ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Jack Nicklaus never intended to return. Nothing could top his final appearance on the Old Course, when he said farewell as a competitor in 2005.
The final wave on the Swilken Bridge. The celebrated walk up the 18th fairway. The final putt and one last putter raise. All with his family bearing witness.
But then came the offer of an honor so rare, it had only been presented to two previous Americans.
Nicklaus, a three-time Open champion, twice a winner in St. Andrews, was graced by the town as an honorary citizen. For that, he returned. That this is also a celebration of the 150th Open ties in nicely.
Adoration might overly simplify Nicklaus’ affection for St. Andrews and the Old Course. He holds the venue and its surroundings in such high regard that he was willing to avoid it just to maintain the fondest of memories.
Nicklaus didn’t come back when St. Andrews hosted The Open in 2010, nor when it hosted in ’15.
“I played at St Andrews, because it made my farewell in 2005, and I didn't want to come back and dilute that for what it was. It was fantastic then,” Nicklaus said to the assembled press Monday at the Old Course.
“But when I got the invitation this time to be an honorary citizen of St. Andrews and to follow Bobby Jones and Benjamin Franklin, I've got to come back. So to be back is fantastic.”
Yes, among all the esteemed company Nicklaus has held, it will now include a Founding Father of the United States.
Nicklaus will be awarded the honor on Tuesday in St. Andrews, at age 82. Jones was 56 when he returned in 1958 to the Auld Grey Toon, site of his 1927 Open triumph. He was confined to a wheelchair in his battle with a crippling spinal disease, but he made the overseas’ journey, and he stood, and he spoke with humility in receiving the "Freedom of the City."
“I could take out of my life everything except my experiences at St. Andrews, and I would still have had a rich and full life,” he said.
Parts of Nicklaus' impending speech will be memorialized as well. He re-shared a few stories on Monday. He talked about his philosophy on playing the Old Course, why it stands the test of time and what it was like winning in 1970 and '78.
And how it all began with an initial glance in his first start here, nearly 60 years ago.
“When I stepped on it in '64, all of a sudden to step out of the clubhouse, step here, look at the first tee, look at what was there, see the town, see everything, I fell in love with it immediately,” Nicklaus said. “And I've had a love affair with it ever since.”