Go ahead and try to spit out a cogent sentence in the company of the games greatest wordsmiths'guys like O.B. Keeler, Bob Drum, Bernard Darwin, Henry Longhurst, Jim Murray, Bob Green, Herbert Warren Wind and so many others who painted so many colorful pictures through so many glorious eras in the sport.
That there even exists such an award, given to those whove served the profession with conspicuous honor, says much about just how strongly the tournament host feels about the media.
Toward that end, Len Shapiro, the award-winning columnist for The Washington Post, and affable Ken Bowden, Jacks longtime biographer, were swapping Nicklaus stories and allowed me to eavesdrop.
Shapiro recalled the 1993 U.S. Open at Baltusrol and a sizable media scrum which had gathered around Jack after a round hed played. A young staffer from ABC television tugged at the arm of the legend, trying to get his attention. Jack, deep in the interview, didnt seem to notice. Finally this producer, desperate, drew the strength to say, Excuse me Mr. Nicklaus, but Mr. Jastrow (then the golf producer at ABC) said he needs you to come up to the tower for an interview and he needs you right now.
Jacks reply? Young man, he said, You kindly tell Mr. Jastrow that these guys Im talking to have been following me around for 30 years, and when Im finished with every last question of theirs then Ill find my way to the booth.
Jack, according to Bowden, was always acutely aware of the medias role, as was Arnold Palmer. Those two gave the scribes untold volumes of material with their monumental achievements, but whats more they provided the writers with access. You could talk one-on-one with them, in many cases even befriend Arnie and Jack. And as a result, the two legends more often than not received favorable treatment from the press.
Bowden related another story that illustrates Jacks overall perspective. The 1977 British Open at Turnberry, considered by many the greatest duel in golf history, had just ended, with Tom Watson making birdie at the last to clip Jack by a single shot. Jack had shot 65-66 with a miracle birdie from near a gorse bush at the 72nd hole. Yet Watson, in the early stages of his career ascent, fired 65-65. When it ended, Jack walked off the green with his arm around his young opponent in a display of sportsmanship that, along with the putt he conceded to Tony Jacklin at the 1969 Ryder Cup, would define Jacks career as much as the 20 major titles.
Anyway, as Bowden tells it, he and his wife Jean had a dinner engagement with Jack and Barbara scheduled for that evening. Somewhat sheepishly, Bowden, fearing that Jack would be too disappointed to keep the date, said to Jack, Hey look, dont worry about dinner.
Jack, with his high-pitched voice, shot back, You dont want to eat?!
Well yeah, I do, said Bowden. But Im just thinking about you.
Go get cleaned up, responded Jack. And in what Bowden claims is one of the great lines in golf history, Jack added simply, Its only a game.
A wonderful game at that, in large part because of men like Jack Nicklaus.
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