It was at the 1960 US Open when Jack Nicklaus, a 20-year-old amateur, first showed the world his talent. He finished second at that tournament, trailing only to the more senior Arnold Palmer, who had miraculously recovered from a seven-shot deficit on the final day. Being an amateur, Nicklaus didn’t receive any prize money for his second-place finish.
Just two years later, though, and the tables were turned. It was Palmer [above, middle left, during the deciding 18-hole play-off] who came second as Nicklaus [middle right] took the US Open title, his first major. And now a professional, he got the prize money, too.
This win marked the start of one of golf’s most prominent rivalries. The pair fought it out for so many majors that it was hard for any other golfer to reach their level. A little like the dominance that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal enjoyed for a while in tennis, with 25 majors between Palmer and Nicklaus, it was fate that they were placed inthe same era.
The sport wouldn’t be the same today without the magnetic pull of Palmer. He was the first golfer to reach $1m in match earnings and also boasted a select group of fans who dubbed themselves Arnie’s Army. Not to mention his seven major victories.
Despite this, his feats were ultimately overshadowed by Nicklaus, who developed a habit of picking up big trophies. He won 18 majors in all, the majority of which came in the Sixties and early Seventies.
Summing up the type of player he was, Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters for a record sixth time. That was 23 years after he won it the first time. That’s desire.
I like to think that I know a bit about fashion, so I’ve always admired how each player looked the part. Spurred by the fact that their games were so close, they must have had a few sartorial contests between one another. They were showmen, after all, and as part of the Sixties jet-set fabric, really helped the sport grow globally.
As competitive as they were on the course, they all liked a few drinks off it — often together. Who knows how the pair would have got on today, though — what with the media coverage given to us by camera phones and Twitter, where opinions are more accessible and easily spun into something that they’re not.
I also wonder how they’d handle playing in this era. Their game was a purer, rawer format, which involved taking a few more shots, but given their drive for perfection, I’m sure they wouldn’t have a problem adapting.
Ian Poulter’s fashion range IJP Design can be found at Ijpdesign.com