From the time he touched down at Leuchars Air Force base just outside of town, Jack Nicklaus was ready. The man who always seemed to be prepared for the occasion was primed one final time. A short drive and Jack eased into the car park of Rufflets, a charming country hotel where he has stayed since his first trip here in 1964. During competitive weeks he never strayed far from home, and this would be no exception.
Monday morning at 9:30 Jack and Barbara turned right onto Strathkinness High Road and headed for the Old Course. The poetry of Jack taking the High Road to St. Andrews was not lost on this observer. Less than five minutes later the day got a bit more interesting for fans gathered around the players entrance. His emergence from an unmarked rental car seemed to catch the onlookers by surprise as most of the other competitors arrived via tournament transportation.
Phil Mickelson was leaving the clubhouse and made his way to Jack and Barbara to say hello. Michael Campbell was headed in the opposite direction until he saw the pair and made sure to give his regards. Shortly afterwards, Jack disappeared into the R & A clubhouse to collect credentials for himself and the family. Steve arrived, kissed his mother and headed towards caddie registration.
After some time at the practice ground Jack took the first tee with 2005 Memorial Champion Bart Bryant and Fred Couples. Just before the group teed off they were joined by their fourth, Nick Faldo. Faldo reminded Jack that the last time they played a practice round game Faldo had collected 20 pounds, and since the Royal Bank of Scotland was issuing a 5 pound note bearing Jacks likeness, would Jack mind terribly paying off todays bet in crisp notes.
Halfway through the back nine Faldo seemed to be looking nervously for an ATM. Down a few holes and running out of real estate Nick had to close strong in order to avoid having to scarf down his boast along with afternoon tea. After a quick photo session atop the Swilkan Bridge the round ended, Jack headed to the practice ground to hit more balls and then made his way back to the hotel to meet up with the ladies who had been perusing the town, and the Jacks who had been playing golf.
Tuesday started the same way, with a family breakfast and a 9:20 departure to the course. A quick kiss goodbye for Barbara and Jack was on time for his 9:30 media conference. At the official RBS announcement regarding the 5 pound note Jack was truly humbled by becoming only the third living person, and first outside the royal family, to adorn Scottish paper currency. The conference continued and the written medias portion concluded with the presentation of the Michael Williams award by the Association of Golf Writers for cooperation with and support of the British golf writers. Jack accepted this award with a tearful reminiscence about the relationship golfers used to have with the media, and his heartfelt thanks to those who still honor that bond.
A brief stop with the electronic media ended with a question from ESPNs Scott Van Pelt who asked how Jack would like to finish the week. A silent Nicklaus cradled an imaginary Claret Jug aloft then answered, I PROMISE you, this is what Im picturing
His 11 a.m. practice round with Tom Watson had been scheduled weeks before in the media center at the Bayer Advantage Classic on the Champions Tour and the two were joined by fellow Memorial Champion Kenny Perry and fellow Masters Champion Mike Weir. After another good practice round in the unseasonable warm weather Jack seemed upbeat and headed home.
Wednesday the course was abuzz. Jack was playing with Tiger at 11, or was it 2? Practice rounds werent assigned and no one had seen Tiger all day. His usual practice routine was a 6:30 a.m. round, so surely he was waiting to play a bit later with Jack.
After a shuttle to the practice ground and a session to limber up, the pair with eight Open Championships between them headed across the third hole to play their way home via 16, 17 and 18. The two have been friends and rivals throughout the years with Jack staying at Toms house for this years Bayer, and both men staying at the same small hotel in St. Andrews. Certainly aware of the next days 7:47am tee time the two men headed back to the hotel with Watson at the wheel, and Jack was in bed before his sons hit the dinner table.
Thursday morning came quickly. Jack pulled the car around for Barbara at 6:37 and suggested that she drive. Barbara would just drop Jack off then return to the hotel for Nan and other family members. The day of the final first round at a major of the games greatest champion began like it did for so many fathers, making sure the family was organized and no kids were left stranded. Barbara reminded herself to look right as she exited the hotel driveway and delivered Jack to an awaiting Steve.
Steve Nicklaus might not be the tallest of the boys, but he is the most imposing. Hes the only one not to try golf as a profession, but the one who plays most frequently now. He played Wide Receiver for Florida State, though he now looks more like an outside linebacker. It was big, burly Steve who urged his father to play at Augusta this year. It was Steve who assured his dad that keeping the commitment to play this event was what the family wanted, and needed, because it was Steve and his wife Christa who lost their youngest son Jake tragically this year. The couple is expecting a daughter next month in one of lifes simultaneously painful and joyous cycles, and it is Steve whom his father describes as an even sillier more sentimental old fool than me. Watching a father help heal his son, as the son lent his support to the father was a side story in this championship too poignant for words.
Fridays 12:58pm tee time allowed for a morning of rest. For the first time all week a courtesy car arrived at Rufflets. Ann Wallace emerged looking for Tom Watson. She told of a picture she had taken in 1995. She had driven Jack to the course one day and now the memory hangs in her front hallway. When she got news that she was to pick up Tom this morning she was elated, but had also hoped to drive Jack one last time. Tom came out of the hotel and Ann asked for a photo. Tom was happy to oblige then told Ann to wait a minute so she could get one with Jack, since he was coming as well. Ann was giddy with the thought of driving the two champions and Jack posed for a picture to compliment the one taken a decade earlier.
On the way to the course the men talked about the weather getting cooler and the wind changing direction. The conversation turned to making the cut and the two men agreed that they needed to make better things happen than they had on Thursday if they were to play the weekend. To see the difference in the reception on tee boxes fairways and greens from round one to two was to get a deeper understanding of Scottish golf fans. Thursday provided a very warm and appropriate level of respect for the man at every turn, but Friday was different.
As Jack willed his way around the course fighting for the cutline the Scots showered their love. He holds a special place in the hearts of Scottish golf fans, not because of the number of his Open Championship victories, but because of the manner of his play. He always played their game the way it was meant to be played, and he was doing so once again. It was no ceremonial farewell round, but a beloved Champion saying goodbye with a singular grace and style.
As it turns out, missing the cut was the perfect ending for Jacks week in St. Andrews. The emotional stage was his alone on Friday, not to be shared with Sundays drama. By starting and ending his week with birdies, he showed yet again that he has that rare ability to capture the moment. He was able to spend Friday night at a private party with friends, sleep in Saturday morning and shepherd the cubs towards home one more time. It enabled his children to get back home to their children. And perhaps, most fittingly of all, it allowed him to make it home for the weekly Sunday night family dinner at his house in North Palm Beach where he is no longer Jack Nicklaus, just pee-paw, a role he fills even better than that of a golfer.