It was hardly an Academy Award performance by either. "I knew that if I entered he would, too," says Jack. "We were just trying to psych each other out."
But Arnold was ever so slightly hopeful he could still avoid the not-so-classic Cajun as he left Nicklaus behind in Australia and went on to Japan, where the Arnold Palmer Company was opening sales offices. After all, November is the hunting season in Pennsylvania, Palmer wanted to rest, and he had business engagements, too. But when he got back home to Latrobe two weeks ago, Joe Black was on the telephone with the bad news. "He's entered," said Black.
"That s.o.b.," said Palmer. And everybody packed for Lafayette, La.
Loyal Cajuns claim that Lafayette is the fastest-growing town in the whole U.S. Its proximity to both the oil fields of East Texas and the Louisiana Gulf Coast makes it an ideal nesting place for the sales and administrative offices of oil companies. More than 600 of them hold space in a sprawling, 65-building complex that is aptly called the Oil Center. In addition, Lafayette is the hub of a thriving agricultural area. The town's population in the last dozen years has nearly doubled—from 40,000 to 70,000.
"There's a lot of money in Lafayette," says the owner of one of its most expensive clothing shops. "It's not just millionaire money, either. It's mostly $25,000-a-year money that likes to spend $35,000 a year."
However great its charms, golf's two biggest money earners were still understandably reluctant about the whole business. As a golf tournament, the Cajun Classic was created for losers. It struggled to life in 1958 as a poor relative of the Tournament of Champions in Las Vegas. The T of C, as its name implies, invites only tournament winners to its annual May event. Overwhelmed by compassion for the non-winners, who had nothing to do the same week, the Las Vegas sponsors offered a $5,000 purse to anyone who would run an alternate tournament. A small group of businessmen in Lafayette, backed and pushed by PGA champions and PGA politicians Jay and Lionel Hebert, finally agreed to put on a tournament of nonchampions at the Oakbourne Country Club. It ran opposite the Las Vegas show for a year, then was switched into November to fill an open date on the PGA tour. The switch made it possible for champions to enter—if they felt like it.
The tournament is well enough run, and Jay and Lionel are worthy hosts, especially when Lionel starts an evening jam session with his trumpet. But it cannot escape its Endsville feel. On the day of last week's pro-am, a visitor asked a PGA official why there were no signs showing how to get to the golf course.
"Signs for who?" the official asked, looking around at the 100 or so people who roamed the 18 holes. "The crowd they've got here now is as big as they usually get for a final round. Anyone who wants to come knows where it is." And he was right, of course.
In view of what it was doing to their long-made and complicated schedules, why did Palmer and Nicklaus feel that the money-winner title was worth the trip to the Cajun Classic? A superficial reason is that the title pays about $20,000 in bonuses from their affiliated companies, but the real reason is the thing that has kept the Nicklaus-Palmer rivalry such a vigorous one.
"It's a matter of personal pride," said Jack before climbing into his new $225,000 twin-engine Aero Commander for the flight from his home in Columbus, Ohio to Lafayette. "It's a real measure of accomplishment, the next best thing to winning a major championship."