Jack Nicklaus delivers speech at memorial service honoring long-time friend and rival, Arnold Palmer

Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer memorialThere have been a few times in my life where standing behind a podium just felt a little different—a bit more meaningful, more memorable, and because of that, perhaps more difficult, both in my head and my heart.

One of those moments came four years ago last month, when I was honored and humbled to be asked to speak on behalf of Arnold Palmer, as he was receiving the Congressional Gold Medal. It was a day to celebrate everything Arnold has meant to golf and our country.

The other opportunity is today—an occasion when I am again honored and humbled to help you celebrate everything Arnold has meant to golf and our country, but also to our hearts, and, most difficult for me, to celebrate what he has meant to my life.

In many ways, the easiest and most difficult speeches are when you are talking about something that means so much to you. Arnold Palmer meant the world to you, the game of golf, his countless fans, and my wife, Barbara, and me.

Because of that, this is not one of those easy speeches. So if you don’t mind, I might have to read a little. And if you will forgive me, I would like to borrow a little from September 2012, when I stood before Congress to thank them for honoring my rival, my friend, Arnold Palmer.

Before I do, I must mention one thing about that day. As you might expect, it was a parade of politicians who spoke—with “whereas” this and “whereas” that. Some beautiful, wonderful things were said about Arnold. But I noticed that the entire time, Arnold was rather stoic and showed little emotion. So I started to wonder about something. Most or all of you know that Arnold was a little hard of hearing. So, after the ceremony, when I got in an elevator with Arnold, I said, “Hey, AP. Tell me something. How much of that ceremony did you hear?” Arnold held his fingers to indicate “Zero.

So I started laughing and said, “Well, you might want to get a video of it, because some really nice things were said about you.”

When I spoke that day, I kidded that when you get to be our age, you meet a lot of people who begin conversations with, “I remember when.” It’s not uncommon for a new friend to walk up and say, “I remember when I saw you at the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont. I was standing behind the 17th green. I was wearing a yellow shirt. You waved and winked at me. Remember?”

Of course, there is only one proper response: “How could I ever forget?”

As I said then and I repeat with a heavy heart today, in the parts of seven decades I knew Arnold Palmer, there were countless—and sometimes comical—“I remember whens” and, most important, even more cherished moments I will never forget.

They were and will remain moments that provide us a glimpse into the golfer who epitomized charisma; the man whose character, loyalties and loves were unshakable; and the caring, giving gentleman we celebrate today.

He was an everyday man; everyone’s hero. Arnold managed to remove the “I” from icon, and instead let the world share in his greatness.

Over the last week or so, I have shared so many stories with people about my dear friend, Arnold Palmer. At least to me, they are stories that illustrate the Arnold Palmer I will never forget, and I hope you never forget.

I remember when I first saw Arnold Palmer hit a golf ball.

I just was 14 years old and it was Sylvania Country Club in Toledo during the Ohio State Amateur. After a Tuesday practice round I played in a driving rainstorm, I was the only person on the golf course. I passed the practice range and I saw only one person hitting golf balls. He looked like Popeye, and was hitting these short irons like lasers. I probably stood for 30 minutes, witnessing him hit these irons and listening as the ball came off the face low and long, with an unmistakable sound. He had wide shoulders, large hands and thick, muscular forearms. He didn’t know me and I didn’t know him. I walked into the clubhouse and said, “Who is that guy out there hitting golf balls in the rain?” And they said, “That’s our defending champion, Arnold Palmer.”

That is the Arnold Palmer I will never forget.

I remember when, four years later at age 18, I played with Arnold for the very first time.

It was Dow Finsterwald Day. Dow had just won the PGA Championship, and to celebrate his victory, they held a four-man exhibition at Athens Country Club in Southeastern Ohio. We had a driving contest off the first tee, a 330-yard par 4. I believe Arnold drove the green, and I managed to drive it over the green and won. I shot 68 that day, but, of course, Arnold went on to make eight birdies and an eagle for a course-record 62.

For years, I pointed out to Arnold that I out-drove him. And he quickly reminded me that he won the day!

So, if you ever wanted to know the genesis of our friendly rivalry, it was when I was just 18 years old.

The date? September 25, 1958. And the competitiveness between us never ended until—be it ironic, fitting or something spiritual to me—that very day exactly 58 years later.

But with the passion that came with Arnold’s golf and our competition, I quickly saw the compassion that would always underlie it.

I remember when we played in a PGA Tour event together for the first time. It was early in 1962, when I was a 22-year-old rookie. I played the final round of the Phoenix Open with Arnold. As we walked off the 17th green, he put his arm on my shoulder. I knew I needed birdie to finish second. By the way, Arnold only nipped me by 12 shots that week. Arnold said, “Just relax, it’s not a hard par 5. You’re in good shape. Just play smart and you’ll finish second.” He didn’t have to do that. He was Arnold Palmer! Yet here was Arnold, trying to help a young guy while winning a tournament.

That is the Arnold Palmer I will never forget.

I remember when I won my first professional tournament and my first major at the 1962 US Open.

I was a 22-year-old with blinders on, having no clue that I was not only battling the great Arnold Palmer but doing so in his Pennsylvania backyard at Oakmont. Yet I remember when we were about to tee off in an 18-hole playoff, Arnold walked up to me and offered to split the gate with me. True, it was only $1,400, but in those days and to me, you might say it was a “King’s Ransom.” [wink to crowd]

Here I was, a winless rookie, with a 9-month-old baby, about to play in the most important playoff in my young career, and Arnold Palmer was thinking of me…. By the way, I turned down his kind offer and eventually pocketed the entire gate.

But still, that is the Arnold Palmer I will never forget.

Mark McCormack managed Arnold and me, as well as our dear friend Gary Player, and because of that he put us together in matches and Big Three exhibitions all over the world. We played together; we traveled together; we laughed a lot together. Our wives became the absolutely closest of friends, as did we.

I have said a lot this week that Arnold had two loves: Golf and flying. Russ did a beautiful job capturing Arnold’s passion for planes and flying.

In some ways, Arnold approached his golf much like his flying. He was passionate; loved to go fast; and he had a fearlessness about him.

In the 1960s, Arnold and I were flying to Seagraves, a little town in West Texas, to play an exhibition. It was one of those windswept days West Texas is known for, and his Aero Commander bounced all over the sky. To me, it felt like we were a paper plane in a tornado. I’m holding on for dear life like it’s a roller-coaster coming off the tracks. I look over at Arnold and he is laughing like he’s in the front seat of that roller-coaster, enjoying every moment.

And with his other love—golf—I am still not sure who needed the other most. So let’s just call it a love affair to last a lifetime.

The game gave so much to Arnold Palmer, but he gave back so much more.

Arnold came along when golf needed him most. When TV first embraced the sport of golf, they had a swashbuckling hero in Arnold as the game’s face.

Just like the young man I watched that day in 1954—muscles taut, piercing raindrops with every shot—Arnold Palmer was the everyday man’s hero. He embodied the hard-working strength of America. With his shirt often hanging out and a hitch of his pants, Arnold played a game we could all appreciate.

He made the recovery shot a form of art. And people adored it.

At times, he played like no one else before or after him.

And at times, he played like everyone else who has ever gripped a club. And that endeared him to all—watching outside the ropes or from their living room.

He appealed to everyone. When he slipped on a Green Jacket, you might say he was comfortable wearing a blue collar or white collar beneath it.

He had a swagger long before it was cool. But his charisma came with a softness, a smile, a wink, and that trademark thumbs up.

We competed in everything from majors, to endorsements, to golf course design, to a game of Bridge at 40,000 feet. You name it, we likely competed for it. But I promise you, if there was ever a problem, I knew Arnold had my back and he knew I had his.

I have said it before, and I can’t emphasize it enough today, I may have had to battle Arnie’s Army early on, but I never had to battle Arnold Palmer.

Today, I am a proud soldier in Arnie’s Army!… See, I’m even wearing an umbrella.

He was the king of our sport and always will be.

Like the great Vin Scully said when he called his last game Sunday night for the Dodgers, “Don’t be sad that it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Today, I hurt, just like you hurt. You don’t lose a friend of almost 60 years and not feel enormous loss.

But my wife often says that memories are the cushions of life.

Each of you sitting here today or perhaps sitting at home has at least one wonderful memory of Arnold Palmer to balance out your hurting heart. So today and many years from now, I simply ask you to just “remember when.” To his dear wife, Kit; his adored daughters Peg and Amy and their families; Kit’s children; his friends and his millions of fans—remember when Arnold Palmer touched your life and touched your heart. And please don’t ever forget why.

How could I ever forget?