Jack Nicklaus Talks About the Moment That Sparked a Rivalry Between Him and Arnold Palmer

Published 12/25/2021, 8:30 AM EST
WOODLANDS, TX – MAY 04: Jack Nicklaus (L) and Arnold Palmer walk to the third green during the Greats of Golf exhibition at the Insperity Championship at the Woodlands Country Club on May 4, 2013 in Woodlands, Texas. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)


One cannot look back at golf history without mentioning the big three of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player. All of them have contributed to the golf world in various ways, helping popularize the game before Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson took over. While they did help make golf what it is today, Nicklaus and Gary Player were also rivals.

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When two players are the some of biggest PGA Tour legends, one can expect an iconic rivalry. Not only does it keep the player on their toes, but it also brings along a huge amount of entertainment for fans. Nicklaus and Palmer are probably golf’s most widely recognized rivals.

The two did go on to become friends, often appearing on the course together during events.

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Jack Nicklaus on how his rivalry with Arnold Palmer began

At an event, the 18-time major winner spoke of Palmer, looking back their rivalry fondly. As per Nicklaus, it was a driving contest that started it all. “I was 18. We had a driving contest and Arnold drove it on the green and I drove it 40 yards over the green,” he said. “But I shot 63 and he shot 67. So that was sort of the start of our rivalry”. 

The driving contest was apparently the Generational Salute Tournament. 

BRISTOL, VA – JUNE 8: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player at The Big Three fund-raiser for the Mountain Mission Kids (expected to be the biggest one-day charitable event in golf history) at the Olde Farm Golf Club on June 8, 2010 in Bristol, Virginia. (Photo by Chris Condon/PGA TOUR) Credit: Getty Images

Of course, their rivalry continued throughout their careers, which were as illustrious as one would imagine. Nicklaus won 73 PGA Tour titles and 18 majors, while Palmer bagged 62 titles, which include his seven major wins. They won at Augusta National while their rivalry soared, earning their game the attention and praise it deserved.

Were the two icons friends?

As retirement settled, one could confirm that the two were indeed friends. While their rivalry existed on and off the court, they did grow to like each other. As per Ian O’Connor in the book ‘Arnie & Jack’, Palmer wanted Nicklaus’ wins, and Nicklaus wanted the fans’ love that Palmer did.

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“Did Arnie and I agree on everything? No, we had some differences,” Nicklaus said. “But I will promise that if I ever had a problem, Arnold Palmer has always been there for me and vice versa”. 

Additionally, their wives and families were familiar with each other, never giving their rivalry any real bite.

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In the end, while their rivalry might have started it all, their friendship is what continues to stay back with everyone.

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Devika

537 articles

Devika Pawar is a Golf and NBA writer at Essentially Sports. A psychology graduate from KJ Somaiya, Devika has an experience with sportswriting at Republic World for around two years now. She loves NBA a little too much, and is a dedicated Golden State Warriors fan.

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