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Some thin tempers among friendly enemies
Alfred Wright
October 17, 1966
In a tournament that included one heated argument with the referee and several cool exchanges between players, Gary Player wins the Piccadilly World Match Play title from his pals Nicklaus, Palmer and Casper
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October 17, 1966

Some Thin Tempers Among Friendly Enemies

In a tournament that included one heated argument with the referee and several cool exchanges between players, Gary Player wins the Piccadilly World Match Play title from his pals Nicklaus, Palmer and Casper

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After a few holes of the second round, Palmer's fine edge began to fade, and Player built a three-hole lead. Palmer cut it back to two at the 33rd, but they were running out of holes. When both men took 6s at the 35th, Palmer was beaten. He had arrived in London full of hope and as much confidence as he dared summon, and now 1966 would have to go down as a year of great frustration and disappointment. "I guess the 'friendly enemies' will have to decide it tomorrow" he said afterward, not without bitterness.

Player and Nicklaus are indeed friendly enemies on the golf course. It is doubtful if two rival athletes anywhere in sport are better friends. If either has to lose at golf, there is no one he would prefer to lose to than the other. And so Saturday's final between these two superlative golfers lacked the abrasive undertones that peppered the previous day. In its place, however, there was an incident that made the front-page headlines of the afternoon papers, had the gallery buzzing and set the press to cluck-clucking with remarks like "Bloody tragedy, that."

It happened on the 9th hole of the morning round with Player 1 up in a very well-played match. Nicklaus hooked his drive into a drainage ditch just in bounds. He consulted with Colonel A. A. Duncan, the referee, and was awarded a penalty drop in the thick gorse adjoining the ditch. Having taken the drop, Nicklaus observed that a large billboard advertising Piccadilly cigarettes was close to his line of play about 50 yards ahead. He again summoned Colonel Duncan, a former Walker Cup captain, who is regarded as the most knowledgeable man on the rules of golf in all of Britain. Jack asked for another drop and when Duncan said no, angry words were exchanged. Duncan asked Nicklaus if he would prefer another referee, and Jack replied that he would. After another shot, Nicklaus conceded the hole to Player to go 2 down. When he reached the 10th tee, he spotted Philip Wilson, the genial advertising executive who runs the tournament for Piccadilly, and requested a substitute referee. Moments later, Wilson located Gerald Micklem, the former chairman of the championship committee of the Royal and Ancient, and Micklem agreed to replace Duncan. Player was so unnerved by all this he hit his next shot off into the rough, but Nicklaus, who was still furious, gritted his teeth and tore off two consecutive birdies to even the match. Soon, however, a streak of wildness overcame Nicklaus' golf, and on the last two holes of the morning round he sliced off the tee as Player built a four-hole lead to take in to lunch with him. As Nicklaus was washing up, Duncan visited him in the locker room, and the two made their peace with a handshake.

In the afternoon round, Player refused to let Nicklaus gain the slightest ground on him. At the 31st hole, with the end drawing near they both suddenly started playing like club members, hitting their balls deep into the woods where the huge gallery could no longer see them. Every now and then peals of laughter emerged from the unseen golfers and those who were helping to find Nicklaus' lost ball, and the gallery wondered, of course, what in the world could be happening back there in the forest. Mostly, the laughter came from the banter of the two players and Gerald Micklem, capped by Gary's advice to Jack that he tee up a ball that Jack found embedded in some mud. It was not Nicklaus' ball, though, and having failed to find it, Jack conceded the hole. When Player birdied the next hole, it was all over. Needless to say, Player was ecstatic. It was his first major victory of the year, but it was over the only players he really cares about beating. "It was by far the best golf I've ever played in my life," Gary explained afterward. "Until now, I thought I would never play as well as I did when I won the U.S. Open [in 1965], but this week I played twice as well. I can't explain it really." What Gary Player had proved, perhaps, is that to prepare for Palmer and Nicklaus there is nothing better than a few weeks down on the farm.

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