AUGUSTA, Ga. – Arnold Palmer, a four-time Masters winner, played his last competitive round in the tournament in 2004. Still, he remains a focal point for players and Augusta National members this week, a great star who died in September at 87 while awaiting heart surgery, a great man who embraced the traditions of this unique major with joy and respect.
Here is what Jack Nicklaus said about Arnie on Tuesday afternoon, sharing just a few of the many stories he could tell about his long-time friend and rival.
“I don’t know how many people realize how much Arnold took me under his wing when I was 20, 22 years old,” said Nicklaus, whose first professional victory as an 18-hole playoff win over Palmer at the 1962 U.S. Open.
“In spite of having a gallery that wasn’t so good to me, I may have had to fight Arnold’s gallery but I n ever had to fight him. He was very kind to a young guy starting out. I appreciated it very much.”
Nicklaus said it was Palmer who taught him always to drop a note to tournament officials and sponsors as an expression of thanks, and Jack also spoke of the friendship that his wife Barbara had with Arnie’s first wife Winnie during their many travels together.
“Barbara said that she thought Winnie handled her life, Arnold’s life and their life better than anybody that she had ever seen,” Nicklaus said. “Winnie said, ‘Well, on Tuesday, if I got mad at Arnold, I would be afraid to say anything because I was afraid of ruining his game. And then when Sunday night rolled around and I could say something, I forgot what I was mad at him about.’ “
Masters chairman Billy Payne described Palmer as golf’s “preeminent hero” and announced that all visitors to Thursday’s opening round at the Masters will be handed a commemorative badge to wear in honor of the King.
The badge, with the official Masters logo in the middle, reads “I am a member of ‘Arnie’s Army.’
Palmer was in the Masters field 50 times. The only player with more Masters starts is Gary Player with 52.