Let Jack Decide


There was only ever one king in American golf. He was Arnold Palmer. No one will ever summon the audacity or find the means to take away that crown.

So where, exactly then, does that leave Jack Nicklaus in golf's titled pantheon?

His date of birth is listed as January 21, 1940. January 21 is a day for the swearing in of U.S. Presidents. Pity the poor Nicklaus biographer who has failed to assert that Nicklaus was inaugurated, not born, the day he came into the golfing world.

If Arnie is The King, to extend the metaphor, Jack is the Chief Executive.

All of which, right now, is part of the problem. Somebody needs to give Jack Nicklaus a Presidential pardon.

I am as guilty as the next person. Too many of us insist that we want Jack to play tournament golf as long as he is able to stand up and swing a club. He has been an idol and an icon for many of us. His departure from inside the ropes would be like losing a trusted friend and benefactor.

This is wrong. It is time to let Jack decide.

Nicklaus senses the obligation. So he battles on wearily at age 65, trying to tell us he wants to stop playing golf on the big stages. He is frustrated by two things: Our inability to hear his pleas; and his inability to produce the kind of golf he was able to conjure almost at will in his 20s, 30s, 40s and, on limited glorious occasions, in his 50s.

This is where Nicklaus and Palmer are different. And few seem to get that part either. Palmer is a warhorse in the truest and best sense of the word. When the golf balls go up in the air in the morning, he wants to be there. He loved playing more than winning. Nicklaus, it is my opinion, loved winning more than playing.

And now that he can't win, the playing can become tedious.

'I played my heart out,' Nicklaus said after missing the cut Friday at his own tournament in Ohio. 'I shot a 75 and a 77. That's not very good.'

We need to let Jack Nicklaus go gently into the good night if that is what he wants. We need to let him back outside the ropes if that is what he wishes.

Yes, of course, Nicklaus has been his own worst enemy at times on this score. He has retired and unretired more times than a prize fighter. He has been conflicted on this subject now for a quarter of a century. And the fickle nature of the game he conquered for so long hasn't helped either.

Golf is sport's ultimate siren song. One cleanly, crisply struck blow with a forged blade beckons us all back to the first tee for more inevitable torture by the certain and all-powerful vagaries of the game. The moment you think you've 'got it' in golf is the precise moment golf has 'got you.'

Can you imagine what it would be like to have been as good at anything as Jack Nicklaus was at golf only to wake up one morning and find out you simply can't call it up on demand like some pay-per-view movie?

We have watched Jack Nicklaus struggle with this. What we have ignored is him looking back at us. What must he see now? Adoring audiences begging him to produce more magic when the rabbit long since moved out of the hat?

It is time for us to start thinking a little more about Jack Nicklaus and a little less about ourselves when it comes to his future. And it is time for Jack Nicklaus to be made sure of the fact that when and if he decides to stop playing golf competitively, it will be OK with us.

Until that time, Hail to the Chief of golf. And until all the scores are added up at the Champions Tour event in which Nicklaus is playing this week, don't count him out.

Just be sure to never forget to count the memories he has provided. For it is only then that we will all fully realize that we owe him a lot more than he owes us.
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