Nicklaus Thrilled to Be Just Jack


I noticed something different in Mr. Jack William Nicklaus at The Memorial last week. He seems to finally understand that he is not going to shoot 65 and win every tournament that he plays in.
You might say, as I do, that thats good. You might say thats bad. Until a couple of years ago, Jack really believed he should win every time he put a peg in the ground. Regardless of the level of competition, regardless that he was creeping up on age 60 or over, regardless of his physical condition ' Nicklaus thought he should attack like the Nicklaus of 30 years ago attacked. There was no concession given to competition, age or physical condition.
This Nicklaus is a pleasure to watch. He still shot par golf for three days at Muirfield Village, which is a course of more than 7,200 yards. Hes 62 and he was playing Tiger and Mickelson and Duval and the cream of the crop on the PGA Tour. And he made the cut, which is a monumental achievement at this age, considering that two weeks ago his lower back was in such pain he could hardly stand up.
That isnt like the Nicklaus of not so long ago. A compliment for a score of 70 would have been met with, Come on, thats not good! Seventy is not a good score! Still reliving the days when he would have shot 65 or 66, Jack just could not accept anything less.
Now, he realizes that he isnt going to win a PGA Tour event, regardless of how well he plays.
I never dreamed that I was going to be playing Saturday and Sunday, he said. I just wanted to be respectable.
And he was that ' after three days, he had the exact same score as one Tiger Woods. The fourth day fatigue finally caught up with him, but the first three, he provoked shouting all the way from Columbus to Cleveland.
Jack has a marvelous sense of humor. Asked about the ovation he received as he walked the incline to the 18th green on the final day, he laughed and said, I just wanted to get up the hill!
Maybe they (the members of the gallery) could push me up the hill ' how about that? The ovation pushed me up the hill.
Is that negativism? Certainly not. Nicklaus still can play a wonderful round of golf. But he cant do it for four days. He has both feet firmly on the ground now, though, and he sees reality a bit more clearly ' the days of Jack the Conqueror are over. The days of Jack the Player certainly are not.
Woods played in a twosome directly in front of Nicklaus Sunday. Of course, Jack couldnt resist sticking in the needle ' just a little. I told him on the tee this morning I was going to make sure to give him a little room, make sure we didnt drive into him, Nicklaus joked.
He hit one of the best shots hes hit in a long time on 18 the first day. For a minute there, it was a 30-year-old Jack swinging the club. Let him describe it:
Eighteen was really fun because probably the best swing I made all day was my 3-wood off the tee, said Nicklaus. I told my caddy, Im going to hold this (next shot) and cut it into the wind. Im going to play a shot the way I used to play shots.
And I did. I put it in about 17, 18 feet. And then I made the putt. I really enjoyed that. I had a 3-wood and a 6-iron. I had about 164 yards and I just cut it into the wind. The wind was actually helping but I worked it back.
I suspect that age has brought on a lot more than just grandchildren ' something that happened to Arnie and Trevino and Player and all the rest of the great ones s happening now to Nicklaus. Nicklaus thoroughly enjoys playing now. That wasnt always so, even into his mid- to upper-50s. But hes come full circle. He said even before his outstanding play this weekend that he plans to play in more Senior Tour events this year. Thats the first time weve heard that.
I want to play ' I dearly love to play, Nicklaus said after the first round.
Im here saying that Im delighted with a 71. Half the field would be chewing their clubs up with a 71. But I really enjoyed that. It was fun. Im obviously glad I played. I dont know what will happen tomorrow, but it doesnt make much difference what happens tomorrow.
Jack Nicklaus is entitled to think like that. He can take great pleasure in good golf in smaller doses now. Hes done it all, set all the records and won all the majors. He wont stand being just a ceremonial golfer, but his idea of what a ceremonial golfer is now and what his idea used to be is slowly coming around to reality.
The world was thrilled to see Nicklaus, and Jack is slowly realizing that he wants to be Nicklaus. And not necessarily the Nicklaus of old.