They are willing enough to duel, but one of them always forgets to bring a sword. It may be surprising, but that is the most accurate way to describe the often baffling rivalry between professional golf's two dominant figures, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus (see cover). There is no disputing that this pair is solidly entrenched at the very top. Nor is there any arguing that Arnold, with his aggressive boldness, and Jack, with his crushing power, have provided a fierce competitive ingredient not seen in golf since the Hogan-Snead struggles of more than a decade ago. But when reduced to its most dramatic moments, the epic competition between the two seems to thrive on expectation instead of actuality. Palmer and Nicklaus have played in 11 major championships since Nicklaus became a touring pro in 1962. Between them, they have won six of these. Yet in only one, the 1962 U.S. Open, where Nicklaus defeated Palmer in a playoff, have the two had a genuine head-to-head fight. At other times, in the intense setting of a big tournament, their games have not jelled simultaneously. While one marched to victory, the other was apt to be finishing 32nd (Nicklaus in the 1962 British Open) or 40th (Palmer in the '63 PGA) or second but a hopeless six strokes back (Nicklaus in the '64 Masters).
But now, for some noteworthy reasons, this drama drought is likely to end, very possibly in next week's Masters. First, this looks like a Masters that almost nobody else can win. U.S. Open Champion Ken Venturi says only six golfers have a chance. The advantage that the Augusta National course gives long hitters always limits the likely winners, and this year the erratic performances of some of those who do have the shots for Augusta reduces the list of favorites even further. Second, Nicklaus and Palmer have both drastically altered their methods of preparing for Augusta, and have changed in the same way. If using similar plans produces similar results, the two will duel at last.
Why are the men who finished 1-2 last year changing their Masters preparations?
"I have been too eager in the past," says Nicklaus. Last year he spent two months modifying his game to suit the Masters course, and he got himself so emotionally wound up that when he finished a distant second he went into a state of competitive paralysis that lasted for months. This year Nicklaus' approach is completely casual.
"I have been too tired in the past," says Palmer. Last year he played much of the winter tour and when the time came to get ready for Augusta he felt wrung out. This year he has ducked many of the winter tournaments. He feels rested and says his desire to practice and compete has never been greater. "I am looking at the Masters as the opening of the serious golf season," he says, and the key word is opening. "In getting my game in shape for the Masters, I am also getting it in shape for the whole summer, because to score at Augusta you have to be hitting every shot pretty well. I have been working gradually since about the first of the year, but in the last three or four weeks I have really started to concentrate, especially on my irons."
At the competitive level where Palmer must survive, good golf shots are only half the story. To perform well in the big events a golfer must also be ready for four days of intense mental and emotional strain. Palmer excels at this. "I have come to feel that the mental preparation is just about as important as the physical work," he says. "In the weeks before Augusta I start thinking about the shots I might have to play there, planning them in my mind under all conditions. I consider all the adverse things that could happen and all the good things, so that when they happen suddenly, as they inevitably do, I will be ready for them."
Not since 1959 has Palmer come into a Masters with a worse winter record and never has he played so little (five tournaments). But nonetheless he expects to be better than ever.
Jack Nicklaus' philosophy this winter has been to worry about the Masters later. In the past he worked on such things as hooking tee shots, even to the extent of hitting hooks in tournaments where a fade was actually more suitable. Last year his unsuccessful all-out attempt to become the first man to win two Masters in a row left him unsettled for the entire summer. "I can't complain about how the year worked out," says Jack, "but it was more luck than skill that let me score well. I tried as hard as I could, but after Augusta I just could not get my desire back. This year I have been concentrating on the tournament I am playing in. I will think about the Masters at Masters time. The week after that I will be thinking about the Houston Classic. Maybe this way I'll at least be someone my family can live with."
Nicklaus has played extraordinarily so far this season, even though he has yet to win. In his 25 tournament rounds he has been over par only three times, and he has not finished worse than eighth. He has not been hitting his woods too accurately, but his chipping and sand play have been very good. "Best of all," he says, "my putting has improved. I have completely changed my style. I am using the technique that George Low [SI, July 6] taught me last year. I open the face of the putter on the backswing, and then close it going through the ball."
So Nicklaus feels he is ready with a sound game and a new attitude, but it will be interesting to see if he can manage to stand on the first tee at Augusta and convince himself that the Masters is only a classy version of the Nuthin' Open.
Palmer and Nicklaus do, of course, have to contend with more than each other at Augusta, and their strongest challenges are likely to come from the six golfers at right. For various reasons, some other seemingly strong contenders must be given little chance. Bobby Nichols and Mason Rudolph seem too far off form. Ken Venturi is still hampered with a circulatory ailment, and Chi Chi Rodriguez must wear a leather brace on his right thumb. Julius Boros, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan no longer putt skillfully enough to handle Augusta's immense greens.
Thus, if Arnold and Jack are to engage in a long-awaited shot-by-shot battle, they will have few opportunities better than next week's. Palmer is prepared to set the pace and play against the course. Jack—up to a point—is more likely to play against Palmer.
"If you start worrying about other individuals, you forget that your prime purpose is to win," says Arnold. "What I try to shoot is a score that I think no one else—Jack or Gary or whoever—can beat. If the weather is good, four 68s is the figure to aim at."
"My first concern is to win, of course," says Nicklaus, "but I also try awfully hard to beat Arnold. If he finishes 50th in a tournament, then I darn sure want to finish at least 49th."
The odds are that to beat Palmer, who has proved himself to be the master of the Masters, Jack Nicklaus will have to finish better than second.
If a man's course is his castle, Palmer's is Augusta National, where he has won four times in seven years. But Nicklaus may loot the place—or even claim it as his own.
IF GOLF'S BIG TWO KILL EACH OTHER OFF, THEN WATCH OUT FOR THE NOT-SO-SMALL SIX
If a way is ever devised to finish a Masters without starting it, then look out for Billy Casper. He will win them all. In the past four years no one—not Palmer, not Player, not Nicklaus—has played the final 36 holes as well as Casper. In these eight rounds he was 14 under par, Nicklaus was eight under, Palmer five and Player two. Yet Casper's play was so erratic on the first two days that he never had a real chance to win. In the opening 36 holes over the same stretch of years he was 18 strokes over par. Palmer, on the other hand, was 19 under, Player 15 under. The explanation may lie more in Casper's temperament than in his golf swing. A placid-looking man, he is actually an intent, dedicated competitor who has been trying hard, perhaps too hard, to win his first Masters. In addition, because he perennially is one of the winter tour's best players, he is always a favorite at Augusta, a role he has not enjoyed. Once again he has had a brilliant winter—he is leading the tour in money won with $36,029—but there is one change. Casper himself is different. He has lost six inches off his waistline, his collar size is down from 16½ to 15½ and even his sock size has shrunk. "I feel stronger," he says. Watch how svelte Billy does on Thursday. If he is under 72, keep watching.
Doug Sanders cannot hit the ball far enough. Doug Sanders has too short a backswing. Doug Sanders cannot hit the ball high enough. Doug Sanders is not strong enough. Each of these is good and sufficient reason why Doug Sanders has absolutely no chance to win the Masters. That said, consider this. Sanders is one of the straightest hitters in pro golf. With back-to-back wins at Pensacola and Doral, he also is one of its hottest hands. And, finally, by his cavalier standards at least, he is a new Doug. "I've given up all my bad habits," he says. "My business and personal life are on an even keel at last. I go to bed early and I sleep, instead of tossing and tumbling the way I used to. My legs used to give out on me after 12 or 13 holes, but now I feel strong right to the end of a round and my concentration is much sharper." Sanders' newfound strength has added some length to his shots. He also has a different putter, one that is less upright. He feels he is getting more top spin on his putts and greater accuracy. "I am not going to Augusta predicting a victory," he says, "but a straight hitter, by cutting corners, has a chance. Besides, for the first time my health is good and my game is in shape. If my timing stays on, and I am putting, I actually think I can win."
Last year at this time Tony Lema had given up smoking and was playing badly. This year he has given up smoking again, and he is playing badly. So why does he stop? "I feel better when I'm not smoking," Lema says. "Eventually, I think I'll be able to play better, too." One immediate effect of this particular sacrifice was a notable lack of sacrifice at the dinner table. Lema put on 15 pounds this winter. He is a lean fellow and this would not ordinarily hurt, but part of the strength of his game is his fast pivot. The extra weight slowed him down. He dropped off the tour saying, "If you are playing badly, why play at all?" Now he looks better. It is almost certain that Lema will score well at Augusta regardless of how he plays. Two years ago, in his first Masters, he hit the ball excellently, shot a 287 and finished second. Last year he was wild and erratic, but scrambled expertly and ended up with another 287. Now Lema is the British Open champion, and winning a major title has done much for his confidence. He feels he belongs at Augusta, and the Masters course is one that tends to yield to those who attack it. If Tony can play his best, Augusta may founder in champagne. If not, he can always go back to smoking.
For a good number of his 29 years Gary Player has worked to thwart a fundamental fact of Gary Player life—he is 5 feet 7 inches tall. A man that short has trouble hitting a golf ball far, and Player became obsessed with the necessity for being a long hitter. The year he won the Masters (1961) he was doing pushups and lifting weights and eating raisins and radiating a fine public image of strength, strength, strength. But he could not hit as far as Palmer. He added an inch to the length of his driver. But Jack Nicklaus still outhit him by 50 yards. A spell of using a four-wood off the tee and "playing for position" followed, but now Gary is after superstrength again. "This is an unbelievable statement to make," he says, "but in two years I will have added 20 yards to my drives." How? For seven months he has been under the direction of a "strength coach," the 1951 Mr. America, undergoing a special weight-lifting program to build up his legs and forearms. He has added length off the tee, he is getting more loft on his iron shots, and he has a new putting stance—feet together—that he likes. If he isn't overexercised, little Gary could be the big man at Augusta again.
This slim, long-hitting New Englander is the mystery man of pro golf. How can he play so little and yet play so well? Last year he appeared in only nine events, but he won the Los Angeles Open and earned $17,000. This year he has played twice, winning at Los Angeles again. "I think Harney does well because he has conserved himself," says Billy Casper. "Playing the tour week to week like the rest of us do kind of saps your strength." If Casper's theory is sound, Harney should be a Samson of golf, for until 10 days or so ago he had not wedged his way out of his Worcester home to so much as swing a club since the Crosby. Nor does he plan any crash campaign for the Masters. "If the weather gets good I'll do some practicing here," he said in Massachusetts last week. "If it stays cold, maybe I'll go down to Augusta a few days early." Assuming he manages to get there in time to tee off, Harney will arrive with a game ideally suited to the Masters course. He is an excellent putter and is accurate as well as long off the tee. These talents took him to a tie for fifth last year. And he is not afraid of doing even better. He has said before that it is easy to finish near the top in the Masters. Nothing has happened since to make Harney change his mind.
That onetime master plumber from Australia, Bruce Devlin, must be the only man whose Masters hopes ever rested on letters from home. Now in his third year on the tour, Devlin was having trouble this winter until he suddenly finished second at Doral and Jacksonville. "I had been doing so badly," he says, "that I wrote my coach back in Sydney, Norman Von Nida, and asked for help." Back came some mail-order instruction. "He went over the things I used to do when I was playing well," Devlin says, "and told me to review my game in those terms. But the big thing he did was fix my concentration. He told me to stop talking so much to other players or the gallery when I was out on the course." When playing his best, Devlin is what is known by the pros as "sneaky long," meaning that he hits a low hook off the tee that rolls and rolls. He is also a gifted long-iron player, which is important at Augusta, and he has the courage to hit long shots right to the flag. Finally, he likes Augusta's turf, for it is similar to the Bermuda grass he learned on. "I try to reach a peak for the Masters, and now my game is falling into place. I would dearly love to win," he says. "Shut up," comes a voice from Australia, "and hit the ball."