A Pair of Jacks, Nicklaus & Gleason

by Jeff Skinner

For years many of us have lamented the lack of characters presently on The PGA Tour. In the 60’s and 70’s there were plenty of characters on the tour and many more that surrounded and contributed to golf.  There were tournaments hosted by Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason among others.  With all due respect to Bill Murray and George Lopez, they couldn’t have caddied for Hope and Gleason.  These guys were characters, big time characters.  Jackie Gleason liked to party and he did like few others could.

Gleason loved to golf and hosted The Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic, the forefather of  The Honda Classic.  Gleason was also a great pool player, and liked to take credit for teaching Paul Newman to play for their movie, The Hustler.  He was a man of many interests and didn’t do anything halfway, be it pool, golf or partying.  Mike Walker details Gleason’s love of golf and the good life in a piece on Golf.com. Walker gives this perspective on Gleason’s appeal and power of his television show: “The Jackie Gleason Show averaged a Nielsen rating of 42.4 for the 1954-55 season, which meant that 42.4 percent of the nation’s households with television sets were tuned to Gleason’s show. For perspective, the 2009 Super Bowl received a 42.0 Nielsen rating.”

Jackie Gleason brought plenty to the game of golf and it’s a shame the game has evolved to where it really has no use for characters like him any longer.

Here, I’ll continue my man crush on Jack Nicklaus, I’m glad I’m not the only one. Michael Bamberger presents his case, and a valid case it is, for Nicklaus being the greatest golfer of all time. He’ll get no argument from me.  “Part of Nicklaus’s greatness is the 19 second-place finishes he had in majors, which says more about the men that had enough bottle to beat him down the stretch than it does about Jack. And in that category, the bigger part of his greatness is the class with which he handled those runner-up finishes. He never said second sucks. He shook the winner’s hand and answered questions meaningfully.”

I agree with Bamberger’s take that it is Nicklaus’ actions on and off the course that makes him the icon he is.  “To describe that body of work you’d need a book. But it includes the vast charity work Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara, have done, including this week’s Honda Classic, which raises money for the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation. It includes raising five kids, too. It includes his grace and patience with sportswriters and fans and sponsors. It includes the excellent pro bono work he did on rehabbing the muni course in his backyard in North Palm Beach. It includes his good manners, as when, upon being asked about Tiger’s marital woes, said, “It’s none of my business.”

Nicklaus is class, all the way, all the time.

Cheers to the USGA for naming Mike Davis its new executive director. Davis is respected by everyone in golf and has gotten everything right as far as course setup for the U.S. Open since he took over in 2005 after the debacle at Shinnecock.  Davis is famous for bringing a sense of fairness and reasonableness to the Open.  Luckily, he’ll still setup the Open courses while executing his new duties. One thing Davis never seemed like was a bureaucrat and that may be tough in his new position.  One thing’s for sure: he’ll keep the flagship event of The USGA,  The U.S. Open, interesting, tough and fair.


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