An exemplary PGA TOUR life
Nicklaus' influence continues to run deep on and off the course amongst today's pros
May 22, 2018
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
The legend of Jack Nicklaus
Most fans know about his 73 PGA TOUR wins and 18 professional major championship titles, and some might even know that Nicklaus won the first PLAYERS Championship at Atlanta Country Club in 1974.
Others may know him as a businessman; more than 600 professional tournaments have been played on as many as 90 Nicklaus-designed courses.
Or as a philanthropist; the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, founded in 2004 and headquartered in Miami, has outpatient centers throughout South Florida and collaborates with pediatric hospitals across the country to diagnose, treat and prevent childhood illnesses.
Bring up Nicklaus’ legacy around today’s TOUR pros, though, and they talk about something far more personal: his influence on their lives both on and off the course.
“I think Jack figured out how to balance family and golf,” says 79-time TOUR winner and two-time FedExCup champion Tiger Woods. “With Sam and Charlie, I try very hard not to miss a game, a school function or something that’s important to our family. Sometimes I’m unable to attend, but I want to be there supporting them every time I can.”
Adds Bill Haas, six-time TOUR winner and 2011 FedExCup champion: “I try to live my life like my dad would, but I would say they’re similar in that I could ask, Well, what would Jack do here? If we could all act the way Jack acted on and off the golf course, then we’d be a lot better.”
How is Nicklaus’ impact being felt by today’s generation of TOUR pros? The question is as valid today as it ever was.
"Well I don’t really try to be a mentor," Nicklaus says. "Usually I try to be a friend. There’s a very large age difference between their age and mine, and I try to do what I think is right. I try to read what problems they might be having, and impart my grandfatherly advice, you might say, without being overbearing or pushy. I think that’s why a lot of them have come to me."
Meeting the Golden Bear for the first time
Several players talk about having been in awe when they first met Nicklaus, so much so that they weren’t quite themselves. Come to find out they needn’t have been so nervous.
Stewart Cink, six-time TOUR winner: “His youngest son, Michael, played on our golf team at Georgia Tech for my last three years. I met Mr. Nicklaus for parents’ weekend, and the day after I met him, I played 18 holes with him. I remember I had about an 8-foot putt that I knew was to tie him, and I was pumped when I made it. After the round, he said, ‘Did you know that last putt was to tie me?’ And I said no. [Laughs] I lied to him. To this day I regret that, and I’ve told him that I’d like to go back and redo that conversation. My answer today would be, ‘You’re dang right I knew it was to tie the greatest player of all time!’”
Kevin Streelman, two-time TOUR winner: “My rookie year, I got in the Memorial. Missed the cut at Colonial, flew to Columbus on Saturday morning. Me and my caddie at the time, Mike Christensen, a teammate at Duke, played early Sunday. There was nobody out there, just us. We play nine, we’re sitting there having lunch at the beautiful halfway house there, and these two balls come down the fairway, and there’s Jack and Jackie, playing a twosome. So, I go to Mikey, ‘Let’s introduce ourselves and say thanks for having us, and see if maybe he invites us to play the back.’ And he did. I saw the man and his passion; he really cared about the way he was hitting the ball. A true professional. I played really well, shot 30, and it was surreal. He treats people the right way, and the way he prioritized his family is something I aspire to do, too.”
Patrick Rodgers, the nation’s top collegiate in 2014: “I met him when I won the Nicklaus Award, and was floored by how humble he was. He treated me like I was his grandson or his son. He helped me out with playing at his golf course in Florida, the Bear’s Club, and has supported me and pushed me and helped me believe that I can be as good as I want to be. Coming down the stretch, sometimes I’ll think: What would Jack Nicklaus do? Last year at the John Deere Classic, I got off to a slow start in the final round, was one over through eight. I thought about Mr. Nicklaus, that grit and toughness, and I birdied nine, 10, 13 and 15.”
Anirban Lahiri, 2017 Presidents Cup International Team member: “He’s very, very approachable, more so than I would have thought. The first couple of times, it’s hard to talk because you’re in the presence of greatness. It was nice of him to extend me membership at the Bear’s Club, which is not exactly easy to come by. I remember writing a letter to him. I never thought, growing up, that I’d get to share that kind of relationship with him.”
Justin Thomas, the 2017 FedExCup champion: “The first time we got together, it was for two, two and a half hours at his house one night after dinner. It was my rookie year, 2015, January or February, and I’d had a chance to win the [CareerBuilder Challenge], and played well at the Sony. I hadn’t won, I was getting closer, and I wanted some advice on winning and closing.”
Nicklaus: “I just try to be me, try to listen more than I talk. Pretty soon they figure out that I’m not any big deal. I’m just there to help them if I can.”
EXCELLENCE AND GRITTiger Woods shares a laugh with Jack Nicklaus in 2012 following the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Nicklaus was meticulous in his preparation, arriving at some tournaments a full week or more ahead of time in order to get acclimated to the course or even the time change.
Woods: “Jack has had a great approach to the majors. He was always prepared and often did his best in the most important tournaments. He was a runner-up in a major 19 times, a record that will likely never be broken, and finished in the top three 46 times. That’s absolutely incredible.”
Bryson DeChambeau, 2017 John Deere Classic champion: “He was one of the first to make yardage books. He’d chart the course. He was very precise on the course and in business; his precision and his determination to be right led to a lot of success. I try and emulate that, and why not? Aim small, miss small. Right?”
Geoff Ogilvy, eight-time TOUR winner: “I’ve read all the golf books, and his was great: Golf My Way. He has a chapter on practice that everyone out here should read, how he prepared for tournaments. He could remember every practice-round score he had for the majors. He’d get there like 10 days in advance, and would keep score every day. I remember thinking, I don’t play practice rounds like that. I changed when I could. He seemed to retain that presence and focus for golf that I had when I was a kid and up to 21, 22, 23, but you get married and have kids and lose that. The message of the way he practiced: Don’t hit a shot that you’re not 100 percent into.”
Jim Furyk, 17-time TOUR winner: “I was probably affected, originally, by his play and his style and being the best of our time and being the best when it counted most in majors, and being methodical in the way he worked his way around the golf course.”
Aaron Baddeley, four-time TOUR winner: “I spoke to him on the phone about preparing for the majors, and he said he would go and play a 72-hole stroke play two weeks beforehand to figure out what he needed to do for the tournament, and then he would work the next week on whatever that was that he needed to do. I started doing that; I played four practice rounds once for the British Open before the actual week of the British Open had even started.”
Lahiri: “I’ve picked his brains a couple of times about putting on poa annua. He always played good on the West Coast, and poa annua is something I never putted on growing up. He said his key was speed; he said he always put a speed on it where he would never three-putt. He said if I don’t three-putt on poa annua, then I’m gaining shots on the field.”
Rory McIlroy, 14-time TOUR winner: “I bump into him from time to time at the Bear’s Club, and he’ll say, ‘What are you working on? What are you feeling in your swing?’ And I’ll tell him, and it’s such a simple response. He’ll say, ‘Well, if you’re pulling the ball, just try and cut it for a few days.’ [Laughs] It’s like, Yeah, I never really thought of it like that. He’s got a very simplistic way of viewing the game, which has been a great reminder that you don’t have to overthink things.”
FAMILY AND PERSPECTIVE
Dad: Jack Nicklaus' most-important title
Whether he was traveling by car in the early days or taking Air Bear later on, Nicklaus made sure to get home for his five kids’ games, recitals, birthdays and other important occasions.
Charles Howell III, two-time TOUR winner, two-time U.S. Presidents Cup Team member: “I only have two kids, but I’ve picked his brain on his ability to balance a family with successful professional golf, and he’s always been open about it. He was never away from his family for more than two weeks; that was one of their first big rules, and he’d plan his schedule around that. I do that, too, although I’m only at the very beginning of this.”
McIlroy: “I’ve gotten to know the Nicklaus family a bit just from living down there and playing at the Bear’s Club. Golf wasn’t everything to him, which is probably why he didn’t try too hard when he was out there. He knew that there was much more at home for him; he didn’t have to go win a golf tournament, that’s not what defined him. I think that’s a great mental space to be in, and a great balance to try and emulate. My wife travels with me every week, but hopefully when I have a family one day it’ll be like that.”
Jonathan Byrd, five-time TOUR winner: “I’ve heard stories about how they used to travel together; that’s impacted us. My wife is blown away every time we go to the Memorial that Barbara knows her name, she knows our kids’ names. We’re just blown away by that, the intentionality of that.”
Zach Johnson, 12-time TOUR winner: “Barbara knows my kids’ names! It’s unbelievable what she retains. She’s the First Lady of the PGA TOUR. I love how he makes his family a priority and how he credits Barbara for a lot of it. I try to do the same.”
Rickie Fowler, Bear’s Club member and four-time TOUR winner: “We see him a little when we’re home. I haven’t sat down with him for an extended period of time yet; we’ve been working on that, trying to get over, my girlfriend, Allison, and I just going and having dinner with him and Barbara. That’ll definitely be a time when we could learn a lot from them, but just spending time with them is fun. They’re probably one of the best teams that this sport has ever seen. A lot of guys try to emulate that.”
William McGirt, 2016 Memorial champion: “I was at the member-guest at Seminole and Barbara saw me from behind and walked up and said, ‘How are Sarah, Miles and Caroline?’ And Caroline was 6 months old when I won that tournament!”
Jeff Maggert: “They used to criticize him for only playing 18 or 20 tournaments a year, which wasn’t a lot at the time, but he said he wanted to be home with his five kids. Well, I’ve got five kids now, too, from 29 to 13, so I have a fuller respect for what he did. I realize when my kids have an important activity, it’s only going to happen once and it’s important to be there. I’m going to play more than 1,000 golf tournaments in my career, so missing a tournament to go see one of their activities is kind of a no-brainer, really.”
Sam Saunders, grandson of the late Arnold Palmer: “Other than my grandfather, Mr. Nicklaus was as much an influence on my career as anyone. One of the biggest struggles out here is being away from my wife and my two boys, and when I grow older, I would like to have not only the friendship but also the working relationship that he has with his own sons.”
Although he played a limited schedule of 18-20 tournaments a year in order to prioritize family, Nicklaus, ironically, may have sharpened his on-course performance by doing so.
Maggert: “When he came to play, he came to play, because he wasn’t going to waste a tournament. He didn’t come out to have a good week; he came out to win.”
Cink: “He prioritized his family first and made his life so evenly balanced and well-rounded that golf wasn’t everything. He wanted the performance; he didn’t need the performance. I’ve always tried to follow his example there.”
McIlroy: “The balance that he had in his life fulfilled him and made him a better person, but it also probably helped him win a few more golf tournaments.”
DECENCY AND SPORTSMANSHIPThe Presidents Cup Team Captains Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus agree to a tie in 2003. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
Whether agreeing to a tie in the 2003 Presidents Cup in South Africa or conceding a putt to Tony Jacklin at the 1969 Ryder Cup at Royal Birkdale, Nicklaus has been the consummate sportsman.
Davis Love III: “Because Jack knew my dad, I got to know the kids, and then I went to school with Jackie at Carolina; we were on the same team, so we got to go to the Nicklaus’ house, which was really cool. My brother was on the golf team, too, and he had a temper, and Jack didn’t get mad at us when my brother broke Barbara’s tennis racket.”
Saunders: “What I think Mr. Nicklaus does as well as anyone, including my granddad, is support the game. I first played with him when I was 15. I was good, but I was just 15. When I was 17, I won the Florida High School State Championship and I got the nicest letter from him. I have it framed next to the picture of me playing with him and my grandfather at Augusta. He doesn’t know how much that meant to me. I didn’t quite ever have the perception of my granddad as the famous golfer because he was my grandfather. I saw Mr. Nicklaus as the famous golfer. And he’s been kind enough to get me into the Memorial a couple years when I haven’t gotten in on my own. He treats me like family.”
Lahiri, Bear’s Club member: “He’s at the club quite often and hits balls once in a while, but mostly he’s in a cart just observing quietly. He’s always very encouraging, never condescending. It's borrowed confidence and positivity, and it can’t come from a better source.”
Nicklaus has scaled back on his business commitments, but that doesn’t mean he’s slowing down. Even at 78 he made a run at winning the Masters Par 3 Contest, where he delighted in the hole-in-one by his grandson/caddie Gary. Four days later Nicklaus seemed to delight in Patrick Reed’s win, tweeting congratulations. And his presence at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide continues to make it one of the most anticipated stops on TOUR.
J.J. Henry: “He’s engaged in everything he does, whether he’s going to his grandson’s Buffalo Bills game, or watching him at Florida State, or dotting the i at the Ohio State game. He loves fishing, he loves hunting. He’s probably down in the Florida Keys bone-fishing right now, knowing Jack. Everyone out here wants to be like him on the course, but off the course, too.”
D.A. Points, three-time TOUR winner: “I try to do a lot of things that Jack Nicklaus has done. I work hard. I try to be respectful. I try to be competitive; he has a very competitive nature. But he understood how to take time out for family. He loves to fly fish and do other stuff, and I think that’s important as opposed to just beating balls. You’ve got to be a well-rounded person, and I think Mr. Nicklaus has done that as well as anybody.”
GIVING BACK: THE NICKLAUS LEGACYJack Nicklaus' charity contributions are legendary, from supporting spinal cord injury research to opening a children's hospital. (Brad Barket/Getty Images)
Nicklaus was part of the First Tee Capital Campaign in 2000, and with Barbara dedicated the opening of the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in West Palm Beach in 2004. He continues to use his celebrity for good, leaving not just the game but also the wider world in a better place.
Fred Funk: “Jack was my idol as a golfer, and that was what we all noticed in the beginning. The charitable part, I don’t think anybody saw until late in his career. Now everybody does something for charity. For me, my passion is the veterans, so I do everything I can for them.”
Funk also co-hosts the Champions for HOPE Gala and Golf Classic at TPC Sawgrass, June 15-16, which benefits the J.T. Townsend Foundation to provide adaptive equipment for children and adults with disabilities, and helps fund pancreatic cancer research through the Mayo Clinic. But when it comes to players who have followed Nicklaus’ emphasis on philanthropy, he’s not alone.
Daniel Berger, 2016 and 2017 FedEx St. Jude Classic champion: “A few months before The Honda Classic in 2015, I went to the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Palm Beach. I thought it was really cool to see what he stood for and was involved with; they had a little fair for the kids, and I wanted to check it out. I hung for a little bit and saw what they were doing, and I told myself if I was ever in a position to help, I’d want to do that. I try to do anything I can; if Mr. Nicklaus ever asks, it’s a pretty easy answer: yes. I play in The Jake Pro-Am at the Bear’s Club, for his grandson that passed away, the Monday of Honda, which raises a lot of money for pediatric health care. Probably 40 or so PGA TOUR players, pretty much any of the top guys in the area, play in that. I got involved in an organization called Teen Cancer America through my caddie, Grant Berry, and his wife. It was started by Roger Daltrey from The Who, and it’s how I got to hang out with a few young kids at UCLA Medical Center in 2016. Grant wears the TCA logo on his hat, and I had it on my bag for my first FedEx St. Jude Classic win. Obviously, the FedEx St. Jude has meant a lot to me, and every year that I’ve played I’ve had the opportunity to go to St. Jude Hospital. I’ve probably been there three or four times. I am always inspired by the children and their families, and seeing the work done at the Hospital makes golf seem not that important.”