April 10, 2008


Arnie, Jack and Hank S. … with Ian O’Connor (Joe Posnanski, April 10th, 2008)

Today, to kick off the best golf tournament in the world, here’s another our patented long, rambling interviews — this one with my friend Ian O’Connor, terrific columnist at the Bergen Record and Fox Sports, lifelong Yankees fan, creator of the nickname “Davis Love the Nerd,” guy who predicted that the New York Knicks would make the playoffs this year and lover of Chicken Parmigiana no matter where we happen to be. Ian is also the author of the fabulous book “Arnie & Jack: Palmer, Nicklaus and Golf’s Greatest Rivarly,” which is selling like mad and will soon make Ian famous enough that he will never have to talk to me again. He might be there already.

The book is terrific for a lot of reasons, but the thing I might like best about it is that Ian gets inside the raw feelings between two proud men and two great athletes. This is an extremely hard thing to do. Nicklaus and Palmer are both nice guys, media friendly, unwilling to publicly say anything bad about each other or much of anything else. But there is a real depth of feeling between the two; it’s not hate, and it’s not love, and it’s not anger, and it’s not jealousy, and it’s not competitive rage. It’s ALL those things. Nicklaus has never been able to quite let go of the way Palmer fans taunted and tormented him; Palmer has never been able to quite let go of the simple truth that NIcklaus was better. I think it’s the most fascinating rivalry in American sports history. Lots of people have written about it on the surface. Ian gets inside. [...]

All right, we begin with the question where everyone starts: How did you come up with this idea? And I think in this case, you’re such a good reporter, the question here is not so much about how you came up with writing a book about Arnie and Jack but more what made you think there was something new to say about those two guys?

Seven years ago, fourteenth green, second round, I witnessed an Arnie-and-Jack scene that really stayed with me. I was walking with the Golden Oldie threesome, Gary Player included, and I knew Jack was hot that Masters officials had grouped him with Arnie and Player for a second straight year, especially after he nearly won the damn thing in ‘98, at age 58, on one good hip. I mean, Jack had outscored Tiger in ‘98, the year after Tiger blew away the field for the first time, and he was thrown out there as a ceremonial player.

Anyway, at 14, Arnie putts out and walks toward a group of fans I happened to be standing with. He plops down in one of their chairs, and says something to make them laugh. Nicklaus hears the commotion and has to back away from his putt. He’s still grinding, still trying to make the cut, and so he shoots an incredulous look at Arnie, then looks at his son and caddie, Jackie, then looks back at Arnie, who tips his cap. The gallery laughed. Jack didn’t tip his cap. Jack didn’t laugh. He just kind of shook his head in disgust and went back to his putt. I thought that small moment spoke to some big picture things between them, and Jack later admitted that he was indeed ticked off at Arnie. That scene really illustrated their differences in style and approach, and probably was the first seed planted for this book.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 10, 2008 6:55 PM

Nicklaus was the better golfer but Palmer made golf. If Nicklaus had come first, no one would remember his name.

Posted by: Bob at April 10, 2008 7:50 PM