The biggest rivals in Golf history: who is your favorite?

“What makes archrivals so great is when their personalities are so opposite. Palmer was just the most charismatic figure golf will ever see. No one walked that course like Palmer: no hat, no advertising, flicking the cigarettes. He wore his emotions on his tongue virtually every shot. Men loved him. Women loved him. Children loved him. And then Jack came, this little overweight, crew-cut guy with a great game. Suddenly there was a nemesis.”
Walter Iooss Jr. Sports Illustrated

Arnie or Jack who was your favorite?

I don’t know if there will ever be another rivalry like Jack and Arnie.  That was the golden age of golf, where men smoked, they swore, they had drinks in high ball glasses and didn’t cry.  There wasn’t talk of flying elbows, and to whom this person or that person was seeing or not seeing.  There was no huge sponsors to look out for, no coaches managers swing gurus personal assistants or entourages, no television to worry about catching every bad word or thrown club.  The golden age of golf was the tail end of Arnie’s career and the beginning of Jack’s reign at the top.  But the question remains did you root for Arnie or Jack?

I am and will forever be a Arnie’s Army recruit.  I know what your thinking I am far too young to claim any rank in that army, but I will always be an Arnie fan.  The man single handedly pulled golf from non existence into the spot light.  Arnie made golf cool, and people loved him for it.  Today’s golfers owe Mr. Palmer a debt of gratitude, for without Arnie’s antics on the golf course, the PGA Tour and golf as we know it today would not exist.  Nicknamed “The King,” he is one of golf’s most popular stars and its most important trailblazer, because he was the first superstar of the sport’s television age, which began in the 1950s.

So what about Jack Nickalus? He was very important to the game of golf, because he was ultimately our first super villain.  When Jack hit the scene he was a pudgy kid, with a hogan like personality (meaning he really didn’t have one), and he was knocking on the front door of golf’s spotlight.  Except no one wanted the spot light taken off of Mr. Palmer (especially Mr. Palmer).  Golf’s #1 star now had someone to pick on, to battle against, and eventually share the spot light with.  When you say that Jack Nickalus was a villain it almost seems unfair.  The golden bear is a gentleman and scholar, and everyone loves him, but the truth is we only loved the bear after Palmer’s reign was over.  The fan favorite for the 50’s and 60’s was always Palmer, but come the 70’s and early 80’s the fans switched over to the Jack bandwagon. But low and behold that was well after Arnie was in contention for major championships.

In the 60’s golf was all over TV, the introduction of the big sponsors were made, the professionals were making more money, and the two American’s of the big three were winning major championships left and right.  Between Jack and Arnie they won 13 major championships in the 1960’s.  Those were the first majors that Jack would win, and the last that Arnie would win.  Throw into the mix that those two accumulated 35 top tens besides their victories.  So when I say that golf biggest rivals were Arnie and Jack in the 60’s no one can deny that.  35 top tens plus 13 major championships, means the 60’s were the golden age of golf, and that Arnie’s and Jack’s dominance over the game was complete.

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The bottom line is that we love the Tiger and Phil rivalry, but Tiger and Phil have not dominated the game of golf like Arnie and Jack did in the 60’s.  Tiger may have dominated the game like half of the Arnie Jack duo, but he never had another golfer to step up and compete with him at every single major event like Arnie had Jack.  Move on to the future after the Tiger Woods Tyrant like dominance is over (post Thanksgiving of 08) and you have the Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald story.  They have traded the #1 spot in golf back and forth for the better part of last 6 months, but during that 6 months, neither of them have won a major.  Luke Donald is still looking for that major victory, and Rory (even though he holds the US Open scoring record and that is nothing to dismiss) has only one major victory.  We cannot compare a Arnie and Jack rivalry with really anyone of late, because golf has not seen the likes of those two golfing monsters since.

With the British Open in less than two weeks, all golfers of the world are remembering what its like to watch the worlds best battle against one another.  Today’s golfers are some of the most pristine athletes that the golfing world has ever known, but I do not believe that we will ever be fortunate enough to see the likes of a Arnie and Jack duo ever again.  I like to believe it is because there are so many great players in the mix today, that they will never just let two or three players shine the brightest.  The golfing public will have to rely on reruns of the US Open and the Masters to remember golf’s golden age, and be happy in the fact that we now get to see so many different players claim these very same victories, rather than be forced to decide who will win this tournament…Arnie or Jack?

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