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Jack’s First Memorial

by Jeff Skinner

This year’s Memorial Tournament will be a model of how a golf tournament should be run. Jack Nicklaus and his team at Muirfield Village will have every aspect of the tournament planned and accounted for and backup plans for the unexpected incidents. Jack’s tournament comes off like a well oiled machine, a very well oiled machine. Much like The Masters, which Jack modeled his tournament after, each and every detail is checked and rechecked. It is this attention to detail along with all the special features of this tournament that make it exceptional. That wasn’t always the case. The first Memorial Tournament in 1976 had its blemishes and Nicklaus has had thirty two years to refine his “tribute to golf.” In an article in Sports Illustrated in 1976, Dan Jenkins recounts the first Memorial. It was not without controversy and tribulations. Many of the top golfers chose not to play, Palmer and Player were in Britain, and the course was rumored to be too difficult. Jenkins writes:

To properly christen the affair, the following showed up: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Clifford Roberts, Joe Dey, Deane Beman, Bobby Jones‘ daughter-in-law and grandson, a cluster of USGA tycoons and more CBS cameramen and announcers than the network normally has at Augusta. Strangely enough, the only people missing were some of the game’s better players. Arnold Palmer and Gary Player had been excused by the sponsor—Nicklaus—to go to Britain. Other absentees were Ray Floyd, the Masters champion, Tom Watson, the British Open champion, Gene Littler, Billy Casper, Dave Hill, John Mahaffey, Don January—in all, 10 of the current top 30 players. They were absent for a variety of reasons ranging from sore hands to matters of principle—”If Jack can pass up the Tournament of Champions, we can pass up Jack”—and maybe some of them had already heard that the Muirfield Village course was so tough that it would be more fun to have lunch with Dracula.

The course proved too difficult for its host and designer. Nicklaus took a quadruple bogey on a par three to shoot himself out of the tournament, but Jack had other things to worry about. Playing in the tournament and playing host was a difficult and harrowing task. He did get it right though. He did everything from honoring Bobby Jones (and wept during the ceremony) to hastily arranging for a new a desert for the Captains Club dinner after the Baked Alaska had been dropped. After all was done, Roger Maltbie won a playoff with Hale Irwin to take the first Memorial and since then Nicklaus has nurtured his tournament and seen it grow to a magnificent affair. Jack modeled it after The Masters and after all his tweaking and preening his tournament is worthy of that comparison.

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