To Palmer, an old stag protecting his position as head of the herd, Nicklaus' fresh challenge was simply another he was determined to fight off. Palmer's earning record has been phenomenal—he was the leading money winner in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1963, but he plans a drastic curtailment of his tournament activities next year.
"This is the last year I'll even be in the chase," he said shortly after arriving at Lafayette in his own Aero Commander. "From now on, 15 tournaments a year is all I'm going to play."
What is more, the money title would salvage something from a year that has essentially been a disappointment for both Palmer and Nicklaus. Palmer won the Masters last April, starting what he felt would be one of his best seasons, then won only a single tournament thereafter, the Oklahoma City Open. Nicklaus won four tournaments, but not one of them a major championship. The year has been dominated by these two more in the expectation of what they would do each week than in what they actually did. Nicklaus finished second in three big ones: to Palmer in the Masters, to Tony Lema in the British Open and to Bobby Nichols in the PGA. Palmer crossed his frustration threshold during midsummer when he finished second five times and third twice.
"Actually, I played the best golf I've ever played," Palmer said the other day, "but I didn't make the short putts I always made when I was winning. Because of the Masters it was a good year, but only winning another one of the big four events would have made it a great one."
The top of the ladder in pro golf is a wobbly perch, and it is not surprising that the Big Two have, temporarily at least, slipped a little. There are many good players crowding their way up from the bottom, chiefly because the inducements are so great. This year total prize money came to approximately $2.3 million. Next year, the prize money will be higher, especially if a big PGA television contract that is now being negotiated with a network goes through.
"We are being swamped with fine young golfers," says Joe Black. "Four or five years ago we had only about 70 regulars playing the tour week to week. Now we have more than 160."
Palmer noticed the change when he put his bag down at the Cajun Classic and took a look around. "Wow," he exclaimed, "I bet I don't know 20 guys here." The prospect of spending the week in Lafayette, virtually friendless, seemed to envelop the usually amiable Arnie in gloom. ("Doesn't he ever smile?" asked a tournament official.) He had a cold and, besides, there was not much to smile about. He came off the 18th green after his final practice round at least moderately pleased with a five-under-par 67. Then he ran into Nicklaus.
"What did you shoot?" asked Jack.
"I had 67 and played lousy," said Arnold. "What did you have?"
"Sixty-seven," said Jack.