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June 5 2011

5:21 PM

Move over Shaq: Jack can dunk

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Just when you think you know everything about Jack Nicklaus, you learn something else.

He's a competitor. That's a given. He's the ultimate family man. Absolutely. He has designed some of the best golf courses in the world. Just look at the rankings. And his charitable efforts are second to none.

But did you know Jack Nicklaus can dunk?

The Golden Bear revealed the little-known fact to a handful of reporters in an impromptu interview session prior to the start of the final round of the Memorial Tournament. 

One of the similarly high-challenged reporters had the moxie to ask Nicklaus how high the basket was. Nicklaus indicated it was regulation, but added with a smile that "I'm better with a volleyball."

Nicklaus actually played basketball in a recreation league in Florida for about two decades. His teammates were guys he worked with, as well as his secretary's husband who was 6-foot-8 -- "so he was a staple," Nicklaus said.

"It was really kind of funny," he said. "The guys (on my team) would say, 'You take him out and you've got us to deal with.'" 

Even those who had written about Nicklaus for a long time were surprised to know that he had played in the league until he was 40. Nicklaus, for his part, was surprised it was such a topic of conversation.

"I always played basketball," he said with a shrug. "I wouldn't call it a real serious situation. I just played. I'd go to the gym on Sunday nights and played, too."

"But it's a big deal to us," one of the reporters said.

"That a little shrimp played basketball?" Nicklaus asked with surprise.

Nicklaus said he played all sports when he was growing up, as well as intramural volleyball, basketball and football while a student at Ohio State. His sport of choice these days is tennis.

"It's just like anybody else," Nicklaus said. "People like to go to the gym and be a gym rat. I'm a sport rat. I like to go and do all the sports and do all kinds of things."

Nicklaus also coached his four sons in Little League, often throwing batting practice. And what was his go-to pitch? "My best pitch was getting it to the catcher," he said.

Nicklaus thinks young kids should play lots of different sports as they are growing up. Some of his 21 grandchildren play lacrosse eight or nine months each year, and he's always encouraging them to branch out.

"When you're 9, 10, 11 years old go play other sports," Nicklaus said. "Round your body out. That's why I played. I  thought it was good for  your body; round out your body, use different muscles and so forth.

"I've always felt that. I felt specializing is not a thing you should do at a young age."

These days  the 71-year-old Nicklaus likes to spend his free time in a boat fishing. " I've always said the fish don't know how old I am," he said with a smile.

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