No worries if you missed part 1
it is right here
MAJOR # 1
"Everybody says there's only one favorite, and that's me. But you better watch the fat boy," quipped Arnold Palmer to the press when they asked him who would win the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
Palmer's backhanded compliment might seem churlish to those unfamiliar with Nicklaus, but even his wife Barbara called him "fat boy" back then, which was a vast improvement over "Blobbo" which was what his Ohio State fraternity brothers called the big boned blonde kid with the crew cut who could have easily played fullback for the Buckeyes. Remember this was a decade before he'd stop popping shrimp cocktails like candy, lose the paunch, and let his golden locks grow long.
Now lets return to the tournament. Deadlocked at one under par after four rounds in Oakmont, Nicklaus proved the King's little shoutout to be right on the money, as Fat Jack went on to out-duel Palmer by three strokes in the deciding 18-hole playoff.
"Now that the big guy's out of the cage, everybody better run for cover," relented Arnold Palmer when it was over, tipping his hat to the 22-year old rookie ten years his junior.
This was Jack William Nicklaus' first victory as a professional golfer, and achieving the milestone in Palmer's home State of Pennsylvania in front of a gallery of golf fans almost uniformly enlisted in Arnie's Army made the accomplishment even more of a watershed moment. Palmer"s conciliatory quip proved to be quite a prescient prediction, it also began the golfing titans 50 year rivalry which continues to this day.
But golf fans didn't immediately embrace the upstart. Unlike Palmer, a down-to-earth magnetic character who was fully aware that he was in the sports entertainment business, Nicklaus was often too keyed into the golf to realize that his was a television sport. And while Palmer was always acknowledging and connecting with his gallery of fans while blasting off shots with joyful abandon, Nicklaus came off more aloof.
Nicklaus wasn't much of an extrovert and when he emerged on the scene he had what we'd characterize today as an "image problem." He seemed to walk the fairways with tunnel vision. Not only did he tune out everything around him but his powers of concentration were so jacked up before each swing that it was as if he was plotting a multivariable regression line to the hole and using an internal anemometer to factor in wind speed.
So, who would you rather play a round with in the early sixties? Someone like Palmer who marched to his balls and stroked his clubs with the vim of a lumberjack wailing away at a giant oak trunk, or with Nicklaus, a master technician who had shot making down to a science and often wore the equation mulling expression of a professor of algebraic topology while hovering over his lie.
Part 3 and 4 will be posted in the next couple days
This Story First Ran in the June 2008 issue of the Bay Street Bull
Copyright © Mike Dojc, 2008