The Essence of Jack

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2010, 7:03 pm

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You can point back to so many stories that capture the essence of Jack Nicklaus with his 70th birthday upon us.

There was the legendary Bobby Jones with his classic quote after the Golden Bear won the Masters in 1965 in a nine-shot romp over the runner-up tandem of Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.

“He plays a game with which I am unfamiliar,” Jones famously said.

There was Nicklaus refusing to be intimidated by Arnie’s Army when he beat Arnold Palmer in a playoff to win the U.S. Open as a rookie in Palmer’s Pennsylvania backyard at Oakmont in 1962.

“They treated him like a dog,” Player said.

There was the improbable Masters triumph of 1986, the last time Nicklaus would conjur all his powers in a major championship to claim his 18th professional major at 46.

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“That I could still summon what I had back when, that I could still use it coming down the stretch, that was special for me,” Nicklaus said.

There are so many stories that capture the heart of the man, but my favorite is the one that makes him look as fragile and human as the rest of us.

It’s about what overwhelmed him in life.

It’s about how the births of his children literally floored him.

At the Nicklaus Museum on the Ohio State University campus, there’s a story documented among several exhibits dedicated to his wife, Barbara, and the couple’s five children. It’s a story about the importance of family in Nicklaus’ life.

“Jack fainted at the sight of each newborn child,” reads an inscription in the family section. “He was out for 15 minutes when Nan was born. Their doctor joked that Jack spent more time in the recovery room than Barbara.”

Truth be told, Nicklaus didn’t faint at the birth of all of his children, just the first four. This is how he once told the story:

“I was in Cincinnati when Jackie was born [in 1961]. Barbara called me, and I went back to Columbus. I went to the hospital, and they brought Jackie out and I keeled over.

“The second was Steve [in 1963]. They brought Steve out in the waiting room, and I was on the carpet.

“The third was Nan [in 1965]. They knew what was going to happen, so they had two people catch me when they brought her out.

“The fourth was Gary [in 1969]. I went to the hospital with a pillow, smelling salts, everything. I looked at him and, bam, I’m out again.

“The fifth was Michael [in 1973]. I looked at him and nothing happened. I didn’t faint. I figured that must be time to call an end to it.”

Nicklaus’ devotion to his family is a measure of the man that goes beyond his championship record. He reaches two milestone dates this year that aren’t about golf. He turns 70 on Thursday and he celebrates 50 years of marriage to Barbara on July 23.

The shock of what’s happening to Tiger Woods makes sportswriters wary of putting the words family and man in the same sentence, much less putting them together, no matter who they’re writing about. As wiser men have written, who can really know the heart? Nicklaus, though, is a model with Barbara so long at his side.

“For us fathers on Tour,” four-time PGA Tour winner Billy Andrade once told me, “Jack’s our role model in how to balance career and family.”

Nicklaus’ heart for family speaks to us by virtue of the fact that through almost 50 years of marriage he has always been there for Barbara and his children in the most important moments of their lives. They’ve found him as reliable and dependable in their most meaningful moments as he was over any putt that meant something.

Nicklaus might have passed out at the births of his children, but he was there for them. He was there for so many of his children’s special activities. He was a presence at school auditoriums, on the sidelines of youth football games and in the stands at junior baseball and basketball games.

There’s evidence of the extreme family devotion in the fact that even today four of the five Nicklaus children live within 10 minutes of Jack and Barbara, who still reside in the home they built 40 years ago at Lost Tree Village in North Palm Beach.

“I don’t think he ever missed one of my football games, and very few of my basketball games,” Michael Nicklaus, Jack’s youngest child, told me a few years ago. “He was there whenever we wanted him to be there. To be at the top of the game the way he was, and to do it without sacrificing his commitment to family, I don’t think I appreciated what that took as much then as I do now.”

Jack and Barbara met as freshmen at Ohio State and married before their senior years. After Nicklaus joined the PGA Tour, he promised his wife he would never play more than two weeks in a row if it meant staying away from his family. The couple once left their children for 17 days on a vacation to South Africa, but Nicklaus kept his promise.

Jackie, the oldest at 48 now, told me the effort his father made to see him and his brother, Steve, play a high school football impressed him as much as any effort his father made to win a golf tournament.

Back when Jackie and Steve played football for the Benjamin School in North Palm Beach, their father was playing the Firestone Invitational. After the second round, Jack flew out of Ohio and back to Florida to see their big game at Belle Glade.

“We won, a huge win for us against cross-county rivals, and I'll never forget him giving us these big hugs,” Jackie said. “We were all sweaty, and he was all sweaty, and we were all so excited. He left after the game to fly back to Firestone.”

That story captures the essence of Nicklaus as well as any.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”

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Reed's major record now a highlight, not hindrance

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 2:46 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The narrative surrounding Patrick Reed used to be that he could play well in the Ryder Cup but not the majors.

So much for that.

Reed didn’t record a top-10 in his first 15 starts in a major, but he took the next step in his career by tying for second at the 2017 PGA Championship. He followed that up with a breakthrough victory at the Masters, then finished fourth at the U.S. Open after a closing 68.

He’s the only player with three consecutive top-4s in the majors.

What’s the difference now?


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“The biggest thing is I treat them like they’re normal events,” he said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I’ve always gone into majors and put too much pressure on myself, having to go play well, having to do this or that. Now I go in there and try to play golf and keep in the mindset of, Hey, it’s just another day on the golf course. Let’s just go play.

“I’ve been able to stay in that mindset the past three, and I’ve played pretty well in all three of them.”

Reed’s record in the year’s third major has been hit or miss – a pair of top-20s and two missed cuts – but he says he’s a better links player now than when he began his career. It took the native Texan a while to embrace the creativity required here and also to comprehend the absurd distances he can hit the ball with the proper wind, conditions and bounce.

“I’m sort of accepting it,” he said. “I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with doing it. It’s come a little bit easier, especially down the stretch in tournament play.”