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Jack Nicklaus pays homage to Arnold Palmer

 

 

Honorary Starters Jack Nicklaus (left), Arnold Palmer (center) and Gary Player (right) pose for photographs at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2016 Augusta, Ga. Courtesy: TNS

Honorary Starters Jack Nicklaus (left), Arnold Palmer (center) and Gary Player (right) pose for photographs at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2016 Augusta, Ga. Courtesy: TNS

Known as “The King” to many, and generous to nearly everyone, only few could call the incomparable Arnold Palmer, “friend.”

Former Ohio State Buckeye and 18-time major tournament champion Jack Nicklaus is one of the lucky few who knew the deceased Palmer, 87, like family.

Palmer died Sunday night at a Pittsburgh area hospital awaiting cardiac surgery, Palmer’s company confirmed in a statement.

“I just got the news at about 8:45 that Arnold had passed. I was shocked to hear that we lost a great friend — and that golf lost a great friend,” Nicklaus said in a statement.

Since 2010, the annual Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, has began with the Nicklaus and Palmer side-by-side — joined by Gary Player in 2012 — as the tournament’s honorary starters, teeing off as a lighting of the torch opening the PGA season’s first major tournament.

This past April, Palmer was too ill to swing a club, let alone get down to where the Magnolias bloom, but he was there, shaking Nicklaus’ hand for one of the last times. Nicklaus helped Palmer out of his chair to wave to the Augusta crowd on that Thursday morning which would end up being Palmer’s final trip to golf’s sanctuary.

Until 2016, Palmer, Nicklaus and Player — the men who drew a national audience at the boom of television every weekend in the ‘60s exponentially increasing golf’s viewership throughout the world — laced their respective shots down the first-hole fairway.

Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.

Cheers poured out from the gallery for the combined 34-time major champions. Palmer won seven major titles, including the Masters four times.

Nicklaus, 76, played against Palmer his entire life, until Nicklaus, the “Golden Bear,” retired from professional golf in 2005. Palmer retired in 2006 at the age of 77. He played in 50 consecutive Masters tournaments, 45 with Nicklaus in the field.

But on Sunday night, Nicklaus and the rest of the golf community mourned over one of the world’s greatest ambassadors.

“He was one of my best friends, closest friends, and he was for a long, long time. I will miss him greatly,” Nicklaus said. “He was the king of our sport and always will be.”

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