by Jeff Skinner
Nicklaus did it all in professional golf and influenced generations of amateurs and professionals alike. His record 18 major championship is the Holy Grail of golf but while his talent made him immortal it was his kindness and graciousness that made him human. No one handled “losing” better than Jack Nicklaus and with 19 second places in major championships he certainly had ample opportunity to show his class and sportsmanship.
The first time I saw Nicklaus in person was at the old Westchester Classic. It was long before the tour exploded and the players were continually roped off from the fans. Jack was trying to make his way to the practice range on a golf cart and hundreds of fans swarmed the cart and slowed it to a crawl. Nicklaus graciously shook hands and signed autographs until he could finally make it to the range. Back then the caddies stood down range and caught their player’s shots. I stood there and marveled as Nicklaus hit ball after ball into his caddie, Angelo Argeo’s baseball mitt. Jack would change clubs and wave Angelo back a few yards, signal him to stop and then pound it into his glove again, again and again.
The last time I saw Jack play in person was at the 2001 U.S. Senior Open at Salem Country Club. Jack made a run on Saturday with a 69 and as Jack strode down the eighteenth fairway the feeling on that course was electric. There are few players that could ever energize a crowd like Nicklaus.
The first book on golf I ever bought was Jack’s “Golf My Way.” And I, like many golfers from Greg Norman to Harry Hacker used that book as our golfing Bible. And while Jack’s legacy in golf is incalculable his influence on golf lives on through millions of pre-shot routines, swing thoughts and putting stances on golf courses every day.
Millions of us have incorporated Jack’s tips and techniques into our games. For me it starts with picking an intermediate target just in front of my ball. Then the slight head turn to the right at the takeaway. I like to think my left heel comes off the ground just like Jack. Of course I play a fade just like Jack although my buddies call it a slice. And who doesn’t visualize their ball flight before each shot. On the green its eyes over the ball, imagining the ball is on a track following the break right into the hole.
And after the last putt falls on eighteen it’s sincerely congratulating my partners and displaying that trademark sportsmanship he carried with him always.
Happy Birthday Mr. Nicklaus. You may spend more time on the tennis courts than on the golf course lately but a bit of you lives on through millions of us hackers every day of the year.