At 70 the Golden Bear reminisces

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Jack Nicklaus turns 70 Thursday and GolfChannel.com had an opportunity to ask the Golden Bear some off-the-wall questions. Here is what golf’s latest septuagenarian had to say:

GolfChannel.com: Can you share a favorite birthday memory or birthday present that stood out over the years?

Nicklaus: You could probably pick one of the many John Montgomery “presents.” Those have been very well documented. John was a dear friend and he never let a birthday pass without some sort of prank. There was the time he dumped five tons of manure in front of my house with a pin flag stuck on top that said 'Happy Birthday.' Of course, I got him back on that one. John and his wife had dinner that night at our house, and when John left, he discovered the manure had been moved – right to the back of his wife’s just-detailed Cadillac. There was also the time he tied a donkey to my rearview or the stripping monkey. Then, in the 1980s, John borrowed a friend’s boat to sneak 100 chickens in during the still of the night and unleash them in my backyard. He threw feed all over the yard, but unfortunately some chickens found our guest house and a freshly grouted tile floor. Needless to say, the pecking took its toll.

GolfChannel.com: Can you share a favorite childhood memory that did not involve golf?

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Nicklaus: Actually, I doubt I have any that did involve golf. At the age of 8 (1948), I remember the day I had to stay home from watching Pandel Savic (long-time friend, former Memorial Tournament chairman) play at Ohio State and instead I had to listen on the radio. It was when Pandel threw a pass to Jimmy Clark as the time ran out and I guess Tommy Haig kicked the extra point to win 7-6 over Northwestern. They only won two football games that year – they beat Missouri 13-7 – and that was one of them. There was also the “Snow Bowl” in 1950. There was only 49,000 people – the smallest crowd they ever had in the stadium. We went to the game and there was a little bit of snow on the ground and by the time we left, there were 13 inches. And then there was the only time I struck out in little league (Jack was a switch-hitting catcher). Jim Shearer (Jack was not sure of the spelling) struck me out. I was probably 9 or 10. He was a southpaw, I was batting righty, and that really ticked me off.

GolfChannel.com: A switch hitting catcher, can you imagine how much you would have made in the major leagues?

Nicklaus: I think I would have been a good baseball player. I was a pretty good baseball player.

GolfChannel.com: I once asked you if you did not play golf, and you pursued another sport, that’s the one you would have pursued.

Nicklaus: I said it was my best sport. It was the best sport I was suited to, size wise. I was good at football, but I was not big enough for football. I obviously was not big enough for basketball, even though I played it and enjoyed some success.

GolfChannel.com: What is your idea of perfect day?

Nicklaus: The perfect day is doing things you want to do all day … and with family.

GolfChannel.com: If you had not become a golfer, what career would you have pursued?

Nicklaus: If I had not played golf, I think I probably would have continued to play baseball.

GolfChannel.com: At what age would you say you were at the height of your powers as a golfer?

Nicklaus: Probably 32 to 35.

GolfChannel.com: If you could play one shot over, what shot would it be?

Nicklaus: Let’s see. The first one I could think of which nobody would ever know, was when I was 11 years old. I was playing a fellow named Larry Snyder and we were playing the Army course in Columbus and we were playing a medal play match. I was a bit of a hot head in those days and I missed a putt of about 4 feet. I then took a whack at the ball on the green and instead of knocking it in the hole I knocked it down the fairway about 50 yards. I had to go back and play it back to the green, and it turned out, he beat me by one. Something like 80-81. That’s the first one, but that’s one of my great lessons.

GolfChannel.com: Everyone knows you won 18 professional majors, but 19 runner-up finishes is a rather remarkable total. Which runner-up finish stayed with you the longest and why?

Nicklaus: Probably at Lytham in 1963 (British Open), when I bogeyed the last two holes. The shot I would take back would be my second shot into the 17th, where Jimmy (Dickinson) said “Jack, you don’t need to get it all the way back to the hole,” and I wanted to get it all the way back to the hole. I hit a 2-iron just through the green. I had about 212 yards and must have hit it 217 or 218, and through the green. I had a tough little chip back over a little crown, and if I had hit the 3-iron I would have put it in the middle of the green or short of the pin within 20 feet, which is where I should have put the ball, particularly when I had a one-shot lead going to that point.

GolfChannel.com: You misplayed 18 a little bit, too.

Nicklaus: I did the exact same thing at 18. I hit a driver at 18 and caught the left fairway bunker. That led to a bogey, and I missed the playoff with Phil Rodgers and Bob Charles by one shot. I have played the hole 100 times since, and have never hit driver since. Those two shots at 17 and 18 cost me a chance at my first British Open only because of immaturity and stupidity. I lost by a shot.

GolfChannel.com: That was technically a third place at the time and you missed by a shot. It was not runner-up finish. Anything of the runner-up finishes? 1972?

Nicklaus: The runner-up at the 1972 British Open. I would love to have had my tee shot over at 17 or maybe the 6- or 7-footer that I missed for my par. I sat on 16 knowing that if I finished the same as I did in 1966 I would win, which would be 3-4-4 and instead I finished 4-5-4 and I lost by one. It would not have made a difference if Lee (Trevino) had chipped in or not chipped in. If I had finished the tournament properly, I would have won.

GolfChannel.com: If we were going to make dinner for you, what would please you – appetizer, entrée, dessert, beverage, anything in particular?

Nicklaus: I don’t really care as long as (wife) Barbara cooked it. Probably one of her pasta dishes, like a veal or chicken parmigiana, or chicken tetrazzini.

GolfChannel.com: If you have an iPod who is on it?

Nicklaus: I have an iPod. My whole music system in my house is on my iPod. Who is on it? Everybody. I have about 500-700-plus songs. When we moved in my house, it was my Christmas present from Gary, with all the music I like on it. I never take my iPod out of the drawer; it’s on the computer and plays throughout the house.

GolfChannel.com: What is a non-golfing book you like that made an impression on you?

Nicklaus: Outside of the Bible, I would lump it into an author rather than a book. I like Wilbur Smith, which I have said many times. I enjoy him more than anybody.

GolfChannel.com: A favorite movie you have enjoyed more than once?

Nicklaus: I guess 'Caddyshack.'

GolfChannel.com: A favorite non-golfing TV show?

Nicklaus: '24' for drama but ESPN’s 'SportsCenter' is a show I watch a lot.

GolfChannel.com: Who makes you laugh out loud?

Nicklaus: Most of my grandkids. Especially the younger grandkids playing sports. Like watching a 5-year-old play basketball. That makes me laugh out loud, but don’t ever let them see you.

GolfChannel.com: When you hit the first shots with Arnold Palmer at the Masters in April, would you like to play off the first hole to see who wins the hole?

Nicklaus: I’d like to just go play the round. Years ago, they used to play nine holes or 18 holes. I personally think the starters should play 9 holes…or something. Let’s go play a few holes.