Palmer, Player and Nicklaus still pull a crowd

Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player on the first tee. Picture: Getty

Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player on the first tee. Picture: Getty

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“I NEVER knew the Press got up this early,” quipped Jack Nicklaus as he took his seat between Arnold Palmer and Gary Player in the interview room following their 7:40am ceremonial start in the 79th Masters.

Over the next 30 minutes, you had to feel sorry for those members of the world’s golfing media who had decided to have a lie in because it was pure gold as the so-called “Big 3” chewed some golfing fat as only they can do.

All told, they have claimed a collective 13 Green Jackets and made a total of 147 appearances. Sixty years ago, Palmer drove up Magnolia Lane for the first time. Fifty years ago, the trio were tied for the lead at halfway before Nicklaus went on to claim the second of six successes here.

What did they all remember about that?

Nicklaus: I remember what the third round was (a 64).

Player: I remember the wrong man won.

Palmer: I don’t remember anything.

The jovial theme continued when Nicklaus reflected on his hole-in-one in Wednesday’s Par 3 event. Astonishingly, it was the first he had ever recorded here.

Nicklaus: Arnold and I have been tied on 20 (career holes-in-one) for I don’t know how many years. Gary was tied with us, but he plays a lot of par-3 courses and has a course at home that has a lot of 40 and 50-yard holes.

Player: Well, you’re counting yours I notice.

When it comes to counting years, Palmer, at 85, is the oldest of the trio, Player next at 79, with Nicklaus the youngster at 75.

Nicklaus, on being asked how he expects to be at Palmer’s age: I’m trying to figure out what I’m doing at 75. Nine holes on the Par 3 course yesterday darn near killed me.

Player: He’s not going to get to 85.

Earlier, the trio had attracted an audience that included a number of players – Rickie Fowler was one of them even though he wasn’t due to tee off in the last group until more than five hours later – for their ceremonial duties as honorary starters.

Nicklaus: I think that’s a nice gesture. It shouldn’t be about us, but I think it’s nice on their part.

Player: It shows the respect they have for the game. I remember when Jock Hutchison used to tee off here, I used to go watch him, always.

Nicklaus: I never got up that early.

The respect the trio have for each other is an example to every sportsman and sportswoman on earth. It’s great, too, that they can aim digs at each other without a hint of malice.

Player on Palmer: He’s got deep pockets and short arms and never bought me a lunch.

Palmer: You wouldn’t give the ducks a drink if you owned Lake Okeechobee.

Soon afterwards, Palmer declared: “Okay, I’m ready to go home!”

He had shrugged off a dislocated shoulder to hit the opening blow. It wasn’t one of his best, but who really cared?

Long live golf’s “Big 3”. They will always have an audience from the golfing Press, no matter how early it is.

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