Thursday, January 21, 2010

Happy 70th, Jack

Today is Jack Nicklaus’s 70th birthday which means, in golf terms, he has another stroke to play with when it comes to shooting his age.

If you’re wondering what Nicklaus is doing to celebrate the big day, he’s on Christmas Island near Malaysia where he’s getting in a little fishing.

Kinda what you figured, huh?

Nicklaus admitted recently the fishing trip and his birthday weren’t part of a grand design. They just happened to overlap but there are probably worse ways to celebrate.

Jack still plays a little golf from time to time as he showed last weekend, teaming with Tom Watson to win the Senior Skins Game in one of the few competitive events he still plays. He probably plays more tennis than golf these days, though.

At a time when his golf game is just a shell of what it once was, Nicklaus looks as grand as ever.

His record is complete, showing 73 PGA Tour victories (second all-time to Sam Snead’s 81) and 18 professional major championships (four more than Tiger Woods).

With Nicklaus, though, it’s about more than trophies and numbers. His example as a sportsman and a family man is as impressive as his record on the golf course.

While the events of the past two months have redefined Woods’ image – sadly, not for the better -- they have also reminded us of how special Nicklaus has been.

He will celebrate his 50th anniversary with his wife, Barbara, in July.

As a golfer, he reshaped the game. He played powerful golf, hitting the ball well over 300 yards in the days of steel shafts and persimmon drivers. In his prime, Nicklaus was a great putter in the same way Woods has been. Both have made the putts that needed to be made regardless of the pressure.

Until Woods, no one ever played golf as well with their mind as Nicklaus. That’s where he and Woods may have the most in common, understanding how to think themselves around a golf course and through a major championship.

Nicklaus’s game lacked the flamboyance of Woods’ but not the confidence. Both had intimidation as a 15th club.

As Woods has assaulted Nicklaus’s major championship record, we have virtually conceded the idea that he will break the Golden Bear’s magic number of 18. It still seems likely -- I think Tiger gets the record -- though less certain.

We don’t know where Woods goes from here. It’s fair to assume he will return to his dominating ways on the golf course but the challenge of surpassing Nicklaus’s record is more formidable than it was for many reasons.

What we have been reminded of is the measure of the man Woods has been chasing.

Happy birthday, Jack.


Anonymous said...

Ditto. A model professional. Integrity unmatched with his equal respect for the fans and the game and its long highly honorable decorated history. Under no circumstances should the PGA allow a certain disgraced rogue perv sicko to return even after some PR stunt sex clinic treatment.