The power of three: How Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus revolutionized golf

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By Ben Morse, Sean Coppack and Shane O'Donoghue, CNN

Updated 0759 GMT (1559 HKT) August 25, 2021

(CNN)They were golf's set of brothers. "The Golden Bear," "The King" and "The Black Knight" shared 34 major wins betwixt them and irrevocably changed the sport they played.

Through a operation of Arnold Palmer's "swashbuckling" benignant of play, Gary Player's sheer willpower and Jack Nicklaus' utter brilliance, this triumvirate of play greats catapulted the crippled into the modern era.

If the trio came to redefine however play was played betwixt the precocious 1950s and the aboriginal 1980s, unusually for sporting rivals, they besides formed lasting relationships on the mode -- truthful overmuch truthful that the wives of Nicklaus and Palmer were champion friends too.

"We were a large 3 successful friendship, similar brothers," the 85-year-old Player told CNN's Living Golf. "We traveled to China, we'd question to South Africa, each implicit Europe.

"We went each implicit the world, Australia, everyplace together. And we fundamentally lived together, playing a batch of tv matches and exhibitions together."

Player remembers having a confrontation with Palmer connected 1 of his courses, but the "affection" they had for each different made it easier to reconcile.

"We went successful and we had luncheon unneurotic and I tin vividly remember, we were some crying due to the fact that I deliberation we had specified affection for each different that we didn't privation it to person an effect connected our friendship. And truthful we laughed unneurotic arsenic good arsenic crying together."

'That man's going to beryllium a champion'

Palmer was the archetypal of the trio to attain play superstar status. Even the large Nicklaus, the antheral who has won the astir majors successful a nonrecreational play career, admitted that helium was portion of "Arnie's army" during his aboriginal years.

Nicklaus remembers putting a driving session connected successful Athens, Ohio arsenic an 18-year-old with Palmer and outdriving his rival by 40 yards.

Nicklaus remembers saying to Palmer: "I conscionable knocked it by you 40 yards." Palmer replied: "Yeah, but I changeable 63 and you changeable 67."

South African Player recalls seeing Palmer hitting balls connected a signifier tee successful 1957 and thinking: "Well, that man's going to beryllium a champion."

Player's prediction was prescient. A twelvemonth aboriginal Palmer won his archetypal large title, claiming the celebrated Green Jacket arsenic a 28-year-old. He was to don the Masters' Green Jacket 3 much times, arsenic good arsenic winning the US Open successful 1960 and the Open Championship twice.

Assisted by his cause Mark McCormack -- who would yet correspond some Nicklaus and Player -- Palmer became a planetary superstar, traveling astir the satellite to showcase his skills with his clubs and aided by the charisma helium "oozed," according to the South African play legend.

Palmer smiles during the presumption    ceremonial  astatine  the 1958 Masters tournament.

His passionateness for the crippled was prodigious, according to Player.

"Even arsenic helium got older, helium truly couldn't interruption 90, but helium inactive wanted to spell retired determination and play with the members and with people," Player said.

Palmer's emergence to prominence was accompanied by the advent of wide tv crossed the US allowing radical crossed the state to ticker him triumph his maiden majors.

"They loved the communal antheral who roseate to the apical and slew each the dragons," Nicklaus explained.

But it was Palmer's benignant of play connected the people which truly made him specified a likeable subordinate to spectators. The 18-time large victor Nicklaus calls him a "Robin Hood" of sorts.

"He seemed similar helium wanted to deed it into the woods, truthful helium could deed a spectacular changeable retired and thrill everybody," helium said. "And helium did that. He deed it successful the woods a lot, and helium had these spectacular shots that everybody related to.

"And helium excited everybody. He hitched up his pants and had a cigaret hanging retired of his mouth."

Palmer plays a changeable  from the bunker astatine  the seventh spread   astatine  the Desert Inn Country Club.


The competitory quality of golf's self-professed "Big Three" drove them onto bigger and amended things.

Nicklaus and Palmer often played themselves retired of contention for tournaments, specified was the competitory occurrence betwixt the two, according to the 18-time large winner.

Nicklaus particularly remembers the 1975 Masters, successful which they were some adjacent the apical of the leaderboard aft 2 rounds.

"We were playing the 3rd circular and I changeable 73 and Arnold changeable 75. And we shook hands connected the past spread and helium says: 'We did it again. Here we are shooting ourselves retired of the tournament.'

"I came back, changeable a bully past circular and ended up winning the tournament. But Arnold efficaciously changeable himself retired of the tournament. And that's not the mode to play golf.

"You play play by controlling yourself. And you're the lone idiosyncratic who you tin control, not the field. So you person to instrumentality that into consideration, but we didn't. We were excessively stubborn. We were excessively competitive."

Including his 18 majors, Nicklaus won 73 PGA Tour victories -- the 3rd astir ever. Palmer collected 62 PGA Tour victories, the 5th astir ever. Player had 24 PGA Tour victories, portion besides racking up a singular 116 planetary wins.

Player draws similarities betwixt the trio's passionateness and thrust and the competitory tone that Tiger Woods -- the 15-time large victor and tied for the astir ever PGA Tour victories -- brings to the game.

"We were arsenic fierce arsenic competitors that the satellite has ever seen," says Player.

"But the happening is we had large affection for each other. When we were connected the play people and we made it precise clear: 'I privation to bushed you. And if you bushed me, I'll look you successful the oculus and accidental good done.'"

Palmer and Player travel  the formation  of Nicklaus' tee changeable  astatine  the Firestone Country Club, Akron, Ohio successful  1965.

Changing opinions

While the Open Championship is 1 of the astir sought-after accolades successful play globally, that wasn't ever the case.

Player had won the large successful 1959, but earlier Palmer made his archetypal quality determination a twelvemonth later, precise fewer American golfers had made the travel implicit to the UK to enactment successful the tournament.

Arriving arsenic the reigning Masters and US Open champion, Palmer brought a definite level of cache to his compatriots watching backmost location connected his mode to a 2nd spot finish, according to Nicklaus.

"The Scots loved him. And playing astatine St. Andrew's and Kel Nagle beats him by a shot. And each of a sudden, each American players wanted to spell to the British Open," said Nicklaus.

Nicklaus, Palmer and Player are pictured astatine  the Open Championship successful  1970 astatine  St. Andrew's.

Fast guardant to the 149th Open astatine Royal St. George's successful July and 51 US golfers featured successful the 156 beardown field, including eventual victor Collin Morikawa.

Although Player says the Open "would beryllium what it is contiguous without" Palmer's influence, helium does judge that the American's accomplishment astatine the lawsuit helped bring other eyeballs to it backmost successful the US.

"The Open Championship with Ben Hogan and Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen and Peter Thomson and Roberto De Vicenzo and you tin spell down the database of hundreds of guys that helped marque the Open, this large championship.

"Did Arnold Palmer heighten it erstwhile helium came across? Yes. Here was this charismatic antheral playing truthful good successful America, comes across, certainly, it did the Open an immense magnitude of good, but we tin ne'er springiness 1 antheral the recognition for the top title successful the world."

Palmer, Player and Nicklaus airs  with their play  clubs earlier  a signifier    circular  astatine  the Firestone Country Club successful  Akron, Ohio.

Since his decease successful 2016, Palmer has been honored passim the crippled of play and the adjacent by the US Postal Service -- they issued a commemorative stamp honoring the golfing large successful 2020.

"I deliberation astir of the guys realized what Arnold did for the crippled was much than anybody else," said Nicklaus, arsenic helium paid tribute to his "hero."

"His power successful the game, his demeanor, the mode helium handled himself, helium needed to beryllium stately erstwhile helium needed to beryllium stately, statesmanlike erstwhile helium needed to beryllium presidential, humble erstwhile helium needed to beryllium humble. Arnold did a large occupation of each that. And I deliberation we each beryllium him a large deal,' adds Nicklaus.

"Not lone bash the pros beryllium him a large deal, the crippled of play owes him a large deal. It's been 5 years, but I miss my buddy.

Nicklaus looks up   to the entity  to grant   Palmer earlier  hitting an honorary archetypal  tee changeable  for the ceremonial commencement  of the archetypal  circular  of the Masters successful  2017.

"I talked to him astir 2 weeks earlier helium passed. And helium was his emblematic self. I said: 'How's it going, AP?' He said: 'I deliberation I'm getting acceptable to spell retired and deed immoderate balls. I'm truly feeling good. As champion arsenic I've felt successful a agelong time, I'm looking guardant to getting retired there.'

    "He wasn't anymore adjacent getting acceptable to spell deed play balls than a antheral connected the moon, but helium didn't privation maine to cognize thing different. So I gave him recognition for that, and for that, I emotion him. We'll miss him forever."

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