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Rosaforte Report: Shepherding Jack and Tiger

Jack Nicklaus in the 1983 U.S. Open at Oakmont and Tiger Woods in the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock.
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Jack Nicklaus in the 1983 U.S. Open at Oakmont and Tiger Woods in the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock.  - 

Jack Druga will never forget the day he played a practice round with Jack Nicklaus prior to the 1983 U.S. Open at Oakmont. The Pittsburgh native was an Oakmont assistant under Bob Ford and only 24 years old when Nicklaus called the club asking if he could come in early and play nine holes with his assistants. Druga was doubly blessed that day when Nicklaus wanted to play an emergency nine.

“Think about how cool that was for me,” Druga said Tuesday from the pro shop at Shinnecock Hills GC. “That was when Jack was still Jack (competitively).”

Druga, soon to be 59 and now Shinnecock’s head professional, had two pretty cool days on Monday and Tuesday of this week, before Tiger Woods headed to Muirfield Village GC to play in Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament. Thirty-five years after escorting Nicklaus around Oakmont, Druga had the honor of going 36 holes with Woods, showing him the changes to Shinnecock since Tiger last played the U.S. Open there in 2004. Joining them was Rob McNamara, a vice president with Tiger’s corporation, TGR, and a former college golfer at Santa Clara University who has played more practice rounds with Woods than anybody.

Now stretched out to 7,445 yards from the Open tees, Druga seldom plays Shinnecock from the tips. After teeing off at the first hole, he quietly asked McNamara about the possibility of moving up a tee – to which Druga was informed that he would never hear the end of it.

This wasn’t their first golf played together. In 1996, when Tiger was still an amateur and Druga was head pro at Fairfield CC in Connecticut, he and Tiger put on an exhibition for inner-city kids from Bridgeport.

“I don’t know if he remembered me or not but we’ve bumped into each other since then,” said Druga, whose role was to stay out of the way and answer any questions that Woods posed. What was obvious was Woods’ incredible golf I.Q. and total recall of shots he hit in 1995 and ’04, his two U.S. Opens at Shinnecock.

“It was him doing his homework and me staying out of the way, quite frankly,” Druga said. “But he couldn’t have been more engaging.”

From left to right: Mike Moynihan, Kyle Jorden, Jack Druga, Matt Cahill

In the weeks leading up to the Open, Druga’s assistants have been playing practice rounds with Tour players seeking the same knowledge. Kyle Jorden played with Daniel Berger, Mike Moynihan with Bryson DeChambeau, and Matt Cahill with Phil Mickelson. They are all in the same age bracket as was Druga when he carried Jack’s bag.

Like his boss 3 ½ decades ago, who still tells the stories of caddying for Nicklaus, the 26-year-old Cahill sees himself down the road recalling his encounter with Mickelson. “One of the coolest days I’ve had in golf,” Cahill called it. “I’ll definitely remember some of the stories, and some of the things we talked about will be forever engrained. They’re things that will stay with you forever.”