RIDGEDALE, Mo. – Instead of lions, tigers and bears oh my, the Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hour-long press conference turned into a trip down memory lane about marlin, buffalo, and eagles. On the eve of teaming up in the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf, Nicklaus and Player delivered humor, needling, insight and perspective. It was all that and more.
Let’s start with the eagle, which in this case refers to his ace at the 123-yard, fourth hole at the Par-3 Contest at the Masters on April 9. Nicklaus knocked an 8-iron 15 feet past the flag and watched it spin back into the hole.
“Actually, it was loud enough that I could still hear it to start off with,” Nicklaus joked. “The ball went in the hole and I could almost see it.”
Did he buy any drinks?
“Actually, I never got hit up for anything. I’m surprised,” said Nicklaus, who attended the Chairman’s party that evening. “You always buys drinks, happy to do that. You don’t do that many times in your life where you get to buy the drinks. That would be all right.”
Nicklaus said it was his 21st hole-in-one and guessed it was his first in at least a decade, breaking a tie with Arnold Palmer.
“Gary and Arnold and I were all tied at 20 about 10 years ago and Gary’s had 10 since then. He has a par 3 course at home, about 40 yards, he plays them every day. Arnold’s still at 20 and I’m now at 21. So I guess I’ve got to go to work to catch you,” Nicklaus said to Player.
Soon the topic turned to fishing when Player noted that he has never been to Alaska.
“Really?” Nicklaus said. “Then why are we bothering to go to Canada. Let’s go to Alaska instead.”
“Because that’s been arranged,” Player said of a fishing trip he’s organized for later this summer with his dear friend.
“He says we had better make our accommodations early so we can get the best accommodations,” Nicklaus said. “I sleep in a tent. I don’t care about that. He’s got to get the best accommodations. He’s doesn’t really care about the fishing.”
“Only because we’ve got our wives going,” Player explained.
“Barbara doesn’t care, either,” Nicklaus retorted.
We were only getting started on fishing because not long after, someone asked about the replica of the 1,358-pound black marlin that Nicklaus caught in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef on Nov. 11, 1978, which hangs over the bar at Arnie’s Barn at Top of the Rock, the Jack Nicklaus-designed par-3 course.
But Nicklaus wrapped up the marvelous tale of his victory at the Australian Open days after hooking the big one by asking Player if he had been in the field that week. Player shook his head from side to side.
“C’mon,” Nicklaus said. “I had to beat you one year.”
Together, they won the event 13 times. But at the peak of their powers, Player and Nicklaus went hunting for a bigger prize, during their first time together at a game reserve in South Africa.
“Think about this,” Player said. “This is in our prime of competing against each other,” Player said.
“1966,” Nicklaus interjected.
“So now he visits this game reserve, beautiful game reserve.”
“Yeah, Mala Mala,” Player continued. “You’ve never lived until you’ve been to a proper game reserve in South Africa.
“So anyway, now Jack wants to shoot a buffalo. Now let me tell you, a buffalo’s killed, other than a hippo, as many people as polio’s killed. I’m serious. I’m thinking Jack’s going hunting. Crikey, if a buffalo kills him, the whole of America is going to say, ‘Gary Player had this arranged,’ okay.”
Instead, Player arranged for the two best hunters in the employ of the game reserve to be by the side of Nicklaus. Where was Player? Always standing behind Nicklaus, he said. “You were the one with the gun,” Player said to Nicklaus. “Jack said, ‘You get in front.’ I said, ‘Oh, no, no. You give me the gun, I’ll walk in front.’ ”
Here Nicklaus picked up the thread: “I had never hunted anything and they told me where to shoot and they said shoot it in the shoulder. So I shot it in the shoulder,” Nicklaus said. “So here’s this animal with one leg dragging. We chased this thing outside of Mala Mala. He went to another game reserve, went through that game reserve. We had to get permission to go through there. We went through the second game reserve and we had to go through the third game reserve. We had to call back to get permission to be able to chase the animal through the third game reserve. Remember that?”
“Yeah,” Player said.
Permission was granted but it took about an hour to do so.
“We never got the buffalo,” Nicklaus recalled. “The buffalo kept moving, kept ahead of us. We could never get another shot. We must have chased this thing 20, 25 miles.”
“At least,” Player added.
“After we left,” Nicklaus continued, “two days later the people called us saying the buffalo was back grazing where he originally was shot back.”
“Back grazing,” Nicklaus added for emphasis.
“It’s amazing,” Player said.
So is an hour-long session of storytelling with two of the legends of golf.