Game's greats back together again -- maybe for last time

Stan Badz/PGA TOUR
Jack Nicklaus celebrates his 64th birthday at the 2004 MasterCard Championship with Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, (in back) Hale Irwin and Tom Watson. Nicklaus shot 15 under and finished solo sixth.
May 01, 2012
Larry Dorman, PGATOUR.COM

Nicklaus, Palmer, Player and Trevino.

Back together again for the first time in a long time, and probably for the last time in a golf competition, Jack, Arnie, Gary and Lee will be putting on a show this weekend, playing in a one-time event -- just for the fun of it.

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Imagine that. What foursome from any era, past or present, could match this one? Short answer: None.

For combined star power, worldwide victories, sportsmanship, contributions to golf, work ethics and showmanship, it's peerless.

Some, who played just after steel replaced hickory shafts, may want to make a case for Snead, Hagen, Sarazen, and Hogan. Or maybe Nelson. Be our guest. Regardless of the cogency of your argument, the simple fact remains: we won't be seeing that foursome again 'til the roll is called up yonder.

Youngsters, whose first golf memory is of Tiger winning the '97 Masters, will have to wait a decade or so for the other three players to identify themselves and fill out the foursome from this epoch. There's certainly no shortage of candidates. Who are they? Feel free to start arguing about it.

Meanwhile, on Saturday at The Woodlands Tournament Course in Houston, after the final tee time at the Insperity Championship on the Champions Tour, Jack Nicklaus, 72, Arnold Palmer, 82, Gary Player, 76, and Lee Trevino, 72 will join five other luminaries in an 18-hole event.

This whole show, which will include Don January, Miller Barber, Gene Littler, David Graham and Dave Stockton is fittingly titled the "Greats of Golf." It was conceived and brought to life by Bryan Naugle, the Executive Director of the Insperity Championship and a partner in Pro Links Sports, an events firm that manages a number of Champions Tour events, including the Insperity Championship. Naugle, formerly a rules official on the Champions Tour, said he was thinking about the concept for quite a while and decided to try putting it together a few months ago.

"Basically, I just went to them all and said, 'Hey, I'd like to get the band together one more time,'" Naugle said.

And so began the reassembling the iconic foursome for what Naugle called a "one-shot deal."

And what a deal it is. None of the four is collecting a fee for playing in the Scramble format. And there will be no admission charge for spectators. For foursomes of equivalent clout, think John, Paul, George and Ringo doing their free concert on the roof at Apple in 1969 or The Four Horsemen, both "of The Apocalypse" and the later football-playing cover band conceived by Grantland Rice in 1924.

The 1980s heavy-metal band Metallica also covered The Four Horsemen, and I suppose there must be something to the interpretation because it has more than 3 million hits on YouTube, so, yeah, as the kids say.

Even though he has known the four players for decades, and is friendly with each, Naugle knew it would be a task to find open dates that matched all four calendars and that corresponded with an event on the Champions Tour that would be a good fit.

He approached Nicklaus in his Palm Beach Gardens office two months ago to try once again. And Jack, as he is occasionally wont to do, put his old buddy through the wringer.

"Big Jack told me, 'No,' it seemed like 40-some times," Naugle said. "Then he walked over to his calendar, looked at it and said, 'I hate to tell you that (pause) I don't have anything scheduled on those days. I'll do it.'"

Naugle was laughing as he told the story.

"So I left his office and I never hit a stair going down," Naugle said. "Cause I knew once I had Jack, I could get everybody else."

And he did. There is synchronicity with both the timing and the format of the Greats of Golf event. It was 34 years ago this week that the first Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf event was played at Onion Creek Country Club in Austin. The format was 36 holes, better-ball twosome, and the team of Sam Snead and Gardner Dickinson won by a shot over the Aussie pairing of Kel Nagle and Peter Thomson.


Snead, a month shy of his 66th birthday, birdied the final three holes -- sticking a wedge to kick-in range at the last -- and he and Dickinson each won $50,000, quite a take in those days. The Legends is often cited as being the impetus for the formation of the Champions Tour, which was formed two years later.

The Legends is still an official event of the Champions Tour. The purse is $2.7 million and the winning team splits $460,000.

It would be impossible to quantify how much Nicklaus, Palmer, Player and Trevino have had to do with the growth of the PGA TOUR and the Champions Tour, but there can be no doubt it is enormous.

When they get together this weekend, it will not be about money or titles or even legacies. It will be about the bonds the game creates among those who play it at the highest level.

"It could very well be the last time you see all four of us tee it up together," Nicklaus said. "But I don't look at it as an opportunity to play golf. I look at it as an opportunity to get together with old friends and hopefully have some good fun along the way."

Nicklaus was asked about getting the band together again.

"Together or individually, they represent three of the greatest players in the history of the game," Nicklaus said. "You can't give Arnold enough credit for what he did to popularize the game of golf. He brought a new whole new fan base into the game and made golf attractive to the television-viewing public. He had a look and an aggressive style of play that endeared him to the fans.

"And I have said many times that Gary Player, pound-for-pound, might be the fiercest competitor in golf. The friendship Gary and I forged through our many tournaments and many travels with Arnold as 'The Big Three' is perhaps the closest I share with any golfer. And to this day, I think Lee Trevino, along with Ben Hogan, are the two best ball-strikers this game has ever seen. Lee could do more with a golf ball than anyone I have ever witnessed."

The format will be a three-man Scramble, with the Big Three in the final threesome, Trevino, Graham and Littler in the penultimate group, and Stockton, Barber and January in the threesome leading off.

"These fans here in Houston are going to get a really great show," Naugle said. "One of the things I respect so much about these guys is how much they give back to the game that's been so good to them.

"This is just another example of how they give of themselves and their time. I'd like to see all the young guys take a lesson from them on how much they give back."

Larry Dorman is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.