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EXCUSE ME, MR. PALMER, SIR
George Plimpton
October 14, 1968
Professional golf has two almost mythic personalities, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. What happens when a celebrated author, a man who has Interviewed some of the world's famous figures, resolves to talk with two such personages? Is there a right—or wrong—way to approach them, to question them? Can he do it without emerging the perfect fool...?
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October 14, 1968

Excuse Me, Mr. Palmer, Sir

Professional golf has two almost mythic personalities, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. What happens when a celebrated author, a man who has Interviewed some of the world's famous figures, resolves to talk with two such personages? Is there a right—or wrong—way to approach them, to question them? Can he do it without emerging the perfect fool...?

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I cleared my throat and asked him about the yips and the chokes.

He ripped open a letter and dropped the contents between his toes: "Well, I'd call them pretty close cousins. Choking is a stage of the yips. Both of them have to do with being unable to study, to concentrate. It's true that a golfer can get a nerve problem that can't be helped. Those are the yips. Hogan and Nelson got them; to say that Ben Hogan or Byron Nelson choke, I mean that's crazy. But both of them, the choking and the yips, I say, are connected with losing the ability to concentrate, and in various degrees that happens to all of us. But you can escape it, get out of it. When I'm working well, I just don't think I'm going to miss a shot or a putt, and when I do I'm surprised as hell. I can't believe it. A golfer must think that way. He must say to the ball, 'Go to that spot.' The best players who ever played must have thought that way, willing the ball there, you see, I don't mean to suggest that it's easy. In fact, the hardest thing for a great many people is to win. They get scared. And they doubt. Which gets them into trouble. Of course, that's not Nicklaus' problem."

"I suppose one big win gets you over that problem."

"No Because you got to want to win more, fast. The temptation if you win is to coast for awhile. You begin to think that to run high in the pack is enough. Well, that's the end of you." He rubbed his chin. He snapped the rubber band from his letter packet.

"The competitive thing in golf isn't for everyone. And it hasn't got anything to do with age or horsepower."

"I see," I said.

"Well," he said.

I could see that he felt he had talked enough.

"I had this question about dreams," I said hurriedly. "I wonder if you could sort of talk about that...what you dream...." My voice trailed off. He seemed to be staring at me, but then I noticed his eyes were fixed at a point over my left shoulder. "Hey, Albie!" he shouted. I looked around. A man wearing a small green apron, the locker-room attendant apparently, appeared around the corner of the locker. "What you done with my shoes?"

"In your locker, Mister Palmer. You think I ate 'em?"

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