"Dutch Harrison was a great needler on a golf course, a guy who'd throw you off-balance with a comment or two. I'll tell you who's good at it these days: Chi Chi Rodriguez. Little guy, you know, big as nothing, but a long, long hitter, who, if he's got a sun-baked course, can expect a long roll for himself. Well, I'll hit a drive, and mine are high shots, big trajectory, a ball that doesn't gain much advantage from a roll along the ground. So then Chi Chi, if he feels he can outdrive me, if he's got the right sort of golf course, well, he shakes his head, oh very sorrowfully indeed, and he says, 'I don't know how the golf ball can take a shot like what you give it,' and he shakes his head again like something awful has happened, like maybe something's been broken. And then he steps up and hits his drive, which is patterned to take advantage of the hard ground, and he's by you with a shot, a good way out, and if you let this sort of thing bother you, well, you can press, and find yourself in trouble."
"You have busted them, though," someone at the table said.
Nicklaus looked puzzled.
"A ball, I mean."
"Oh, when I was an amateur. When I was 13 I exploded a Maxfli 3 at the 5th hole in York Temple. I hit an eight-iron and the ball went 40 yards. I went and looked at it and it was squashed, just there at the foot of the lake."
"How much ribbing goes on when you play with Arnold Palmer?" I asked Nicklaus.
"Not too much," Nicklaus said. "Oh, we kid around a bit. Arnold'll come in with a 75 and I'll say, 'Gee where'd you get all your birdies?' Or when I come in he'll say, 'Nice round. What'd you shoot?'—in that order. We give nicknames to the girls in the gallery sometimes. We found a great one in Paris—'Blackie' we called her—and she turned out to be the daughter of a four-star general."
"It sounds like a lot of fun out there," I said.
Someone hitched his chair at the table and there was a perceptible pause. Then Nicklaus said, "You see me down on the practice tee today?"
"Sure," I said.