

bigthree12cCRAIG HEATLEY: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Another historic morning at Augusta National. I’m truly humbled and delighted to introduce to you three of golf’s all‑time greats. True icons and role models to millions and millions around the world.

These gentlemen are not only fabulous golfers and sportsmen, but they are also truly unique, special, gracious, knowledgeable and generous individuals. And we at Augusta National salute each one of you this morning.

147 Masters; I’m going to say that again, 147 Masters. Victories in 1958, ’60, ’61, ’62, ’63, ’64, ’65 and 1966, 1972, ’74, ’75, ’79, and who could forget 1986. Over that period of 28 years, these three gentlemen finished first or second 21 times. They compiled 32 Top 5s and 49 Top 10s. They are truly remarkable men.

With that, may I introduce Mr. Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. (Applause).

Q. Mr. Player, congratulations for joining the threesome today as the rookie. The Chairman called you an international ambassador of the game. You were on an international stage a few moments ago. How did it feel? 
GARY PLAYER: Well, it was a great thrill, having had this wonderful relationship, great friendship with Arnold and Jack for a long, long time and having traveled extensively around the world together. We’ve even cried together, and we’ve laughed together, and we’ve had good times.

And I think that we really wanted to promote the game to the best of our ability around the world. I think what we try to do is contribute to the game of golf that we really love so much and are so grateful for what golf has done for us and our careers.

Q. Congratulations. Those were three pretty nicely center‑cut drives out there. Did you all happen to take note as to who went a little further up the hill? 
JACK NICKLAUS: I don’t think any of us can see that far. (Laughter). We can hear them all land, though.

Q. This is a question for any of you. What did it mean to you to have Phil standing behind the tee box watching you tee off? 
JACK NICKLAUS: I thought it was very nice.
GARY PLAYER: I thought it was remarkable.
JACK NICKLAUS: It was a nice compliment.
ARNOLD PALMER: I thought it was wonderful that he came out.
GARY PLAYER: You look at the way Phil treats the galleries, it’s very special.

Q. Could the three of you talk about your first time that you remember seeing the Honorary Starters and when that was? 
GARY PLAYER: I can remember. Jock Hutchison. I don’t know what year that was, but it must have been 1959. I would take a wild guess and say 1959, 1958, Jock Hutchison ‑‑ I think it was Freddie McLeod, was it? Freddie McLeod and Jock Hutchison? I really remember that well. But they were much older.
JACK NICKLAUS: Mine was a long time ago. I saw Arnold Palmer hit one (laughter).

Q. I think when Jock did that, didn’t they play nine holes? 
GARY PLAYER: They did.

Q. Is that something you would ever entertain? 
JACK NICKLAUS: Which one are you talking to?

Q. Well, I think you don’t want to answer, Jack. 
JACK NICKLAUS: I didn’t hear you, I’m sorry.

Q. They played nine holes back then. Would you ever entertain doing that? 
JACK NICKLAUS: I think we would all love to play. I don’t think there’s any issue about that, but that’s not the deal. The deal is we hit a shot. We all would love to still be able to play. But, you know, if you go out and look at where our tee shots were, we all hit 3‑woods and a little bit more left after that, that I think you would understand why we aren’t.

Q. You had a little bit of a health issue the last few weeks; wondering how you’re feeling now? 
ARNOLD PALMER: I’m fine. Thank you very much. I had a little blood pressure scare, you might say, and they switched some medicine on me. I got a little reaction with the pressure going up, and they just wanted to be cautious and put me in the hospital for a couple of days, and did all of the checks and everything. That’s normal when you have that kind of a situation.
And after that two days, I was home and felt fine.

Q. You missed the trophy ceremony of your own tournament. How much did you miss that? 
ARNOLD PALMER: I missed not being there for Tiger. I’ve been there for all of his victories, and of course I really wanted to be there. It got right down to the end. I was whipped out of there and they said, you either go on your own with us or we get an ambulance and take you. I chose to go in the car.

Q. Gary, we crossed somewhat of a threshold four or five years ago where the number of international players outnumbered Americans at this tournament. I wonder when you first came here if you imagined that happening?
GARY PLAYER: No, I certainly didn’t envisage that at all. Some players played here like Roberto and Bobby Locke and a few others. When I won the tournament, I was obviously very thrilled, and I thought in the back of my mind, well, that will give encouragement to a lot of people who want to come and play here, which I think it did. It’s been a big surprise for me.
I was in Britain this year, and I saw something that I never thought ‑‑ in fact, I would have given enormous odds to see all four Major Championship trophies standing in Europe. I thought I would never live to see that. But golf being an international game and everybody loving the game the way they do, if you want to spread the game of golf, it’s good that you have great competition.
That’s what made this country great is competition, and that’s what has enabled golf manufacturers to keep going in business; if they have the international market to keep them alive, not only in golf, but merchandise and every other respect.
We all want to see golf promoted and do well in the world. There’s a young Chinese boy here with me this morning. It’s such a thrill for him to get up and go to that practice tee early this morning. He’s in awe. This might encourage him. He’s already a wonderful young golfer, and it might encourage him to one day play here. Golf brings nations together like no other sport that I know of.

Q. Wonder if you can comment about the role of amateur players at the Masters and the Masters’ commitment to amateur golf; I know you played here as an amateur. And do you know anything about the story of Randy Lewis who is making his first start here at the age of 54 and we think is the oldest first‑time invitee here at Augusta. 
JACK NICKLAUS: I did play here as an amateur. When I played, it was by virtue of being on the Walker Cup Team in 1959. That was an unbelievable learning experience for me. Somebody asked me about, what did I learn first time I played here. I said, well, I learned that I had hit 31 greens in 36 holes and eight 3‑putt greens, and Arnold hit 19 greens and 36 holes and was leading the tournament.
I said, I’d better learn these greens. To me, you had to do that if you want to play here. So that was my first introduction to what you really had to learn how to do. And then having the opportunity to stay in the Crow’s Nest, staying there with Phil Rodgers, Tommy Aaron, Ward Wettlaufer and Deane Beman and myself, five of us stayed up there. We had a great time. I remember coming down, we were charged for meals, a dollar for breakfast, a dollar for lunch and two dollars for dinner.
I remember that Phil and I kept coming down, and we ended up having two steaks at night. And they said, if you boys keep doing that, we’re going to have to charge you $2 for each steak. And we said, well, that will be all right. (Laughter).
But the experience of being here as an amateur ‑‑ and Randy, he’s 54, as you say; I was here a couple of weeks ago and met him. He’s thrilled. It’s a wonderful opportunity for ‑‑ he’s Mid‑Amateur Champion?

Q. Correct. 
JACK NICKLAUS: When you get that opportunity, what a thrill for a guy. Never expected to play in the Masters, wins the Mid‑Amateur Championship and here he is. It’s wonderful that the amateurs have the opportunity to play and be here.
GARY PLAYER: Nothing has changed. He still has deep pockets and short arms. (Laughter).
JACK NICKLAUS: Okay. Okay. (Laughter).

Q. All three of you are golf course architects. Could each of you talk about what design influences from Augusta National are most prominent in your own work, and is there one course where we can see Augusta in your work? 
GARY PLAYER: No. Personally when we design golf courses, the odds of being asked to design a golf course for a championship are almost remote. You do have an occasional one, but the majority of golf courses obviously would be for members.
Now if we do have one for a championship, we copy certain things, but generally speaking, we build them softer, not as undulating of greens and not as long and not as difficult, because generally speaking, I think that’s what’s hurting golf. The golf courses are too tough, they are too long, the experiences are so high, the water, the machinery, the oil, the labor, and that’s what’s hurting golf. They are making them longer and longer, and the costs keep going up and up and they levy members and they don’t like that. So one has to build golf courses much softer and easier for members.
JACK NICKLAUS: You want to answer?
ARNOLD PALMER: You go ahead.
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, you know, Augusta National has been a great part of my life. That was the question you were asking. And as has St. Andrews and the variety of places around the world that we play. I don’t think there’s anything new in golf course architecture. I think it’s how you apply it and what you apply to what the ground is and what there is. There’s many looks and so forth and so on.
One main thing that I’ve always tried to apply to golf course architecture are two things. First of all, the average golfer is far more interested in the beauty of the facility. And you couldn’t have a prettier facility than Augusta National. So nobody wants to go have a picnic at a dump; they are going to have a picnic at someplace pretty. They will go out in the woods where it’s nice and pretty. So that’s the first thing you try to do.
The second thing you try to do is you find out that the average golfer is probably far more concerned about the beauty. The good player is are far more concerned about the quality of the golf shots. And the quality of golf shots at Augusta National couldn’t be any better. So if you put the combination of aesthetically pleasing golf course, good golf shots, I think you have a pretty good combination for design.
If you look at Augusta National and the philosophy of Bob Jones, and the philosophy ‑‑ Bob Jones took his philosophy here from basically St. Andrews and his experiences over there. Golf to him was a second‑shot game. Here the tee shots have always been wide. You put the ball in the proper side of the fairway where you have the best angle into the green, that would be the way you would get to where you’re going.
And then you hide the pins. And Augusta National is one of the great member courses of the world. I got in trouble when I said that about Royal Melbourne, and they didn’t understand what I meant. It’s a great compliment. When you go to a course like Augusta National and Royal Melbourne, all you have to do is put the tees back, hide the pins, and you have a great tournament golf course. And that would be the way you try to do it; you don’t have to change the golf course.
Through the change of equipment, golf courses are required to be narrower and probably a little bit longer for championship golf, and that’s been some of the changes at Augusta. Bob Jones’ original philosophy, I think it’s a great philosophy, give you room to hit the ball, have fun, put the ball in the right place and you have great angles to the green, and that should be your challenge.
ARNOLD PALMER: You waiting for me?
I agree with all. (Laughter).
JACK NICKLAUS: I also agree with Gary on the costs of things, too. The game is getting too tough and too hard. It is. We are all guilty of that. We need to keep people in the game, not push people out of the game.
ARNOLD PALMER: I agree with that.

Q. I have a question for all three of you. You were known as the ‘Big Three’. Do you think there are three players on the Tour now that you would consider to be the Big Three?
JACK NICKLAUS: (Looking at Gary).
GARY PLAYER: I’ve gone first every time. Your turn.
JACK NICKLAUS: No.
ARNOLD PALMER: I think Gary and Jack and myself, we did a lot of golf television or television golf, and that’s how the Big Three kind of got that name. And of course, the record here at Augusta is part of it, too.
But the fact that we were together competing against each other in the early days of television had a lot to do with the whole thing.
JACK NICKLAUS: There’s a lot more players today, and right now there’s still ‑‑ I think all of us probably agree that Tiger is still the dominant force in the game; even though he’s struggled up until a couple of weeks ago, but there are a lot of other players that are awfully good. You pick Rory and Keegan and you go right on down the list, and Phil and you’ve got a lot of very, very good players today.
GARY PLAYER: You definitely have two of the Big Three today, and that’s Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. The third one, I don’t know who that would be. And I think time will sort that out.
But Jack, Arnold and myself, we won over 350 golf tournaments in our lives, and we won 56 major championships, counting regular and Senior Tour. So it was done over a certain amount of time.
So I think to be fair to these golfers, you’ve got to give them more time to sort out who will be the eventual Big Three.

Q. Curious, let’s just say your careers were winding down, did you seek each other’s counsel on how to deal with certain aspects of that? 
ARNOLD PALMER: What was the question?
JACK NICKLAUS: You need some help this morning, don’t you? (Patting Arnold on the shoulder). (Laughter).
He asked as our careers ran down, did we seek advice from each other how to handle retiring from the game of golf.
You didn’t call me at all. I was going to retire at 35.
ARNOLD PALMER: Last time you called me you wanted to go fishing.
JACK NICKLAUS: And you haven’t taken me up yet.
ARNOLD PALMER: I am going to, though.
JACK NICKLAUS: I wish you would. Okay. Monday?
ARNOLD PALMER: No, that’s too soon. (Laughter).
JACK NICKLAUS: Not really.
GARY PLAYER: You tell us the story about us all retiring at a certain age, and you said you wouldn’t. And when Jack and I came here, what you had to say ‑‑
JACK NICKLAUS: We were going to be 35 and we weren’t going to play anymore. But you said, “No, that’s not me. I’m going to keep playing.”
ARNOLD PALMER: That’s right. You guys kept saying you were going to quit at 35. I said, Bullshit (Laughter). No more thoughts of quitting at 35 than ‑‑
JACK NICKLAUS: 82.
ARNOLD PALMER: Hey, if I could do it, I would be doing it right now.
JACK NICKLAUS: I think we all would.
GARY PLAYER: I’d like to enlarge on that, because both Jack and I said we were retiring at 35, we had won the Grand Slam and that was it, we had enough.
And Arnold said, “Well, I’m going on forever.”
And Then we walked in there when we were both 60, and Arnold said, “Is this a mirage? Both here at the age of 60?” And now I’m 70 and more.

Q. For all three, but starting with Jack, what would you do to fix the game in that sense, making it easier and making it a little bit less expensive? 
JACK NICKLAUS: I don’t want to take up all your time in here. That would take too long. The game, I think The PGA of America on their 2.0 program is a progressive program of wanting to bring people in the game and keep people in the game, and it’s a game to try to make the game easier, make the game faster, and make the game less expensive. If we can do those kind of things, we can bring a lot more people in the game and keep them in the game.
ARNOLD PALMER: I think some of the programs that are being put to use, The First Tee program is one that can really have a lasting effect on the future of the game of golf. And I, for one have, and Jack, and eventually ‑‑ are you involved in The First Tee, Gary?
GARY PLAYER: I am.
ARNOLD PALMER: That will be a program that will help the game, and it will help it dramatically in the years to come. It isn’t going to be instant, but the programs that they are doing, one of the reasons I held back was the fact that it was not endowed and it’s now being endowed, and it will be endowed.
The worst thing that could happen, you see a First Tee facility open up and then you see it close up. That’s what I was trying to avoid by not joining until I felt confident that it would go on and on. And I think that they are in that position now to make it go forward and to keep it going.
The organizations throughout the country are really coming together. They are concentrating more on putting the organizations together with a realistic thought of continuing for these kids that would not otherwise have the opportunity to do it.
GARY PLAYER: Could you rephrase your question, if you don’t mind?

Q. Well, what would you do to make the game a little less hard, a little less expensive, so that more people could play it? 
GARY PLAYER: Personally I think what has put the game of golf into a lot of trouble is that the golf ball is going so far, and you’re finding golf pros going to play at different golf clubs, and they are hitting a driver and a 6‑iron to a par 5; whereas Jack, I know at Sun City in South Africa, you used to hit a 1‑iron and we were in awe. And now they hit a 6‑iron, and the courses are thinking, well, the courses are obsolete. So they are lengthening their golf courses unnecessarily.
All they had to do was let the technology go with the average golfer, that’s fantastic. But with professional golfers we have not seen big men come into this game yet. We are going to see the Michael Jordans and the likes come into golf, and they are already hitting drives 400 yards. They’re going to be hitting it so far, it’s frightening.
What’s going to happen to the golf course? Are they going to make them longer? We can’t go back on the streets anymore here. So they are going to have to slow the ball down for professional golf at some time or other in the future.
Otherwise, I don’t know what’s going to happen to all these golf courses. Are we going to spend more money on it? And that’s where Jack and I agree; the expenses, the costs, we have to take that into consideration.
JACK NICKLAUS: The equipment, the ball is one single factor that’s caused a lot of what we have.
ARNOLD PALMER: And I agree with that. I think that’s vital that we slow the ball down.
JACK NICKLAUS: I think that we all know that you can’t really change the game from what it is today. That would be like asking the kids today to go back to wood clubs, and it would be like when we played, asking to go back to wood shafts. And I know the game changes.
The game today is a wonderful game. There’s nothing wrong with the game today as it relates to tournament golf. There’s nothing wrong with it when we played. But it’s just a different game. And the game that when we played, it was very relevant to the pro and the amateur had a game that they could play together. They could go play a Pro‑Am, and we would be 20 yards behind them and we would end up in relatively the same area on the tee shots and you could have a conversation.
Today, you know, the average golfer cannot relate to the pro. The pro is a hundred yards behind him. And by the time the pro gets there, they’ve all hit off the tee. It’s a very different game. It takes too long.
Obsolescence of the golf courses; we have, I don’t know, 17,000 or 18,000 golf courses in the United States, which this is probably the only golf course in the country that is probably up‑to‑date as it relates to tournament golf. And what have they spent here? They have spent a fortune. And can you ask everybody to spend a fortune? No. Golf ball is a very inexpensive thing to fix.
GARY PLAYER: I promise you they are going to be hitting a driver and 8‑iron to No. 2, a driver and an 8‑iron to No. 15.
JACK NICKLAUS: They do that now. I did it in 1964. (Laughter).
GARY PLAYER: A lot of them do. The tees are a long way back now. It’s all relative.
JACK NICKLAUS: It’s all relative.
GARY PLAYER: They are still hitting the same clubs today that you hit when you played.
JACK NICKLAUS: It is. And I’m not saying that they need to change it, but they need to figure out how to bring the average golfer and the professional golfer a little bit closer together, and how we can make the game ‑‑ in other words, the game of golf, PGA of America, they are going to go ‑‑ what they call golf courses in parks; go out and basically just cut some grass, put a flag in and go play in a park. I mean, that’s how they started the game. That’s where you started; in Scotland, they went out into one of the pastures or the links land, and where there was a hole from a rabbit or something, that’s what they used. Just get people involved and get people in the game.
We have a big problem. We have lost since 2006, 23 percent of the women and 36 percent of the kids, we have lost in the game of golf. If you’ve lost that many people, why? There’s got to be a reason. I think most of it is cost; time; it’s the computer age; and the difficulty.
And I say we are as much at fault of that because we are doing golf courses so they can play tournament golf. Well, if we didn’t have that issue, we wouldn’t have to do them so hard.
That’s hours, I’m sorry.

Q. If there were one thing about the game today that you would like to have had when you started, what would it be? 
JACK NICKLAUS: I think everybody loves the equipment of today, but it doesn’t work for what ‑‑ we found that it hurts.
The conditioning, the conditioning of golf courses is fantastic. The organization, such as a golf tournament, such as this, look at the facility that is being built at No. 5 for hospitality. I mean, look at the things that they have done here at Augusta National are unbelievable.
ARNOLD PALMER: Agree with that.
It’s my breakfast time (looking around the room).
GARY PLAYER: But nobody else in the world can do that. Nobody else in the world can do that. So you’re limiting it.
What we have got to do is do things to get more people to come into the game. That’s what we have got to be thinking about, getting more people to participate. The rounds are going down and down. You can buy golf courses for a dollar if you take over the debt.

Q. Mr. Palmer, you obviously hit the ceremonial first shot for a while by yourself and then with Jack for a few years, what did it mean to have the whole Big Three back together today? 
ARNOLD PALMER: I think it’s appropriate. I think it’s very appropriate, matter of fact. We have played golf all our lives together. And the press, you people, have made an issue of the Big Three, and we have kind of had a pretty good run here at Augusta.
So I think today was very appropriate for the starting of the Tournament, and I hope it continues for a while.
And I’m hungry. (Laughter).

Q. I had spoke with Mr. Palmer about this recently, but we are decades past you guys winning here, yet you’re still here as relevant and influential figures in the game of golf. Do you all feel a responsibility to be the ambassadors you’ve been for this long, and do you feel like today’s great players have that same responsibility to follow in your footsteps eventually? 
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I would hope so. I think this tournament kind of sets a pace for golf in America and in the world. And the fact that we are here and people that come back here each year set a precedent for the future, and I think these young people that are coming along will understand it if they see us do it. And I would hope that they would and I would hope that they would continue to endorse this golf tournament and what happens here beginning of each golf season.
JACK NICKLAUS: (Giving thumbs up). Well said. Same thing.
GARY PLAYER: I think that there should be, which I think is a vital ingredient in one’s life, a sense of gratitude and we must never forget where we came from and how we started, and what this tournament has done for us in our lives.
I think one of the great difficulties that we are encountering in the world today with young people is entitlement. There’s no such damn thing as entitlement. You have to work for what you get today. So therefore, I think all three of us hold this tournament in such high esteem, and the same as The Open Championship in England where the game started.
I can tell you, I’ll come here as long as I’m alive and I’ll go to The Open Championship as long as I’m alive because I’m so very thankful for my victories and for what the tournament does for the world. You’re going to have over a billion people watch this tournament.
JACK NICKLAUS: Both well answered.

Q. You talked about technology. At the tournament level, do you believe today’s technology makes it harder for a truly exceptional player to differentiate himself from a merely great player? 
JACK NICKLAUS: Not really. I think the exceptional player always separates himself. I think for the last ten, 12, 15 years, Tiger has separated himself pretty well with the same equipment.
It’s all ‑‑ no matter how good the equipment is, you’ve still got to get it in the hole. And the guy that gets it in the hole a little bit better usually ends up winning the golf tournament. That’s basically what it is.
GARY PLAYER: And you can talk about all of the equipment and you hear so much about long hitting, but there are lots of long hitters that are not winning golf tournaments.
And I can tell you one thing, the reason that Tiger Woods has been the best player in the world for X amount of years, because he’s the best putter.
JACK NICKLAUS: I don’t care what he tells you. He’s still the best putter. (Laughter).
CRAIG HEATLEY: Gentlemen, words can’t describe the thanks that we have; the respect that we hold you in here. I know that I speak for hundreds and hundreds of millions of people around the world, whose lives you have positively influenced. We love you, we thank you and appreciate you coming in this morning. (Applause).