Nicklaus donates course design for disabled vets
The Army lieutenant colonel, paralyzed below both knees, is propped up inside a “SoloRider,” a specially designed cart with a seat that tilts up to support disabled golfers when they swing. He takes the new club, leans over the ball and follows the legend’s instructions.
The white ball soars into the sunny Northwest sky, past lush evergreens and lands about 150 yards down the driving range.
Dudek’s drive – specifically the dedication and promise for renewal it represents – is why Nicklaus is here outside Tacoma, Washington. The golf great is donating his expertise to design what will perhaps be the most appreciated course he’ll ever build.
Nicklaus is helping U.S. combat veterans by redesigning and expanding the American Lake Veterans Golf Course. It’s going to be a one-of-a-kind, 18-hole layout geared specifically for disabled golfers.
“All projects are very important to me. But this one is out of love,” said Nicklaus, who has designed more than 300 courses around the world and has 100 more in the works. “I’m a hired gun to do things a lot of places. But I’m not a hired gun here. I’m doing this because I want to do it.”
Nicklaus wasn’t at Pebble Beach this week with the rest of the American golf establishment for the U.S. Open, a tournament he won four times as part of his record 18 major championships. He wasn’t getting paid to put on another clinic.
He was taking time from a trip to Asia to give back to a military in which he never served by helping some of America’s wounded veterans rebuild their lives.
“You know, I was married and had children before I even got out of college, so I was never in the service,” Nicklaus said. “I never knew what these guys have gone through, and it’s just something to be behold. I had a lot of friends who were in and went to Vietnam. They came back and their lives were scarred in a lot of ways. So to be able to give back – even though I couldn’t contribute from that standpoint, I sure can from this standpoint.”
Nicklaus is donating his expertise to build a new back nine and tweak the front nine holes at American Lake. The course was originally constructed as a nine-hole place of respite – not rehabilitation – in 1955, on the grounds of the Veterans Administration hospital near Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
On Monday, he conducted a 45-minute clinic for soldiers and civilians after flying from Florida and New York earlier in the day. Wearing black slacks and a yellow, American Lake sweater vest over a light-blue golf shirt, he pulled clubs out of a black bag with his trademark golden bear on it.
The 70-year-old Nicklaus, who says he now only plays five or so times a year, held his audience enraptured. A few soldiers in desert camouflage uniforms and black berets bellowed from behind the ropes, “HOO-AHH, Jack! HOO-AHH!”
Then Dudek teed up. The colonel and commander of the Warrior Transition Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for soldiers returning from war walks with the aid of braces strapped to each arm. An improvised explosive device detonated into his back in 2007 while he was an artillery officer deployed to Iraq.
Dudek, satisfied with his first swing of the day, smiled. So did Nicklaus.
“Did you play golf before you were injured?” Nicklaus asked. “You had to.”
Dudek admitted he did.
“It kind of doesn’t compute, it doesn’t make sense: I’m standing in front of Jack Nicklaus!” Dudek marveled.
There was no place Nicklaus would rather have been.
“I’m delighted,” he said.
Nicklaus got involved at the urging of Ken Still, his good friend and a teammate at the 1969 Ryder Cup.
Still and his American Lake committee wanted to enlarge their course and make it specifically for wounded veterans. But that vision needed funding, expertise – and a big name to attract donations and credibility.
They don’t get much bigger than Jack Nicklaus.
“Ken Still is a pretty solid guy,” Nicklaus said. “He says, ‘Jack, you need to be involved out here.’ I said, ‘What do you what me to do Kenny?’ He says, ‘I want you to come out and design a golf course for these guys.”’
That was all Nicklaus needed to hear.
After the clinic, he led an invitation-only reception, part of American Lake’s efforts to raise the $3 million it needs to begin turning the course into an 18-hole getaway for the wounded and disabled.
“When you lose a limb, lose an arm, all of a sudden you feel like you are ostracized from society. This puts these guys back into society. It gives them self-worth,” Nicklaus said. “To us, their self-worth will never be questioned. But to them, sometimes they worry about that … golf gives them a new lease on life.”
“It’s great. I’m just so pleased to be involved and help out in any way that I can.”
Tuesday, he saw for the first time the land he will design into the final nine holes. Driving a cart past stunned veterans golfing on the front nine, Nicklaus and two of his senior designers spent more than three hours unfurling blueprints and sketching hole layouts. He was covered in dust as he talked about moving trees and dealing with power lines. He pondered how he will turn dirt and brush and deep green forest into perhaps the most needed course he’ll ever build.
He’ll have to modify some of his usual concepts. His notoriously deep sand traps with steep lips will have to be shallower so the special carts can access them.
“My usual sea bunkers aren’t going to work here, are they?” Nicklaus said.
Asked for the other modifications he will have to make, Nicklaus shrugged.
“I don’t know. It’s all uncharted for me,” he said.
“Hopefully this is a prototype for a lot of places around the country.”
Nicklaus’ work is the centerpiece of the $4.5 million project at American Lake called “A Course in Courage: Healing America’s Veterans through Golf.” His design will start becoming reality once American Lake raises about $2 million more.
It’s estimated that eight of every 10 golfers who play American Lake have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. And those who play keep coming back. Many older veterans now volunteer on the course’s maintenance crews.
More than 12,000 rounds of golf were played at American Lake between April and August of 2009. The demand is expected to grow soon, as the largest number of homecoming of veterans in 30 years arrives back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Many will have severe injuries and emotional trauma.
Gen. John Shalikashvili, the retired former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suffered a massive stroke in 2004 and is in a wheelchair. The resident of nearby DuPont, Wash., was among those golfing from a SoloRider during Nicklaus’ visit.
“I think it’s terrific,” Shalikashvili said of the course. “Because it shows that no matter what the injury is, it’s not life-ending.”
Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo
Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.
With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.
Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.
The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.
In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.
Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys
After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.
There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.
It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.
It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.
“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.
In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.
Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”
Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.
“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”
Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.
Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.
If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.
For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.
Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.
Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.
While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.
When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?
Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.
After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.
The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.
That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.
The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.
While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.
Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.
Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.
“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”
The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?
Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'
John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.
That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.
Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.
Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid
Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.
Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.
Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.
World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.
Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.