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There are a limited number of reasons for a millionaire to go to Lafayette, La. He might go there to strike oil, or buy a sugar cane plantation, or eat the world's finest oysters, or maybe just to listen to hot lips Lionel Hebert play the trumpet. But last week two millionaires, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, flew into Lafayette, and the only reason they were there was pride. This twosome of ultrastars had come to play in golf's Cajun Classic, an event so mundane that in ordinary times Palmer and Nicklaus would hardly have bothered reading about it in the newspapers. They found themselves competing against what was essentially the ragtag end of pro golf's chorus line. They had to slog their way through rain, then try to stay warm in temperatures that might be zesty by Aspen standards but were frigid by Louisiana's, and finally they had to play a trying 36 holes on Sunday. It all seemed like a comical mistake, as if the Army-Navy game had been scheduled in a high school gym. Yet circumstances were forcing Palmer and Nicklaus to compete in the Cajun Classic with the same kind of concentration and resolve they bring to a Masters or a U.S. Open. How humiliating; how delightful!
What brought golf's plutocrats out to play for pennies was actually a matter of $318.87. The $25,000 ($3,300 to the winner) Cajun is the final official PGA tournament of the year. Going into last week, Palmer was leading the 1964 official money winners' race with $111,703.37, but Nicklaus was right behind him at $111,384.50. The title of leading money winner is a thing to be coveted, and both Nicklaus and Palmer have been doing a lot of secret coveting—and calculating—for more than a month.
It was really all Arnold's fault that he and Jack found themselves in this peculiar fix. Five weeks earlier, during the Sahara Invitation in Las Vegas, Palmer had the money-winning crown all but glued to his graying—yes, graying—head. Then he blew it. With only 18 holes to go at the Sahara he led Nicklaus by two shots and more than $3,000 in official money won. Then Arnold stumbled to a 76, and fell into a tie for 19th. Meanwhile, Nicklaus shot a hot 67 and tied for third. That closed the money gap to little more than pocket change.
For both players this sudden reawakening of their year's rivalry created embarrassing complications. Both were leaving immediately after the Sahara for an extended tour in Australia, so there was precious little time to spare and decisions had to be made. Jack, who finished his last round ahead of Arnold, packed, and then sought out the PGA tournament supervisor, Joe Black.
"If I'm behind Arnold on the money list enter me at Lafayette," he told Black. "If I'm ahead of him and he doesn't enter, don't enter" me either. If I'm ahead of him and he enters, then enter me too."
This is not exactly the solid sort of commitment the PGA likes to pass on to its tournament sponsors. Black, slightly confused by all the alternatives, told Nicklaus to wait until he got back from Australia to make up his mind. Exit Nicklaus for the airport.
A few minutes later Palmer, thoroughly disgusted with himself and his 76, came hurrying off the course with not much time to make the plane. But first some business. He sought out Black and gave him the identical instructions that Nicklaus had delivered earlier.
"Wait until Jack decides, and then let me know," said Black. Exit Palmer for the airport.
During the long flight to Australia there was little doubt in either one's mind about the necessity of being in Lafayette a month later, but they were not going to admit it. "I doubt if I'll be able to make it, Jack," Arnold remembers saying, trying very hard to sound sincere.
"No, I probably won't either, Arnie," Jack recalls answering, doubtless pursing his lips and frowning. "It's too much of a mess."