The Wicked Game: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and the Story of Modern Golf

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 May, 2004, 12:00am

The Wicked Game: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and the Story of Modern Golf

by Howard Sounes

Sidgwick and Jackson $240

In a multibillion-dollar industry where tournaments such as the America's Tour offers players nearly US$150 million in prize money, and where ratings for the TV stations have been soaring,

no-one wants the stars' names tarnished. It's bad for business.

Then along comes Howard Sounes, who digs up stories about golfing greats Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods that their agents and the PGA Tour would rather keep buried in the rough.

Apart from revealing more about their personal lives, including Woods' love life before he met and proposed to Swedish nanny Elin Nordegren, Sounes tells of the rivalries, the business deals and the history of a game that has been marred by racism and sex discrimination, notably at Augusta National in Georgia.

One such controversy was Palmer's victory in the 1958 US Masters, in which former pro and CBS TV commentator Ken Venturi says the 'King' won while knowingly breaking the rules.

Another is Nicklaus' acrimonious split with Mark McCormack's International Group (IMG) because the 'Golden Bear' believed Palmer was getting preferential treatment. The upshot was that Nicklaus came close to going broke through poor management of his business ventures.

One of the hottest issues of the time was golfing great Gary Player backing the policy of apartheid. Although Player, another of IMG's major clients, later changed his views, Sounes quotes statements from his 1966 book Grand Slam Golf in which he says, 'I must say clearly that I am of the South Africa of [Hendrik] Verwoerd and apartheid ... a great deal of nonsense is talked of segregation.'

Woods, with whom the author failed to get an in-depth interview, comes over as a carefully guided and protected product, who reluctantly signs autographs, makes excuses when playing badly and occasionally blames his caddie when things go wrong. Sounes also says Woods puts in only 5 per cent of the money that goes into his charitable projects, with most of it coming from companies he does business with.

Although Woods refused to talk ('I'm doing my own books'), his father, Earl, and mother, Tida, were happy to fill in any blanks about the son they groomed for international stardom from the age of two. Earl speaks about his son with religious fervour, and was quoted by Sports Illustrated in 1966 as suggesting that Woods was some kind of messiah, more influential than Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi. 'Somebody had to be his father and I was chosen,' Earl said. 'By God?' he was asked. 'Yeah.'

The TV cameras loved the swashbuckling Palmer, whose adoring fans poured scorn on Nicklaus when he joined the pro tour. Palmer's fans, dubbed 'Arnie's Army', tagged him 'Fat Jack' and it took a long time for the 113kg Nicklaus to win support.

Although Palmer was another early starter, at three years ('Hit the ball hard. Then go find it and hit it again,' his father Deacon, a caddie, told him), Nicklaus didn't swing a club until he was nine. Along with Woods, they make three very different golfing greats. The Wicked Game is a chance to see them without their haloes.




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