In an era dominated by Tiger Woods and a field of also-rans, it’s nice to recall a time when real, honest-to-goodness rivalries existed in golf.
And none of those rivalries came close to rivaling the one between Arnold Daniel Palmer and Jack William Nicklaus.
Ian O’Connor, columnist with the Bergen Record, chronicles the rivalry that put professional golf on the American map in “Arnie & Jack: Palmer, Nicklaus and Golf’s Greatest Rivalry.”
Statistically, Nicklaus was the master (no pun intended) — quite possibly the greatest golfer ever, at least until Tiger came along. Jack won 18 majors, Arnie won 7. Jack had 73 PGA wins, Arnie 62,
“Jack was Arnie’s kryptonite,” writes O’Connor, “and the feeling of weakness and inferiority that swept over Palmer in Nicklaus’ presence wasn’t one that sat well with the golfer cut out of the western Pennsylvania hillside.”
And yet, no matter how many times Jack won or how many majors he dominated, Arnie owned one thing that Jack wanted above all else — the collective heart of the golfing public.
The King And The Bear
In many ways, Arnie and Jack were like older brother/younger brother, the King and the Bear, competitors on the golf course and in the boardroom.
It all began in an exhibition match at the Athens Country Club in Ohio in 1958, the 29-year-old Palmer, fresh from a win at the Masters, and the 18-year-old Nicklaus, headed for Ohio State. Palmer won that day, but it was Nicklaus who impressed onlookers with his booming drives.
“Arnie & Jack” covers many of the heralded clashes between Palmer and Nicklaus, like the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills in Colorado. Palmer was a full-blown TV sports star in the early 60s, rivaling Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Johnny Unitas. He turned up everywhere from the Perry Como Show to advertisements for L&M cigarettes.
Palmer, with Arnie’s Army in tow, trailed Nicklaus and the immortal Ben Hogan by seven shots with just 18 to play — and came back to win the Open. with a 280. Nicklaus’ total of 282 was the best amateur score in U.S. Open history.
Two years later, at the 1962 Open at Oakmont Pa. a mere.40 miles from Palmer’s Latrobe, Pa. home, the crowd mocked Jack’s weight calling him “Fat Gut” and “Fat Jack” and “Ohio Fats.” Nicklaus shut out the distractions, silenced the crowd and beat Palmer in a playoff.
Nicklaus always believed he was the better player…and history would bear out the Bear. But he never really felt the love of the golfing public until the 1986 Masters, when he finally earned the full adulation of the golfing public.
The 1986 Masters
“A great piece of Americana, forty-six years old, coming in with the lead,” is how columnist Edwin Pope described the Masters finish in the Miami Herald. “People were pathetically exuberant, There was a huge amount of people crying, and they weren’t ashamed of themselves for crying. They were just so happy to see this happen, for Jack to end up like Arnold at Augusta. I think Jack felt as good about that part of it as he did about being in the lead.”
O’Connor’s book humanizes the friendship between Arnie and Jack, a friendship strengthened through their wives, Winnie and Barbara.
When Winnie died of cancer in 1999, the Nicklaus family was watching their 30-year-old son Gary attempt to earn his PGA tour card after eight failed attempts. Palmer tried to convince Jack that he should stay with his son, but Jack came to the funeral. After the service, Jack was getting updates on his cell phone. Arnold asked how Gary was doing.
“He’s got a couple of holes to play,” said Jack
“Well, come on, let’s turn on TV,” said Arnie.
“You don’t have to do that,” said Jack.
“I would want to,” Palmer replied.
Gary shot 63 in his sixth and final round.and earned his tour card.
Overcome by joy and sadness, the two old rivals fell into each other’s arms and cried.
In “Arnie & Jack,” O’Connor brings those glory days and memories, both happy and sad, back to life.
After winning four World Series in five years between 1996 to 2000, the Yankees and their fans expect to win the Series every year.
After reading “The Yankee Years” by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci, it’s a wonder they even made the playoffs with some of the flawed teams they’ve fielded since 2002..
Joe Torre’s reign in the Bronx is easily pared into two distinct eras — the first six years, where the Yankees won four World Series and lost the seventh game of another, and the second six years, where in spite of making the playoffs every year, the team won a single American League pennant and no championships.
In those first six years, Torre went from being “Clueless Joe” to one of the most popular managers in New York history. Until he came to the Yankees, Torre had never been to a World Series as a player or a manager. His first Yankee team won the World Series in 1996, breaking an 18-year drought for the Bombers. He then won three World Series in a row from 1998 through 2000, before losing a heartbreaker to Arizona in 2001.
Those Yankee teams had talent for sure, but they weren’t overloaded with superstars. Like Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, David Cone and others, Paul O’Neill epitomized the grit and will to win of those championship squads.
‘Passion for Success’
“He wanted to get his hits, but his hits were important to him because of the success of the team.” is how Torre described O’Neill in “The Yankee Years. ” There are a lot of guys who want a hit every at-bat, but this guy, it was more about not letting the other 24 guys down. If he didn’t do enough to help the team win the game, he felt like he let everyone down. And I think people fed off that, that his passion for success and how that translated to the team’s success was what was important to him.”
As the Yankees entered the second six years, the back nine of the Torre era, things suddenly changed. The Yankees stopped winning the big games. They dropped a World Series to an overmatched Florida team in 2003, then blew a 3-0 lead to the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS. In Torre’s last three years, the Yanks had to battle to make the playoffs — and each year lost in the first round.
In 2004, the Yankees signed Alex Rodriguez to the biggest contract in baseball history. The attitude of the team changed beyond the band-of-brothers mentality of the championship clubs. Roles were reversed. The Yankees under Torre would never be the same.
“When Alex came over it became strained in the clubhouse,” said Torre in “The Yankee Years.” “I can’t tell your for sure who you can put a finger on there, or if it was just one of those things that was pretty much unavoidable with the strong personalities.”
Failing in the Clutch
Most alarming of all was A-Rod’s lack of production in the clutch, and in the post-season in particular.
“When it comes to a key situation,” said Torre, “he can’t get himself to concern himself with getting the job done, instead of how it looks…..There’s a sort of trust, a trust and commitment thing that has to allow yourself to fail. Allow yourself to be embarrassed. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. And sometimes players aren’t willing to do that. They have a reputation to uphold. They have to have answer for it. It’s an ego thing.”
Even though he’s the lightning rod, it’s unfair to pin all the blame on Rodriguez. There’s also the issue of front office judgement, of over-paying for pitchers who didn’t get the job done in pinstripes.
Beginning in 2003, the Yankees brought in 12 pitchers from outside the organization….none of who pitched three straight years with the Yankees. The dirty dozen — Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, Jaret Wright, Jeff Weaver, Steve Karsay, Esteban Loaiza, Kyle Farnsworth, Jose Contreras, Javier Vazquez, Kei Igawa, Carl Pavano, Roger Clemens (the older version) — combined for a 125-105 record, 3-7 in the post-season. The cost per win was $2.04 million if you do the math. That pretty much sums it up.
Whether you love the Yankees or hate ’em, “The Yankee Years” is a must read for all baseball fans