‘Arnie and Jack’ on Golf Channel

The Golden Bear remembers his friend Arnold Palmer in an interview for Golf Channel.

Jack Nicklaus, Arnold PalmerGolf Channel: With us on the telephone now is Arnold’s dear friend, Jack Nicklaus. Jack, how are you holding up?

Jack Nicklaus: Oh, we’re doing fine… I was pretty shocked yesterday when I heard it, that was last night at about 8:45 p.m., and I just sort of stayed low for the night. You know, not ready to talk to somebody.

Golf Channel: When was the last time you saw and spoke to Arnold?

Jack Nicklaus: I talked to him on his birthday. I always call him on his birthday and I caught him, like I said, about two weeks ago. And he sounded great. I even heard he was out hitting some golf balls. You know, at Masters Week, Arnold didn’t look very good and he didn’t look like he was enjoying what he was doing. Everybody told me he was making a great comeback, and when I talked to him, he sounded better than I’d heard him sound in a long time. That was just two weeks ago.

Golf Channel: What did you love about Arnold?

Jack Nicklaus: Well, Arnold has always been my friend. When I first started on TOUR, Arnold took me under his wing. He took me around the country in his airplane. We played exhibition matches together. We went to Las Vegas, he said, “We’re playing tournaments here. You gotta learn how to shoot craps.” It cost him about $3,000 to teach me—I remember that. In those days, $3,000 was a lot of money. That was 1963. You know, I always said, I may have had to fight Arnold’s Army, but I never had to fight Arnold. Arnold was always my friend. He always had my back. I always had his back. He was a good guy. He did so much for so many that I’m just happy I was one of them.

Golf Channel: Jack, there’s a question I’ve always wanted to ask you about Arnold. He obviously had a tremendous passion for golf, but he didn’t have a lot of hobbies—unlike you. I’m wondering if you ever actually asked Arnold to go fishing with you and what his reaction might have been to that.

Jack Nicklaus: Well, I would say about probably a couple hundred times. I’d say, “AP, come on. Let’s go fishing. Come on and go do it. You’re going to enjoy it.” He’d say, “I enjoy trout fishing.” I’d say, “Well, fine. Let’s go!” We never got to that. Then, I’d say, “Why don’t you and Kit come with Barbara and me. We’ll go bonefishing.” He’d say, “We’re gonna do that!” Of course, he never did.

All he wanted to do was play golf. His whole life centered around the game of golf and an airplane. He loved to fly. So, the combination of those two took up his time. He just didn’t have a lot of other things that he did.

And, I think that when his grandsons come along and they started playing golf, particularly Sam, it not only gave him another interest but it also gave him some focus on something other than just himself playing golf. He and I talked about Sam a lot and how he felt like Sam could have a really good chance of being a really good player. And, I still think Sam is a good player. Arnold was very proud of his grandkids. He had a lot of great-grandkids now. I don’t have any of those yet.

But he didn’t have a lot of other hobbies. It was golf. He’d get home and once he couldn’t play golf, it just killed him.

Golf Channel: Could you take us back to the early 1960s and 70s and give us a feel for what it was like competing against Arnold in golf, and give us some context about the rivalry that you seemed to say was overblown as it relates to him versus his “army.”

Jack Nicklaus: Well, when we first started, and I go back to 1962 at Phoenix—that’s the first time we played competitively together. It was the last round. Arnold was going to win the golf tournament. He won by 12 shots. I finished second. We walked off the 17th green and he put his arm around my shoulder. And he said, “You know, you can finish second here. Just be patient. Play this last hole smart. You can make birdie, and you can finish second,” which I did. And you know, he didn’t have to do that. So, he sort of took me under his wing.

Then, we got to the U.S. Open and I beat him in the playoff there. That really just sort of started the “rivalry.” All of a sudden, I became a threat to him. So, we kept playing. And it seemed like the two of us seemed to play each other rather than the tournament. And, I know there’s a lot of times we’d go into the tournament and be in the lead and we’d go out and both shoot 73, or 74, or 75, and all of a sudden, we’d get down to the end of the round. We’d shake hands, and we’d say, “What did we do today?” I’d say, “We were out here trying to beat each other. We really didn’t care about what the rest of the field was.” And I think that happened too often–but it was fun.

We both enjoyed trying to compete against each other. We both tried to beat each other’s brains out. But, that’s what we did. And as we got older, when we stopped playing a lot of competitive golf, whether it was for endorsements or golf course design or whatever it might be, we competed, but we always competed friendly.

We always would spend time together doing different things. I don’t know how many times that Arnold and I played bridge with Barbara and Winnie across the Atlantic going to the British Open or coming back. We just spent a lot of time doing a lot of different things, and we had a lot of special times together.

Golf Channel: Jack, that picture of you with the wig on, with Arnold, where was that, and what was it all about?

Jack Nicklaus: I don’t remember what year it was, but it was Palm Springs. After the Palm Springs tournament, there was a jam session every night. All of the celebrities would come in, and the musicians would sing and play music. I remember that both Arnold and I had gone to the bathroom. When I came back, I happened to brush by a lady that had a wig on and knocked it off her head as she was sitting at the piano. Arnold picked it up and put it on my head and took me out to the dance floor to dance. I switched it around and put it on his head, and I led the other way. We had a good laugh about it, but the poor lady was mortified, obviously. We had a lot of fun like that. That was a great picture.

Golf Channel: Jack, as you were arriving on the scene, Arnold was at the height of his power— 29 wins between 1960 and 1963 with the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, the two Masters, and the two Open Championships. How would you describe his golf game from the ball striking, to the swing, to his putting?

Jack Nicklaus: Well, I think Arnold was a better ball striker later in his career. He was not a great driver in the years he was winning. He was a very good iron player and an unbelievable putter. You know, he had the belief that he could just will the ball into the hole, and he did a lot. I mean that’s for sure. That’s the big thing about putting—having a great mindset and being able to will the ball into the hole and Arnold did that.

As he went on, he became probably as straight and as good a driver as there was in the game of golf. But, I think when he became a good driver, he lost a bit of his putting. You keep hitting putts four feet by the hole, and pretty soon you’re gonna start missing some of those. He started missing some of those and that’s sort of drags you down from a score standpoint.

But Arnold’s game is a lot like mine. We both drove the ball long; We both were pretty good iron players; Neither one of us were great around the green, but we both could putt. I just thought Arnold carried an air of confidence—an air that he felt like he could beat anybody. And, I think when I came along, all of a sudden I beat him a few times and we had a competition and a rivalry. I think it was a good thing for both of us; it was healthy for both of us; and I think both of us really enjoyed it.

Golf Channel: He put the [Green] Jacket on you in 1963. You put the Jacket back on his shoulders in 1964. We’re all a little reflective right now Jack, but thinking about it with you two steering the ship, it has been a hell of a half-century in this sport.

Jack Nicklaus: It’s been great. When I heard the news last night, I was just crushed. It sort of felt like part of my life went with it—which it did. He was such a good competitor, a good friend, and he was so great for the game of golf. He did so much for all of us as it relates to promoting and furthering the game. And he did so much for my career as far as being my friend and helping me.

Golf Channel: Jack, anything else you want to add this morning and say to his legion of fans and yours as well on this morning?

Jack Nicklaus: Well, I think that we just lost the king. In my opinion, he’ll always be the king. He was a guy who gave of himself to so many people. He had a personality that I think he’d rather have gone to a cocktail party with a hundred strangers than out to dinner with two friends. He just liked to give himself to the public and his fans. That was Arnold. That was his personality. I don’t think he ever met a stranger and that was great.

He was a good guy, and he cared about what he did. He cared about life; He cared about the game of golf; He cared about people; He cared about the future of the game. He saw a lot of the young kids coming into the game today and, I guess we’re a bunch of old fogies, but we had certain standards about dress codes, cleanliness, hair, and all that kind of stuff. Sure, we had long hair at times, but he always felt like, “Why do they dress that way? Why do they look like that?” And I’d say, “AP, you and I are getting a little too old. The generations are passing us by and what they do today is different than what we did. So, I guess we just accept it and move on.” And he was a stickler for tradition. He was a stickler for the history of the game and doing things right.

He lived his life well and he will be remembered for doing that. He was a good guy.

Golf Channel: For so long, it’s been “Jack and Arnie,” “Arnie and Jack,” “Nicklaus and Palmer.” It will be for all times, Jack. We’re thinking about you this morning. Thank you for calling in and sharing your thoughts.

Jack Nicklaus: Okay, guys. Nice talking to you. We’ve been watching a little bit of what you’ve been doing and it’s really nice the tribute that you’re playing. You could be doing this for a long time, because there’s a lot to do.

Golf Channel: Give our best to Barbara.

Jack Nicklaus: Sure will. Thanks.

Click here for the video: “Arnold has always been my friend.