Last month, a renaissance man in the game, Charlie Mechem, published a book entitled “Arnie and Jack: Stories of my lifelong friendship with two remarkable men.” As the name implies, it is a breezy, conversational account of Mechem’s unique relationship with the game’s most dynamic duo. Few if any people were closer to both Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer than Mechem, a lawyer and entrepreneur who also served as the commissioner of the LPGA. Mechem had an office at Bay Hill across from Arnie’s, and he was a regular at the Nicklauses’ home.
The following is an exclusive excerpt from Mechem’s book:
FOREWORD BY JACK NICKLAUS
Much like a four-leaf clover, a friend is hard to find and lucky to have. Truly great friends are difficult to leave and impossible to forget. There are two people among those who have been like four-leaf clovers to me – Arnold Palmer and Charlie Mechem. Arnold and I were fierce competitors, but more important, we were friends for 60 years. And then there is Charlie, who has been a dear friend of mine for over 50 years. Charlie was a trusted companion and advisor of Arnold’s for more than 20 years, sharing an office with Arnold at the Bay Hill Club in Orlando. I can say with complete conviction that there isn’t a person, past or present, who knows more about Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, and the stories that took place between the two of us – and individually – than Charlie Mechem.
William Shakespeare, the rare person I could mention whose work is actually older than Charlie and me, once wrote that a friend is one who knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still gently allows you to grow.
Aside from being one of the best friends I have had in the world, Charlie is a brilliant man, a great contributor to the game of golf, and someone I have always viewed as a trusted confidant in business and in life. Actually, Charlie has meant so much to everyone’s life he has touched. My wife Barbara and I, as well as our sizable family, feel blessed to be counted among those he has forever impacted.
The book you are about to read comes from one of the kindest, most sincere men I have ever met. He is someone who would never tell a story that would harm a soul, but will share a story to certainly touch your soul. Charlie’s book is full of great stories and wisdom all delivered with his unshakable wit, aplomb, and class. I hope you enjoy it. Actually, I know you will enjoy it!
THE KING & THE BEAR GOLF COURSE
Tim Finchem, who was the commissioner of the PGA Tour at the time this story happened, called me one day. He said, “Charlie, I really need your help.” I laughed and said, “Tim, this is an historic moment for the commissioner of the PGA Tour to call the commissioner of the LPGA and say, ‘I really need your help.’ I can’t wait to hear it.” He said, “I’ve been trying to convince Arnie and Jack to build, together, a course at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine. It will be called ‘The King & The Bear.’ They won’t do it. They’ve got all kinds of excuses. Would you give it a try because you know them both well?” “I’ll give it a try,” I said.
So, I talked to Arnie. “Oh no, I haven’t got the time, blah, blah, blah,” he said.
Jack said the same. “You know we have a totally different design approach,” Jack said.
I made a couple of trips both ways from Orlando to North Palm Beach without success, but finally I had a brainstorm. I drove down to Jack’s office and made another appeal. “Jack, this is the last time I’m going to bring this up, but would you and Arnie please just collaborate on this? This is going to be a great facility right at the World Golf Hall of Fame.”
He mumbled a few words that were not encouraging.
I got up to leave and I said, “Well OK, I’m done trying. Just be prepared to enjoy the Player-Trevino Course.”
“WHAT?” shouted Jack.
I used the same thing on Arnie the next day with the same result. They practically had shovels in the ground the next week, and The King & The Bear became a reality. It is a fine golf course that almost was never built.
Of course, I had no idea that there would ever be a Player-Trevino Course, but it would have been a logical step for the tour to take if Arnie and Jack would not do the course. Anyway, the brainstorm paid off.
WHAT’S HE DO ALL DAY LONG?
Make no mistake, Arnie and Jack were different in some ways, perhaps most notably in their approach to golf as they grew older. No one has ever loved the game more than Arnie, and it was a rare day when he didn’t either play or hit balls. Jack, on the other hand, played golf, I believe, for the competitive high that it gave him and, once he no longer felt he was competitive, he began to play less and less. Today, he plays very little but seems to do quite well when he does – witness how he and Tom Watson stayed wealthy on their winnings each year in the Senior Skins Game!
Let me tell you my favorite story that illustrates the difference between Arnie and Jack in this respect. When I was working with Arnie at Bay Hill, I continued to maintain a close relationship with Jack, and one day went to his office in North Palm Beach to discuss a matter. The first thing Jack asked was, “How is Arnie?” I said that he was fine and then Jack asked, “Does he really play golf every day?” I replied that he did. Jack just shook his head. When I got back to my Bay Hill office the next day and told Arnie I had spent some time with Jack, his first question was, “How is he doing?” I said that he seemed to be doing fine. Arnie said, “Is he playing any golf?” And I said, “Not much.” And then Arnie looked at me in all seriousness and said, “Then what in the world does he do all day long?”
Understand that neither was being critical of the other. They simply had totally different perspectives!
When Arnie joined the Tour, he quickly became friends with another great player named Dow Finsterwald. Dow came out at the same time as Arnie – same year – 1955. In those days of low purses, it was not uncommon for two pros to get together and combine and split any money they might win. For example, if one won $5,000 and the other $3,000, they would combine it, and each get $4,000. In the beginning Arnie and Dow knew one another reasonably well so they cooked up a deal by which they would split any winnings. But Arnie didn’t do very well the first year or two, and Dow loves to tell what happened. He said to himself, “You know, this is not getting me anywhere.” So he began to reassess the arrangement. “Arnie,” he said, “this is not working very well. Maybe we ought to end our little partnership.” So, they did, and the rest is history. Arnie went on to make significant money by the standards of the day. Although Dow did well, his earnings did not approach Arnie’s.
Dow smiles today when he recounts the story. He makes sure to point out that his wife, Linda, always told him that it was the dumbest decision he had ever made.
It needs to be said that Dow Finsterwald was a great player. He won 11 tournaments and a PGA Championship. He played on four Ryder Cup teams and was the non-playing captain of the 1977 team. He won the Vardon Trophy in 1957, an honor that is awarded to the tour professional with the lowest scoring average. But he was a very cautious player. Where Arnie would often “go for broke,” Dow would be more careful. They were dear friends and remained so until Arnie passed away.
Dow is still living at Bay Hill.
Top: Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer in 1965 (Photo: Bettmann, Getty Images)
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