Jack Nicklaus plays the British Open one final time, and people are all atwitter trying to decide if it will be the last time we will see the golfing icon in a tournament. There are plenty of reasons to believe it ' Jack himself seems to have said so during a recent promotional visit to Britain; after all, he IS 65 now; and the days are long gone when he was even a remote threat to win.
But there is a world of difference. Its not one-on-one in golf ' theres no pitcher blowing one right by your flailing bat, no one standing there about to swat back your jumper, no young pug pounding your head into a bloody mess. Its you, the golf course ' and the fans. And the fans dont care if Jack Nicklaus is 65. No one cares if a good day for him is a round of 75.
That, though, doesnt account for the man himself. Nicklaus insists he doesnt want to just stick around and whack a golf ball, walking around the course in the adulation of thousands. If someone pays to see Jack Nicklaus, he says, they should get to see Jack Nicklaus.
This is the man who gently poked fun at Arnold Palmer for sticking around forever when most his age had already left the party and locked the door. Jack sees how hard it is now. He is battling an awfully strong urge to keep playing. The sane man says stop now, you will never win again. The insane man says, please, give it one more shot ' you never know when you will discover something that unleashes the young Jack one more time.
Millions of golf fans are urging, even insisting, that he stay. Nicklaus, though, is fighting what to him has always been the ultimate insult ' being nothing but a ceremonial golfer, as he calls it.
I don't really pay much attention to the ceremonial part until it becomes ceremonial, until I no longer become a competitive golfer, he says.
Sure, it will have its moments for me, but it's really hard to understand. I don't understand sometimes what goes around in my head. But my head says, Hey, I can play this golf course, and I'm going to go play. And that to me is not ceremonial. So as long as my head stays that way, then I'm not worried about the other part of it at this point.
Hmmm does it sound like twiddle-dee or twiddle-dum? How about this: I love playing golf. Don't get me wrong, because I do and there's nothing I've enjoyed more in my life than playing golf and being competitive and being part of what's going on.
Hooray! If youve never seen Nicklaus play, maybe there is still hope!
But then he douses it with:
When you're not part of the competitive part of it, it loses its glow. And I haven't been part of the competitive part of it for several years now, realistically.
And to try and somewhat have to keep a golf game in shape - because I'm going to play The Masters next year or play in the British Open next year, or I'm going to play half a dozen senior tournaments or whatever I'm going to do - isn't a lot of fun. Because you know that you're not playing very well, you don't have any desire to work at it, you know you don't have a game that is going to be what you want. So the glow just sort of falls away from it.
Hes started to thoroughly enjoy having the whole Nicklaus clan over for dinner on Sunday. He thoroughly enjoys taking off on a whim and fishing in Alaska, in Australia, somewhere in the Rockies. He has a golf course design business to occupy his time, too. And practice is painful for him ' his back, his hip, his shoulder. So why do it?
Why, indeed, he questions?
Over the last couple of years I've started to spend more time doing other things and just say the heck with golf for a couple of months, I'm going to go do something else, he said. I frankly really enjoyed that.
If I could still play golf and could get organized and could go play, I'd certainly do that. I've tried a little bit over the last few years to do that, but I know my golf game isn't the same. My body doesn't like it.
Then, he lets a little sliver of light in on his persona, the persona that used to be totally a golfer.
I go home and I have a hard time filling a little bit of the void at home because when I'm at home before, I go to the office, I do my things I'm doing at home. But I always used to always go to the golf course, too, and get myself ready for the next time I play. And I go home now, I'm not getting myself ready for the next time I play, and what am I going to do today? I've got a little bit of that.
No one who has not been there will ever know how difficult it is to retire from the thing you love. Jack Nicklaus loves his family, he loves his fishing, he loves his business, he loves just puttering around. But there is one other thing ' he truly, dearly, loves golf.
For 45 years, he has been Jack Nicklaus. And he cant let go. And, come to think of it, why should he paint himself into a corner with no way out?
If Jack wants to play, has even the slightest inkling anytime in the future that he can play ' he should play! He has earned that many times over.
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