Thursday, May 28

A Room for Jack

Jack and Barbara Nicklaus at USGA dedication ceremony for The Jack Nicklaus Room. (©USGA/Chris Keane)
JACK NICKLAUS NOW HAS A ROOM at the USGA Museum, along with four other golf legends: Bob Jones, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Mickey Wright. But after all his golf travels through the years and after winning all those major championships and other trophies, this impressive new Nicklaus exhibit with more than 80 artifacts and interactive displays is still just a room and certainly not a home.

Golf's geatest major champion never put golf first. That spot was always reserved for his family.

The Golden Bear's first priority was on hand at yesterday's dedication ceremony at the USGA campus in Far Hills, New Jersey: wife Barbara, who will receive the Bob Jones Award next month, sons Jackie and Gary, and others.

I was fortunate to be there, too, along with writer, author and friend John Coyne, a regular contributor to this blog. We were among those who got a first look at The Jack Nicklaus Room and attended the special ceremony that lasted about an hour on an overcast and humid afternoon in Far Hills. Later I attended a media gathering with Nicklaus and then a reception on the back lawn during which I sampled Jack Nicklaus ice cream.

Jack Nicklaus spending time in his new room
at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, New Jersey.
(©USGA/John Mummert)
"I always treated golf as a game," Jack said.

Family, he added, was his life. Golf was only a game.

Nicklaus played all sports growing up in Ohio. His father, Charlie, a good athlete who played football at Ohio State University and later professionally, was the son's biggest supporter.

"My dad never pushed me into anything," Jack said. What his dad did say was "play 100 percent or don't play at all."

The numbers Jack racked up in golf -- 18 professional major championship victories (and those 19 seconds), two U.S. Amateur wins, 73 PGA Tour titles and playing in 44 consecutive major championships -- would suggest Jack Nicklaus did, indeed, give it his all. And he did much of the time, but Jack also said yesterday that he wasn't always as well prepared as he could have been, especially during a period in the late 1960s when he went three years without winning a major. He dug down and worked a little harder after his father died in February 1970, winning the British Open later that year at St. Andrews.

This might surprise you. Golf's greatest major champion also said he doesn't think he dominated the sport.

"You don't really dominate golf," Jack said, calling it "the beauty of the game." If you're really good, you might win 10 or 15 percent of the time.

Nicklaus's thing was the competition and trying to play at the highest level against the world's best players. It was about "how to keep yourself focused" and "being ready to play."

When asked at the dedication ceremony what Charlie Nicklaus would think about all of this, Jack said, "I'm sure he has a big smile on his face this afternoon."

To this point in golf's long history, it's fair to say no one has played the game better than Jack Nicklaus. If you're in this area, I recommend stopping at the USGA Museum and seeing Jack's room, and the other rooms for Jones, Hogan, Palmer and Wright.

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