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Legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus now a Cardinals fan after sharing dinner with Bruce Arians

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.V. – When nine-time major winner Gary Player met Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald during cocktail hour Thursday night, somebody came to mind.

“It’s a funny thing ... I met Fitzgerald yesterday and he reminded me so much of Mandela,” Player told ESPN.com on Friday morning after the groundbreaking for a new Oakhurst golf course at The Greenbrier. “He had such love in his heart and warmth.

“I know he’s a real superstar, but he really made an imprint on me. I thought about him a lot last night before I went to bed that an important man like this can play such a vital role in society and I believe he’s doing that.”

Player was here in White Sulphur Springs along with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino to break ground on an 18-hole mountain course that will overlook historic Oakhurst Links.

Aside from Fitzgerald, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, cornerback Patrick Peterson and offensive tackle Bradley Sowell also met the quartet of legendary golfers, who, combined, have won 40 majors, on Thursday night. Arians had dinner with the golfers, as well as Greenbrier owner Jim Justice and architects and others involved in the new Oakhurst project.

“It was a bucket list for me to have a cocktail with Arnold Palmer and then meet Jack and Lee and Gary Player and watch them discuss building this new golf course, which is a passion of mine, and talk to Jim Justice about it,” Arians said. “It was a very entertaining night.”

Nicklaus felt the same way about talking to the Cardinals as they did meeting him.

“I enjoyed talking with Bruce,” Nicklaus said.

“Larry is a very interesting guy. What a sort of an energetic personality that he has. Bruce was saying he’s not only a great football player but a better person. I like that a lot.”

Player, who said he spent “a lot” of time with Mandela as the two helped raise money for South Africa, said how Mandela decided not to hold a grudge against the apartheid supporters and government, while having an open-mindedness toward an integrated country was what related Fitzgerald to Mandela in his mind.

“He was so charming,” Player said. “He just came across with great warmth and great love. We know he’s a superstar and there’s nothing worse than when you see people that are militant in life.”

After meeting Fitzgerald, Peterson and Sowell, and sharing a meal with Arians, Nicklaus became a Cardinals fan.

“Got another team to follow,” Nicklaus said. “Always followed most of the NFL but you always follow something a little closer when you know somebody.”