Happy 80th birthday, Jack. You have been a trusted friend to me and an exceptional role model for millions of people for generations. Your energy, your passion, your thoughtfulness and your continued contribution to golf is nothing short of extraordinary. Seeing you travel to golf course construction sites, watching you in action with developers, club members and the media; hearing your thoughtful insights into everything from forward tees to the future of tournament golf; seeing your hands-on involvement in every aspect of The Memorial. You are inspiring.
I still find it strange calling you Jack, even though you’ve always insisted on it. I’ve watched your staff refer to you by your first name and I’ve seen fans engage with you as if they’ve known you for years. But the way I was raised, it’s always been hard for me, not just due to the fact that you’re due the respect afforded any elder statesman, but also because when I was growing up in Sweden, you, along with Mr. Palmer and Mr. Player were like superheroes. You were on a pedestal, unapproachable and worthy of reverence. In the mind of a young person who never thought she would meet you, you were more than a man and a golfer, you were an aspiration, a goal I never thought I could reach.
The times we’ve played golf together have been special. I’m sure the way you approached our unofficial events together was different than your approach to major championships in your prime. But witnessing your concentration and commitment to each shot is still impressive. I believe I played the same way– using course management and strategy; playing to my strengths; avoiding unnecessary mistakes. From my perspective, Mr. Palmer and Lorena Ochoa played more with feel and their hearts. Neither way is right or wrong, and both are fun to watch.
One of my fondest memories was being able to work with you and your team on our design proposal for the Olympic Golf Course in Rio. Seeing your interaction with your team, working with a site plan and topographical map, was truly eye-opening. I remember you talking about particular trees and their location on courses you did 30 years ago. Your hands-on style is very different from a lot of people who simply put their name on a course. You are passionate and calculating and it shows in your work.
You and Barbara have also done tremendous work with the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital and Health System, which transcends sport and is truly making kids’ lives better throughout the country. Being a parent now, I appreciate that even more.
But your biggest legacy, and the one I know you’re proudest of, is your family. I’ll never forget our site visit to Rio. On the way back to the airport you pulled out a big spreadsheet. I thought it had something to do with our plans. But it was a family tree with all the grandkids’ and great grandkids’ birthdays. That was far more important than any championship you’ve ever won or any course you’ve designed. Of all the examples you’ve set, the most important is the devotion you’ve shown to your family. I only hope I can follow your devotion on that front.
We all know that Barbara is incredibly gracious and classy, and when we were together at your home a few years back in South Florida, she came up and hugged us as she always does. It was the first time our kids had been around her in a couple years so my husband, Mike, introduced her to our son, Will, and said, “Mrs. Nicklaus is married to the greatest golfer ever.” He looked confused and said, “No, mommy is the greatest.” Barbara got a big kick out of that. You both have always been great to our family and you mean a lot to the four of us.
You have been recognized and celebrated by many the past few weeks in advance of your “big day.” Now that the day has arrived, I hope you are able to just relax with Barbara and your family and enjoy it. You deserve it.