Visits with Jack Nicklaus
Many instances come to mind of Nicklaus giving a lot of time to the media
Published on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 12:29PM EST Last updated on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 12:56PM EST
Earlier this week I spent an hour with Jack Nicklaus in his office at the Golden Bear Plaza in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. I’ll write more about our discussion in a later piece, but being in his presence reminded me of how much he had accomplished in the game – not that I, or anybody – really needs reminding. I was also reminded of how open and accessible he’s always been with the media.
It’s extraordinary, the more I think about it. So many instances come to mind of when Nicklaus gave a lot of his time to me. He’s done the same for my colleagues. I remember spending a couple of hours with Nicklaus long ago in another location near where his office in Golden Bear Plaza is now. That was for a lengthy q&a with Nicklaus for ScoreGolf Magazine.
Then there was the time Nicklaus came in for a press conference during the PGA Tour event at Doral in Miami, now called the Trump Doral Golf Resort & Spa. There weren’t more than a dozen writers in attendance, for whatever reason. Maybe it was late in the day. Nicklaus began to discuss the workout he was then doing. I remember that he said he loved ice cream, and he felt he needed to work out. Life’s all about balance, right?
But Nicklaus didn’t only talk about the exercises. He got off the podium, stepped down on the floor and went through the series of exercises. Amazing. He had already won more majors than anybody and was on his way to winning 18, the record to which Tiger Woods aspires and wants to break. Woods has won 14 majors. I’ll be shocked if he ever demonstrates a workout routine during a press conference.
Some years later, in September 1995, Nicklaus was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame in the builder category. (He designed Glen Abbey in Oakville, where the RBC Canadian Open will be held in July; this will be the 26th Canadian Open at the Abbey). I was invited to provide the keynote address that night during dinner, and was honoured to do so.
Ten years later, I was at the Old Course in St. Andrews when Nicklaus played his last Open Championship. He had won there in 1970 and 1978, and now he was bowing out of the championship at a place that meant so much to him. It was typical of Nicklaus that he should hunker over a birdie putt of some 15-feet on the last hole of the second round and care about it as if he needed it to win another Open. Nicklaus knew he would miss the cut, even if he made the putt. He had shot 75 in the first round, which made it a difficult task to make the cut.
Nicklaus made the putt to shoot 72, and spectators of all ages –eight to 80, shall we say, and more– felt a powerful surge of emotion as the putt dropped and Nicklaus acknowledged them. He soon came into the media centre, which was standing room only. He was 65, and he had played his last round in an Open, his final round in a major.
Everybody was quiet as Nicklaus answered questions and spoke about the Open, what St. Andrews and the Old Course had meant to him, and much else. I’ll never forget the moment when he ended his remarks. None of us seemed to know what to do. We are journalists. We are supposed to be objective. There should be “no cheering in the press box,” which was the title that the great baseball writer Jerome Holtzman used for his collection of interviews with sportswriters.
But every one of us in that media centre rose and acknowledged Nicklaus with a standing ovation. He had long ago become “Jack” to us, because he had invited us into his world in many places and at many junctures in his career. Something I had never seen before, and have yet to see since, then happened.
Writer after writer, every person in the room, moved forward to where Nicklaus was sitting. We wanted him to sign something, anything. I’d never asked a golfer to autograph anything; it never seemed right. But this time it seemed right.
The media credential for the Open then was a small triangular piece of cardboard. I was wearing it around my neck, and took it off as I moved ahead with my colleagues. When I got my chance, I asked Nicklaus to sign it, which he did. I was a kid at that moment, waiting at the gates of the stadium or arena in hopes an athlete I admired would sign something for me.
Nicklaus signed and he signed and he signed. But, of course, he had put his signature on the game in far more important ways, and for many years. He continues to do that today, not as a player anymore, but in other ways. I will write about that another time.
For now, I will simply say that it was good to chat with Nicklaus, and that it’s been good, far more than good, to follow him and write about him for so many years. Yes, I’m cheering in the press box, and I hope you don’t mind.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and, most recently, he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including The Natural Golf Swing, with George Knudson (1988); Links: An Insider’s Tour Through the World of Golf (1990); The Swing, with Nick Price (1997); The Fundamentals of Hogan, with David Leadbetter (2000); A Season in Dornoch: Golf and Life in the Scottish Highlands (2001); Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame.
Lorne can be reached at email@example.com.
You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein