Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer recanted tonight.

The two golfing greats, with a little egg on their faces, met privately with the PGA Tour Policy Board this afternoon and, afterward, issued a statement "formally withdrawing" the letter of protest and petition that they and a dozen other prominent players sent to the board two weeks ago.

Nicklaus and Palmer were placated, and perhaps embarrassed, by the board's exhaustive First Annual Report to the Membership that was distributed to players here at the Westchester Classic. The 32-page report addresses itself to almost all of the financial issues that troubled the famous petitioners.

"When I got off the plane, Arnie said to me, 'We didn't really need to write that letter. About 90 percent of the answers we wanted are in this report and they're satisfactory,' " recounted Nicklaus, who admitted that neither he nor Palmer had known that the board's report, long in the planning, was almost ready to be released. "A coincidence," said Nicklaus.

"Two weeks ago we privately communicated to the board some concerns and questions about the current policies and future directions of the PGA Tour," wrote Nicklaus and Palmer, whose letter demanded that the board be forthcoming with information about the tour's multimillion dollar ventures into the business side of the sport.

"It has never been our intent, however, to create any public controversy about the tour or its current leadership, both of which we support . . . Our main purpose--to get more information and to involve more leading players in helping to shape the future of the tour--has been accomplished. The board has been very responsive . . . "

The Nicklaus-Palmer statement said they "still have some questions about certain types of marketing activities and certain types of golf course ventures involving the tour," but that "based on the new understanding we have gained of the board's policies and purposes," they could "pledge their assistance and cooperation . . .

"Under the circumstances, we think it best to formally withdraw our previous communication to the board and now consider the matter closed."

Emily Litella (once played by Gilda Radner on "Saturday Night Live") couldn't have said it better with her famous, "Never mind."

Both Palmer and Nicklaus jetted back to the cities from which they'd come for their meeting with the board (Cleveland and Pittsburgh, respectively). Neither stayed here tonight for the three-hour meeting, attended by more than 150 tour players, at which myriad tour business questions were debated. "I'm going to stick to playing golf for a while," said Nicklaus as he headed to Oakmont, Pa., site of next week's U.S. Open, for two days of practice rounds.

According to Ben Crenshaw, who signed the letter, some of his cosigners were: Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Hale Irwin, Andy Bean, Craig Stadler, Tom Kite, Tom Weiskopf and Lanny Wadkins.

"Some players commented without doing their homework," said Johnny Miller, a supporter of the policies of the board and Commissioner Deane Beman, who, in the wake of the Nicklaus-Palmer letter, appologized to the tour's players for not keeping them better informed. "Players have their few little gripes and half the time they don't know what they're talking about . . .

"Actually, there were only a couple of headhunters who wanted to chop off his (Beman's) head and figure out the consequences later," said Miller, coming out of the players meeting. "Any worries over whether Deane Beman has become the czar of golf, running it without consulting the players, are untrue."

Players here were curious about the "coincidence" that Beman and the board would have a report ready the week that such an illustrious group of players would get worked up enough to sign a table-thumping petition. "The timing of it was very suspect," said Leonard Thompson, who could offer no explanation.Nicklaus was pleased at the turnout for this evening's player meeting, calling it "probably the largest response ever . . . the fellows are just dying to have some information."

"This has in no way been an affront to Deane Beman," continued Nicklaus, "(but) if Deane has one fault, it's that he keeps a lot of things to himself."

Beman was a happy man after this evening's four-hour meeting was concluded. Most players left either satisfied or downright impressed by the presentations and arguments made by the independent directors (i.e. business) who are part of the board.

"There were a whole lots of rumors flying around (the tour) that 'Beman's selling all our rights,' " said Jim Colbert, a player on the board. "The players found out tonight that those rumors were the opposite of the truth.

"The biggest shock in all this was to our independent directors, men who are enormously successful in commerce and who are giving their time to help us run our business just because they love golf," continued Colbert. "They knew how well everything's been going and what big strides the tour has made in recent years. And then they get hit on the head with this. Last year, they gave Deane Beman a raise (to nearly $300,000 a year). Now, tonight, they have to sit here and put out a statement saying that his job isn't in jeopardy."

That statement, issued by E.M. deWindt, chairman of the policy board, said: "The purpose of tonight's meeting--to improve communications with players on the goals of their organization--was successfully achieved . . . The board gained new insight into player concerns (and) we believe the players learned a good deal about the business side of the tour and that the board corrected much of the misunderstanding and misinformation that had existed . . .The board continues to fully support Commissioner Beman."