AUGUSTA, Ga. — Arnold Palmer is hungry.
He’s 82 and it’s getting to be almost 8:30 in the morning, which means it’s way past breakfast time. Sure, he’s been having his customary good time on the first hours on the first day at The Masters, but dammit, he’s hungry. The press conference disguised an all-around lovefest for golf’s “Big Three” is dragging on.
Jack Nicklaus is answering questions.
Gary Player is giving long answers.
Palmer wants to get to breakfast.
But first, there is more talk about their greatness.
“I think it’s appropriate,” Palmer said, answering a question about the three of them all being together again at The Masters. “I think it’s very appropriate, matter of fact. We have played golf all our lives together. And the press, you people, have made an issue of the Big Three and we have kind of had a pretty good run there at Augusta. So I think today was very appropriate for the starting of the tournament and I hope it continues for a while.
“And I’m hungry.”
This is the way it always seems to be when Palmer, Nicklaus and Player get together. And even more so within the pines and austere settings of Augusta National Golf Club for this tournament. Thursday was no different.
The three of them hit the ceremonial tee shots together for the first time, continuing one of the longest-standing traditions at The Masters. Then, they gather together, relive old times, make jokes about their declining health and are asked about the specialness of returning to a place where they have created hundreds of memories.
“Well, it was a great thrill, having had this wonderful relationship,” Player would say. “Great friendship with Arnold and Jack for a long, long time and having traveled extensively around the world together. We’ve even cried together and we’ve laughed together and we’ve had good times.”
These were some of them Thursday.
“Curious, when your careers were winding down — did you seek each other’s counsel on how to deal with certain aspects of that?”
Palmer: What was the question?
Nicklaus: You need some help this morning, don’t you? He asked as our careers ran down, did we seeks advice from each other how to handle retiring from the game of golf. You didn’t call me at all. I was going to retire at 35.
Palmer: Last time you called me, you wanted to go fishing.
Nicklaus: And you haven’t taken me up yet.
Palmer: I am going to, though.
Nicklaus: I wish you would. Okay. Monday?
Palmer: No, that’s too soon.
Nicklaus: Not really.
Player: You tell us the story about us all retiring at a certain age and you said you wouldn’t. And when Jack and I came here, what you had to say.
Nicklaus: We were going to be 35 and we weren’t going to play anymore. But you said, ‘No, that’s not me. I’m going to keep playing.’”
Palmer: That’s right. You guys kept saying you were going to quit at 35. I said, ‘Bulllllllllshit!’ No more thoughts of quitting at 35.
Nicklaus: You’re 82.
Palmer: Hey, if I could do it, I would be doing it right now.
Nicklaus: I think we all would.
Player: I’d like to enlarge on that, because both Jack and I said we were retiring at 35, we had won the Grand Slam and that was it, we had enough. And Arnold said, ‘Well, I’m going on forever.’ And then we walked in there when we’re both 60 and Arnold said, ‘Is this a mirage? Both here at the age of 60?’ And now I’m 70 and more.
Who went further?
“Congratulations. Those were three pretty nicely centercut drives out there. Did you all happen to take note as to who went a little further up the hill?
Nicklaus: I don’t think any of us can see that far. We can hear them all land, though.
Playing Another Nine
“Could the three of you talk about your first time that you remember seeing the Honorary Starters and when that was?”
Player: I can remember. Jock Hutchison. I don’t know what year that was, but it must have been 1959. I would take a wild guess and say 1959, 1958, Jock Hutchison. I think it was Freddie McLeod. Was it? Freddie McLeod and Jock Hutchison? I really remember that well. But they were much older.
Nicklaus: Mine was a long time ago. I saw Arnold Palmer hit one.
“I think when Jock did that, didn’t they play nine holes?”
Player: They did.
“Is that something you would ever entertain?”
Nicklaus: I think we would all love to play. I don’t think there’s any issue about that, but that’s not the deal. The deal is we hit a shot. We all would love to still be able to play. But, you know, if you go out and look at where our tee shots were, we all hit 3-woods and a little more more left after that. Then I think you would understand why we aren’t.”
$2 Steaks and Small Tips
“Wonder if you can comment about the role of amateur players at The Masters and the Masters’ commitment to amateur golf.”
Nicklaus: I did play here as an amateur. When I played, it was by virtue of being on the Walker Cup team in 1959. That was an unbelievable experience for me. Somebody asked me about, ‘What did I learn the first time I played here?’ I said, ‘Well, I learned that I had hit 31 greens in 36 holes and eight three-putt greens and Arnold hit 19 greens and 36 holes and was leading the tournament. I said, ‘I’d better learn these greens.’ To me, you had to do that if you want to play here. So that was my first introduction to what you really had to learn to do.
And then having the opportunity to stay in the Crow’s Nest, staying there with Phil Rodgers, Tommy Aaron, Ward Wettlaufer and Dean Beman and myself, five of us stayed up there. We had a great time. I remember coming down, we were charged for meals: a dollar for breakfast, a dollar for lunch and two dollars for dinner. I remember that Phil and I kept coming down and we ended up having two steaks at night. And they said, if you boys keep doing that, we’re going to have to charge you $2 for each steak. And we said, ‘Well, that will be all right.’
Player: Nothing has changed. He still has deep pockets and short arms.
Nicklaus: Okay. Okay.
After they had closed their press conference with another loud round of applause from a room filled with members of the media, guests and Augusta National members, the Big Three shuffled their way out the back entrance. Clad in their own Green Jackets, Palmer, Nicklaus and Player bid their goodbyes.
They had thrown a charge into the old tournament with three perfectly-placed drives on the first hole.
Palmer was the first to hop in the golf carts, waiting to whisk them away. Nicklaus — usually chatting with everyone — was next. Player, the rookie of the group, was dilly-dallying, chatting with a few folks.
“The King” had had enough.
“Come on Gary!” Palmer yelled back towards the door. “Let’s go!”
Contributor Brendan Prunty is the golf writer for the Newark Star-Ledger in New Jersey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be followed at Twitter.com/BrendanPrunty. This is his second Masters tournament.