Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Jack and Me

In my opinion, the fortunate people in this world are those who, a) have a hero, and b) have had the chance to meet them.
Consider me very fortunate.
I grew up in Ohio and at a very young age got addicted to golf. My first round was when I was ten years old, and my last round was, uh, two days ago. In between have been thousands of rounds, hundreds of golf books read, scores of golf vacations, three holes in ones, and one hero.
Jack Nicklaus.
When I was growing up, Jack was the king of the golf world, and he still holds the record for most major championships won – 18. Tiger was making a nice run at that record until he backed into a fire hydrant in 2009 and got a bit sidetracked. He may yet break Jack’s record, but as of right now, it’s Jack 18, Tiger 14. And should Tiger one day pass Jack’s record, sorry Eldrick, but Jack will still be the man, at least to me.
I have had three separate occasions to actually meet and converse with Jack, and not surprisingly, two of them were on the golf course -
1983 Ryder Cup, PGA National Golf Club, Palm Beach Gardens, FL – This was a watershed Ryder Cup; as the U.S. squad barely hung on to defeat the upstart European team, 14.5 points to 13.5 points. The outcome was not settled until Lanny Wadkins hit a pitching wedge to three feet from the hole on the eighteenth hole in his match. That shot halved the match and gave the Cup to the U.S. Jack was the captain of the U.S. team.
I was in the gallery along the eighteenth fairway when Lanny hit his shot. There was jubilation in the gallery as we knew his shot clinched the Cup. I then looked out in the fairway, and there was Jack in his Captain-mode, walkie-talkie in hand, shaking hands with well wishers offering their congratulations. The gallery ropes were down, so I took advantage of the opportunity and ran out to congratulate Jack. This was our exchange –
Me: “Jack, we sure could have used you out there today.”
Jack, in his too-high squeaky voice – “Oh I don’t know about that. I don’t think my nerves could have handled it.”
Me: “Yeah RIGHT!”
Jack: “Ha!”

Three years later those nerves were good enough for him to win his sixth Masters. 
1994 World Golf Championship, Doral Country Club, Miami – Greg Norman won this tournament in a runaway, but at one point in the third round, Jack was tied for the lead. I was, of course, in his gallery. Jack got to the tenth hole, a dogleg-left par 5 around a lake. The long hitters would try to cut the corner, but Jack was too tactical (and also 54 years old) to try that. I was standing right behind him and his caddy as they discussed the shot.
Jack, to his Caddy: “How far to the bunker on the right?”
Caddy: “258.”
Jack: Two fifty eight? You sure?”
Caddy, double-checking his notes: “Yep. 258.”
Jack: “Gimme the one-iron.”
Jack then proceeded to hit his one-iron directly at that bunker, purposely away from the water. The ball landed about ten yards short of the bunker, took a hop forward towards it, and then stopped on a dime, two yards short of it. Jack gave the club back to his caddy, and walked over to where I was standing.
Me: “One-iron, Jack?”
Jack: “Yeah, one-iron.”
Me: “Can’t hit it 258 anymore?”
He turned around and shot me a look, as if to say ‘I’d like to see you try, asshole,’ but then smiled at me. I just said “You’re the man, Jack.”
The final time I talked to him was by far the most rewarding. My good friend Chuck got me an invitation to the Boy Scouts annual banquet at the PGA National Resort (same location as the 1983 Ryder Cup). It was a suit-and-tie affair. I showed up, found Chuck, and said okay where is he? Chuck pointed over to Jack, and I shot over to just be near him. I asked someone if he could ask Jack if it would be okay to have a picture of the two of us. The man walked over to Jack, Jack looked at me and said, sure, c’mon over!
I turned into a star-struck goober.
As I walked up to him, all I could say was, “I named my son after you!”
Jack: “You named him Jack?”
Me: “No, Nicklaus!” (His name is actually Nicholas, but pronounced the same)
Jack: “How old is he?”
Me: “He’s 13 years old Mister Nicklaus sir…he’s in seventh grade and on the honor roll.”
Jack patted me on the back, said “Good job,” and shook my hand.
And that’s when the picture on this story was taken.
Jack’s the man. Always was, always will be.


Anonymous said...

You left out the part that your good friend Chuck and Jack are both Upper Arlington Golden Bears (for whom he played hoops and from whence he got his nickname).

Mikey said...

That gave me chills - congratulations! I have not met my heroes, but I am not one to go seeking them. Then again, it's a good thing: I get awfully clumsy around stars.

Mikey said...

(stars meaning heroes - not necessarily movie / music / etc) of course