Just Jack

By Rich LernerJune 2, 2009, 4:00 pm
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DUBLIN, Ohio ' He looks good, as fit as Ive seen Jack in years. If its a battle against the big 70, which looms early next year, I like Jack.
 
I played 18 yesterday plus two sets of tennis, he told me. Before long, Jack was recounting his match against tennis analyst and good friend Cliff Drysdale as if it were the 62 U.S. Open at Oakmont.
 
Im giving Cliff eight shots, he said with a smile. Anyway, were even playing the 18th, a par five. Im in the fairway bunker off the tee, hit the lip coming out and leave a six iron short of the green. Cliff hit it in the water, but with his stroke made seven for six. So I chip up and have about 10 feet for par and the win.
 
I couldnt help but jump in here. You made it, didnt you?
 
Of course I did, he said, laughing.
 
Jack was always pretty predictable. While the cameras set up for our interview, I complimented him on his play at The Par 3 tournament at the Masters.
 
I remember watching in our compound at Augusta Country Club on that Wednesday. When Jack birdied two straight to start, I turned to colleague Steve Burkowski and cracked, Burko, look at this, Jacks playing the Par 3 like it matters.
 
Burko, with a rapid-fire blend of humor and honesty that makes a newsroom fun, never hesitated.
 
It does matter, he said. Its Augusta. And its Jack.
 
I told Jack the story.
 
After you made those birdies, I explained to Jack, I said to Steve, wow look at this hes playing like it matters.
 
Jack didnt miss a beat. It does matter, he said. Every time you tee it up it should matter.
 
It always has, going back to when he was 13.
 
I remember the first time I broke 70, he recalled. I worked in my dads pharmacy, starting when I was 10 usually in the summertime.
 
After a couple years my Dad started taking me out to the golf course at about four in the afternoon. I was 13 and I shot 35 on the front nine. I said, Dad Ive got a chance to break 70 today.
 
Remember, this was the early 50s. Charlie was the father who knew best.
 
Nope, he told Jack, Moms expecting us home for dinner.
 
Thirteen-year-old Jack was dogged. Dad come on, please, Ive got to play.
 
Nope, said Dad again, but I tell you what if we hurry home real quick we can get back and play the back nine.
 
They rushed home, ate, came back and raced through the second nine against the setting sun at Scioto Country Club.
 
I remember getting to the 18th hole, a par 5, Jack said. I hit driver and four-iron to about 35 feet. Ill never forget walking up to the green and the sprinkler was going with an old hose across the green.
 
This was 56 years ago, and he remembers it like it happened this morning.
 
I pulled back the hose and the sprinkler and I had this 35-foot rainbow that I holed for 69. It was almost dark. That was the first time I broke 70.
 
Hes 69 now, looking and sounding like those days are not nearly done.
 
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