by Jeff Skinner
Here’s a tribute to Jack Nicklaus. If you can’t handle my “Man Crush” move on and read something else.
I can’t remember when I first realized that I was a Jack Nicklaus fan. It seems like I always was. I do remember trying to watch him at the old “Westchester Classic” in the late seventies. I hadn’t even started played golf yet, but I was already a Nicklaus fan. Later on in my mid-twenties I bought my first set of clubs. They were MacGregor’s Jack Nicklaus “Golden Bear” model and the heads were as small as a matchbook. I still have them, saving them as if there is some kind of connection to Jack. My brother and I got to see Jack play at the 2001 US Seniors Open at Salem Country Club and he didn’t disappoint with a charge on Saturday that had everyone in the place feeling like it was 1986 all over again.
Over the last thirty years I watched Jack like most golf fans have, from afar on television. But the distance and remoteness never prevented millions of us from believing we knew Jack. Each week I’d make sure to try and follow Jack if he was playing, relishing each shot he would make. Watching Jack play in the majors was always special. No one played the majors better, ever. Although Jack’s skill with a club was what drew us all to watch him play, for me it was Jack the man that I soon idolized, not Jack the golfer.
Jack’s skill on the course is only surpassed by his strength of character. Early in his career he vowed to put his family first and rarely was away from home for more than two or three weeks at a time. Raising a family while being the golfer he was had to be a chore. He was known to fly home during a tournament to see one of his children games. He tells the story of celebrating his 1980 US Open win with a dinner at McDonalds with his kids because it was his son’s Michael’s choice. His favorite photograph is a shot of him carrying a young Gary Nicklaus off the green during the 1973 PGA Championship. My favorite is Jack hugging his caddy, Jackie Jr. as they walk off the 18th at the 1986 Masters.
Jack isn’t only the greatest golfer, he’s the greatest sportsman. From the time he was a youngster he played as hard as he could but always with a respect for the game and an amazing appreciation of his opponents. Jack and Tom Watson’s “Duel in the Sun” formed a lifelong respect and friendship between the two. Gary Player calls him the “greatest loser” ever, meaning he always acted like the ultimate sportsman when he fell short of victory. He always gave it all he had on the course and when done he would treat his opponents with respect and fellowship. Jack displayed one of the most significant acts of sportsmanship ever during the 1969 Ryder Cup when he conceded Tony Jacklin’s two foot putt which left the matched tied but the US still retained the Cup. Nicklaus the sportsman thought it was the right thing to do. In 2003 at The President’s Cup with darkness preventing play, Nicklaus and Gary Player agreed to call it a tie and share the cup. Who else would have done that?
Jack has been interviewed more times than anyone can count and he never failed to give generously of his time. He answered every question honestly and sincerely and never failed to help all the journalists do their job. You’ll not find a writer with a bad thing to say about Jack and the way he treated them.
Most of my adult life I’ve watched Nicklaus and always knew what to expect: integrity, dignity and class. He could always be counted on to do the right thing. This is the Nicklaus I chose to revere: Jack the father, Jack the sportsman, Jack the man.