AUGUSTA, Ga. – As golfers, we should challenge ourselves to think with depth and talk with insight.
Case in point: Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus. As seniors, they have progressed far beyond birdies and bogeys. Their conversation is steeped in memories, perceptions and brainstorms.
These men are brilliant ambassadors for golf. Let them put away their clubs. Let us listen.
Palmer is 85, Player 79, Nicklaus 75. After serving as honorary starters for the 79th Masters, they sat down Thursday morning to discuss golf, love and philosophy, not necessarily in that order.
Their faces may reflect age, but their words reflect wisdom. The Masters has barely started, yet already it is a memorable experience, listening to these gentlemen and digesting their humor and thoughtfulness.
“If it goes out of sight, don’t be surprised,” Palmer said before hitting his ceremonial drive off the 1st tee. It went out of sight, all right, ducking into the gallery on the left side of the fairway.
Although he didn’t announce it to the world, Palmer hadn’t hit a single golf ball in almost a year because of medical considerations — he had a heart pacemaker implanted last August, then dislocated his shoulder in December.
Player smashed the longest drive, 239 yards with a Callaway Chrome Soft golf ball and 46-inch Callaway XR driver. The actual loft was 8.5 degrees, and the driver was bent 2 degrees flat. The shaft, according to Player, was “extra stiff because I can still handle a very strong shaft.”
Nicklaus registered 232. Both were in the middle of the fairway.
Discussing golf clubs, Player said, “I would say that 40 percent of golfers, plus or minus, don’t use the right ingredients (specifications) — the lies, the lofts, the flex, the grip size.”
“Well, it was all guesswork by all of us, too, in the early days,” Nicklaus said. “If you found one (favorite club), then you tried to stay with it.”
Nicklaus claimed he used the same MacGregor persimmon driver from 1966 to 1978.
Included in that span was the 1971 PGA Championship. “I was staying at Jack’s house,” Player recalled. “Now Barbara is giving us breakfast, and I’m thinking, hell, I’m a bit worried about this, (because) we’re tied (headed into the final round).
“So when she put the eggs on the table and went to the kitchen, I swapped them (plates) around. But it didn’t help because he beat me anyway.”
Palmer on Wake Forest University: “Wake Forest has had an influence on my life almost as much as anybody in my life, other than my father. And my attendance there, and the school and the people — I learned to be a Southerner when I went to Wake Forest.”
Nicklaus on being nervous: “When you get your kids or your grandkids playing, you can’t do anything about it and you’re far more nervous for them than you are for yourself.”
Player on his two friends: “I think Arnold and Jack are two of the greatest ambassadors that America has ever had, and it was not just only in the United States. They travelled the entire globe on many occasions.
“You can take the highest echelon in politics, and they are there for four years, eight years. But these fellows have been representing America for 50, 60 years. There’s no comparison. They have been remarkable.”
We play golf. We talk golf. We learn from golf. We pay homage to those who have navigated safely and with great honor through the hazards of golf and life.
The Masters brings it all into focus.