Conspicuous are the things that are gone from his life. Mark McCormack, for one. No more high-powered agent leading him through the paths of finance. No more doubts as to who was best serving whom. Sorry, Mark. Gone, too, is fat. No more Fat Jack. No more eye-catching beltline, leavened jowls and expansive shirting, accented by that once familiar end-of-the-bullet styling of his white-blond head. All gone. Also the anti-fans, those wry sportsmen who used to wave signs behind the bunkers—"Hit It Here, Jack"—and cheer his misses. Professional golf, accustomed to the ritual courtesy of its galleries, had never seen anything like it. Gay Brewer said he was actually embarrassed in Dallas not many seasons ago the way the fans booed Jack Nicklaus. At the U.S. Open at Baltusrol somebody threw a beer can. No more of that.
And Arnold. Arnold is gone, more or less. Nobody really tries to insinuate Palmer into his class anymore. The reactionaries still serving in Arnie's Army might, being a death-defying cadre, but those who know anything about golf know that he put Palmer in his place long ago, and pinned him there, like Theseus, just outside the throne room. In the last six or seven years the Palmer-Nicklaus rivalry has become a superficial thing, no deeper than the newsprint it takes to sustain it. "Lay the records out from the time Jack turned pro till now," says Deane Beman, the golfer. "It's plain as day. This man buried Palmer." No apologist, Deane.
That, of course, had been Nicklaus' sin. Bringing down the beloved Palmer. Hero worship is not negotiable. As a friend of Jack's put it: "The first time he entered the forest, he shot Robin Hood." And, oh, how easy it was to shower him with unforgiveness. The assassin was an implacable man, as radiant as a moving van as he trundled through the temples of golf (Augusta, St. Andrews, Pebble Beach) toward the next winner's purse, looking, as Columnist Jim Murray wrote, not so much like an athlete as a pile of old clothes. Nicklaus kept Murray's comment in a corner of his mind, much as he concealed his sensitivity behind the steady, opaque look he favored in lining up putts. (That's gone, too, the deadpan Jack.) Years later, allowing himself a small grin, he said, "I finally met Murray. At a banquet. He was fatter than I was."
With the droll stoicism of a born infantryman, Nicklaus served out his rejection. Barbara Nicklaus says it was something they never discussed, not even in private. Too tender a subject. Like having a lunatic relative. "Somebody has to wear the black hat," Jack said. He had played before galleries from the time he was 13, a golf prodigy out of Columbus, Ohio, and could, it seemed, dial them in or out as he pleased. Deane Beman remembers the first time he heard the boos. "I couldn't believe it. They were booing Jack. Damn. Jack said, 'What boos?' "
February 19, 1973
His concentration was always extraordinary. Often criticized, and even penalized, for playing slowly, he said, "It didn't seem slow to me. Just long enough to think it out and hit the ball." Nevertheless he did as he was asked and speeded up his play—some gods answer requests—and if he thought he was being harassed he never said. It is reasonable to argue that a man en route to being the greatest golfer of all time, and a millionaire to boot, ought to be able to stand a little good-natured, beer-can-lobbing rejection. Nicklaus, in fact, was never an icy star like Ben Hogan. Essentially a nonsulker, even in defeat, he was not one to avoid an outstretched autograph book or a press tent, where he became famous for outlasting the enemy. No real bitterness ever surfaced. But there were times.
"He wouldn't want me to tell you this," says Gardner Dickinson, "but we were in one tournament years ago, playing together, and Arnold was on the adjacent fairway. Jack was shooting about a 64, leading the tournament, and Arnold a 74 and out of it, but all the people were over there, crashing through the rough and raising hell. Jack was on the green and he stopped to look and he said, 'One of these days those so-and-sos will be over here.' It bothered him, all right."
Ironies aside, there was never anything worth repeating to make a case between Nicklaus and Palmer. It has been a mutually profitable rivalry. The touchy fiscal interludes in their association with McCormack (some rather stormy) were not laid to Palmer; Nicklaus concluded instead that in McCormack's eye "Arnold would always be No. 1, no matter what I did on the golf course. It was an image thing. Not a good position to be in." Palmer was McCormack's first account, Gary Player came next and then Nicklaus and then all the others. "I began to feel like I was in a stable," said Nicklaus. He ultimately cut himself free, but the surgery was long and painful.
Other than that, one would have to strain. Palmer, a soloist who could play a crowd like a banjo, had been magnanimous at the beginning toward the younger, more talented, less hip Nicklaus. And Jack never forgot it. ("One thing about him," says Dickinson. "He's an appreciative guy.") Said Nicklaus: "I enjoy Arnold's company, and I think he enjoys mine." They maintained an amicable if not buddy-buddy relationship, often pairing up for team events where they struck appropriate fear in the hearts of the meager opposition. They did not pretend to be inseparable. They were superstars in the same constellation whose personalities happened to be light-years apart. A friend of both makes this comparison: "When Jack goes to dinner he pays attention to the people he is with and the wine list. When Arnold goes to dinner it's an event. He makes pleasing small talk—and counts the house over your shoulder."
It is no surprise to the pragmatic Beman that Palmer's eclipse (and that of all those who have come on Nicklaus' horizon) is now, finally, concordantly, accepted. "It was not an unpardonable sin," he says. "The public is not blind to talent. It is only a matter of time before they embrace it." Time—almost 11 years—and the witness of his tracks in the record book (13 major championships), and the supernal accumulation of money winnings ($1.7 million, including a record $320,542 in 1972).
When those who have been the closest to his brilliance speak of Nicklaus it is with such awe that one half expects to see them levitate. Don Bies says without qualification (and with starry-eyed disregard for the way Jack's right elbow tends to fly) that he has the greatest swing in golf. Dave Hill has written about Jack's "perfect body for it"—the length of arm in relationship to the size of trunk in relationship to the arc of his swing, the winds, the tides and the pollen count. A convinced Sam Snead doesn't mince words: "Nicklaus could try not to and still win."
More interesting is that a picture of the person finally emerged, like an underexposed photograph slowly making its way up through the layers of emulsion. Nicklaus now appears not Fat Jack in fuzzy outline but Trimly Defined Jack in a Hart Schaffner & Marx double-knit blazer, leaning against a Pontiac Grand Prix across a double-truck magazine advertisement. Long filaments of white-blond hair sweep his square, tanned forehead. His small (but clear and fiery) blue eyes smile handsomely. Indeed he has become handsome, after a slow start.
Moreover, he is revealed to be a man of many dimensions. A budding genius as a golf-course architect. A shrewd (but eminently fair) businessman. A can't-stand-to-lose (but eminently sportsmanlike) participant in basketball games and tennis matches at his home courts. A devoted father who, after the U.S. Open, traveled all night to attend his son Stevie's Little League championship game, then stood 45 minutes under a leaking overhang waiting for the game to begin. A friend who stood with him said Jack didn't once mention the Open.
He has become, at last, a hero of epic dimensions, drawing affectionate galleries everywhere. They reach out for him, talk with him, laugh at his jokes. His response is easy and natural, for it is not in him to overdo. Chi Chi Rodriguez believes Jack would have had the world at his feet long ago had he "given himself to the fans the way Arnold did. But he gave himself to his family, to his golf. He is his own man."
In the final round of the last British Open, when Nicklaus was going for what golf people call the Grand Slam—he had won the Masters and the U.S. Open, and the PGA was still to come—he put together a breathtaking cluster of shots in a vain charge at the leading Lee Trevino. Six strokes down, he rallied to take, for a brief time, the lead. When he birdied the 10th hole there began in that huge crowd at Muirfield an unusual applause, not the shrill beseeching after a touchdown pass or a World Series home run, but a steady, rhythmic tumult that swelled as Nicklaus walked from the green, and then renewed itself, like a hurricane that has passed over a peninsula into open water, after he hit his drive on the 11th. It was the pure and thoughtful clamor of an audience acknowledging greatness, and Nicklaus, like a leaf on a river, was carried by it down the fairway. He said later it was the greatest feeling he ever experienced on a golf course. His wife said if you had looked closely you would have seen that he was crying.
Barbara Nicklaus, standing barefoot in the kitchen, lay strips of mozzarella over thin slabs of veal in an aluminum pan. "I tell the kids, 'Put your shoes on,' " she said. "They look at me." She raised her eyebrows and the side of her mouth and her gray-green eyes rounded to express the helplessness of her role as an example-setter for tiny nasal passages and chest cavities. Her blonde hair came in an avalanche over her shoulders and was mussed in front. She stuck out her lower lip and blew up at it, looking cross-eyed as it fluttered down, letting the strands fall where they might.
In such a woman there is an unclassifiable appeal (fetching might be a worthwhile category, if a mother of four would sit still for it), but whatever the context you would be accurate to say she is pretty, and be reasonably certain she would not be bothered if you didn't. Thirtyish now, with the sturdy hold of the Midwest still on her, as it is on her husband, she has passed up every chance to become a snob.
Through the kitchen window she could see Jack on the grass tennis court in the Nicklaus side yard, making final preparations for a match with three of his friends, opening fresh cans of fluorescent yellow balls, passing towels around. The grass (Tifton 419) is carefully maintained for the Nicklauses by an old family friend and semi-retired golf-course manager named Sockeye Davis. Sockeye was standing near the court, presumably keeping an eye out for rough spots. Barbara said Sockeye was in her doghouse because he had failed to spot a newspaper's account of her club team's losing effort in its latest match. For the record, she said, "I am 13th on a 12-girl tennis team. But it beats golf." She said she had launched into golf years ago by shooting 157. "I worked my way down to where I could shoot 125, then decided that's it. I've mastered the game."
The grass court makes a nice conversation piece, but in actuality the entire yard is Tifton 419. Jack wasn't sure his interest in tennis would last. Better to blot out a few lines than rip up a lot of asphalt. He since has found tennis a worthy recreation, and in a short while has developed a respectable game—a strong serve and some relentless forehand ground strokes to compensate for an untrustworthy backhand. He plays it as he does one-on-one basketball matches on the garage court, to the hilt.
The game was soon enlivened by a number of bizarre shots that green vinyl screens at the ends of the court kept from going into the hedge out front, or down the long slope into the waters of Lake Worth at the back. The game was interrupted occasionally by a football bouncing into the court. Two lean, blond cool-eyed boys, Jackie Nicklaus, age 11, and Stevie, nine, were practicing their pass patterns with a neighbor. Jack warned them a couple of times about staying in their own territory.
Nicklaus' 1½-acre Florida spread is second in from the guardhouse gate of an enclave of waterfront and golf-course-facing estates known as Lost Tree Village. Cary Middlecoff and Perry Como are neighbors. The sprawling house is a pleasing coalition of native cypress and quartz-flecked glacier stone shipped in from California. The patio is veneered in Astro Turf, on which Deane Beman has been known to give Nicklaus midnight putting lessons. When it is not in the shop having its bottom groomed, the 37-foot wooden-hulled Golden Bear, a fishing boat with the range to make it easily to Jack's retreat at Great Harbour Cay in the Bahamas, is tied up at the dock.
The interior of the house—6,000 square feet and six bedrooms, be it ever so humble—reflects Barbara Nicklaus' good taste, and features, among other things, a lighted trophy case, a pool room, a 124-pound mounted tarpon, a number of original drawings and oil paintings and, in a room to itself, a television playback-recorder on which Jack can watch himself win the U.S. Open several times a day. He uses it to hunt the flaws in his game. "That's it!" he has been heard to yell of an afternoon, running to get his nine-iron.
The oversized garage accommodates a full supply of Pontiacs and two upright refrigerators (at a constant 58°) filled with the wine Jack sends home by the case. Though never more than a minor-league drinker, he has taken up wine collecting with typical one-on-one zeal.
"My husband, the sex symbol," said Barbara, looking out. Nicklaus, in a sky-blue knit tennis shirt and white shorts, was bearing down on his tennis foes. There was no doubting the transformation, she said.
"I don't know how well you know Jack," she continued, "but when he makes up his mind to do something, he does it. Stubborn. Well, during the Ryder Cup matches in 1969 he felt tired playing golf for the first time in his life. So on the plane coming home he announced he was going to lose 20 pounds. He called Hart's. He told them to send a man down in 2½ weeks to measure him. He was going on a diet."
Hart Schaffner & Marx had no illusions about Nicklaus' figure when it signed him. For the Nicklaus ads, the company used to spend $2,000 to photograph him in the latest fashions, then another $1,200 to have Artist Frank Golden put him in marketable perspective. Jack-in-the-flesh ads were out.
Nicklaus takes a converted man's pleasure in telling of his overweight past. He keeps a framed picture in his office: a 1962 Fat Jack glaring at the camera, stubby arms down and angled away from his body, his pants glued to his legs like bark on a tree. The zipper is not quite up. His secretaries call the picture "Our Leader." For years Jack's shirts "went in about 60 directions, and my pants (mostly khaki) looked like something you'd see on a war refugee. I had one pair I thought were really super. Iridescent green. I won the U.S. Open in them in 1962. I thought they were lucky. I wore them two days in a row, 36 holes on Saturday and the 18-hole playoff on Sunday. I'm surprised somebody didn't complain."
Eventually, he said, after Gardner Dickinson told him he was a disgrace, he started buying $55 pants. "I still looked awful. It wasn't the clothes, it was me. I kept my hair short then, and my head came to kind of a point. I wore floppy hats. Later when I let my hair grow, the hat left a ridge around my head so I finally had to discard the hat. People discovered I had hair."
Anyway, said Barbara Nicklaus, Jack announced he was going on this diet. "Tuna fish, cottage cheese, no-cal milk shakes. Three weeks later he'd lost an inch in the waist and seven inches around the hips. Every pair of pants Hart's sent was too big."
From 210 pounds, Jack went to 190 and held between 190 and 185. Not only was the fuselage trimmer, but his face lost its yeasty look. Voil√†. Hart's had a natural.
"The writers started calling long distance," Barbara said. "They wanted his diet." Asked why he hadn't slimmed down before, Jack said it never occurred to him, he assumed it was fate. His doctor was loath to tell him to diet for fear of messing up his game.
"He enjoys it. I mean the whole thing," said Barbara. "The fans, the swooning galleries. I can't blame him." A gallery regular herself, she has not noticed that the girls in Jack's following have become any more attentive. "But there are certainly more of them," she said, wrinkling her nose. "He is incorrigible now," she said. "He's after everybody about their weight. There's nothing worse than a reformed slob." She slid the aluminum pan into the oven, twisting the dials. "Gary, if you don't mind."
Gary Nicklaus, age four, had clambered up on a kitchen stool and was skimming a batter of oatmeal cookies with his right forefinger. He was unclothed except for a red bathing suit which was ventilated rather sensationally in the seat by wear and tear.
"They are spoiled," said Barbara, sweeping him gently off the stool and, with one expert motion, halfway out the door. "Jack spoils them rotten. He says, 'What do you want me to do, whack them as soon as I walk in the door?' He's right. It's very hard coming home and having things dropped in your lap. Like s-p-a-n-k-i-n-g-s. We made a pact when Jack turned pro. He would never be away longer than two weeks. He broke it once, in South Africa. He stayed 2½ weeks. Of course, I was with him."
They had met, Barbara Bash and Jack Nicklaus, as freshmen at Ohio State when he was majoring in pre-pharmacy and she in pre-nursing. Waistline aside, she said, the remarkable thing about Jack in the years since has been his "consistency. He doesn't change."
Nicklaus is a man low on pretentions. An avowed, if virtually unnoticed, fan of the Miami Dolphins, he motors down on Sundays in a station wagon loaded with his family and a neighbor's. They take their seats up over the Orange Bowl's east goal line. "It would not enter his mind," says a Miami friend, "to use his influence to get better seats."
He is a man so consistently loyal he has had only one professional teacher all his golfing life (Jack Grout); a man so susceptible to loyalty that he has made permanent employees of two of his caddies, one of whom twice failed to show up for the opening day of a tournament (and wherever he was, he had Jack's clubs); a man so sensitive to others' feelings that he once rushed out to the parking lot in the middle of a party he was throwing to find out why two friends were leaving early.
Barbara Nicklaus gathered up glasses and a pitcher of orange juice and headed for the court. Play was over. Jack had a towel over his head. He announced that he was "now ready for Francoise Durr." The match had gone to sudden death, but he and his partner had won. "Good thing, too," said Jack to his partner, "or these guys would never let me live it down." He went inside to shower. Barbara watched him go.
"I think he's as happy now as he's ever been," she said. He had had his greatest season, he was content in his businesses. They occupied his talents. "For a while," she said, "he was so down. Everybody was saying, 'What's wrong with Nicklaus?' I remember after the Masters a couple years ago, how bad his nerves were. He'd worked hard to get ready and then played poorly. He was really fed up.
"We went to the Bahamas to fish and he said, 'That's it, I'm not playing anymore until the Open.' He was going to pass up the Tournament of Champions. 'No you're not,' I said. 'That's all you need, for everybody to call you a quitter.' I scheduled his flight that afternoon. 'Taking over, eh?' he said. I guess I'd never done that before.
"But I really think the turning point was when his father died [three years ago]. I know it sounds awful, but it really turned Jack around. I don't mean he didn't have a wonderful relationship with his father. He did. Everybody loved Charlie, and he and Jack were very close. Jack phoned him day and night, on everything. Mark made the other decisions. Things were all laid out. It was almost too easy." She hesitated, remembering. "Then, boom. Charlie was dead. Jack had to grow up."
He stood on the sidelines, for there were no bleachers, and moved up and down the field with the tide of play. Other fathers and mothers occasionally looked his way, as if to let him know they were delighted to have him drop by. Aloud, in that reedy, adolescent tenor that is startling when you first hear it, he made running comments on the game's progress. "Nice run, Jackie.... Attaboy, Stevie. Get your uniform dirty." He did not appear to mind when Jackie did not run to the right hole, or Stevie shied from a tackle.
Often he stops by for practice sessions as well as games at the private school they attend near his office in North Palm Beach, and though he will call out to them there, too, and wait around afterward to throw some passes, he never interferes. The coach, in turn, seemed altogether willing, even inclined, to single out the Nicklaus boys for criticism whenever they deserved it.
Jack pointed out that Stevie, unlike most of the tiny warriors, had no star-shaped decals on his helmet. The decals were given by the coach for exemplary play. He said Stevie was a good athlete but could be overbearing at times and "I don't think the coach wants him to get a big head." Jackie, he said, never tired of reminding Steve that his helmet was starless.
Jack said he was glad that the boys had a talent and took pleasure in athletics without being shoved. He said his father had introduced him to sports and had been interested in his performances. Once early in his golf career he had complained that his father's presence made him nervous. Charlie told him, "You'd better get used to it because I'm going to be here."
"Now I can appreciate the feelings he must have had," Jack said. "I probably get as uptight over their games as I do over my own. I die."
Jackie Nicklaus scored the only touchdown that day and the North Palm Beach Private School (fourth and fifth grades) won 6-0. Afterward, in the parking lot, his father told Jackie he "must have gained at least 70 yards running the ball." Stevie said he doubted it.
Jack dropped them off at the house and drove to a small, grubby-looking Italian restaurant to pick up pizzas for dinner. Awaiting his order, Jack said, "I want things to be comfortable for my kids so they can be healthy and have the things they need. College education, money for emergencies. Any more than that I want them to earn. I feel I earned mine. They used to write, 'poor little rich kid.' Bull. My dad had a pharmacy on the Ohio Slate campus, and his best years for a long while were $12,000-$15,000 years. He only joined the Scioto Country Club because he damaged his ankle and was told he had to start walking again or he would end up a cripple. I'd go along, and when he got tired he would let me hit a few.
"Now the only social golf I play is with my kids. Last summer Jackie entered in the same age-group tournament I started in at Scioto. It was an 18-hole event when I won with a 121. Now it's 36 holes and he shot an 86 and a 101 and finished second. It's a different world."
He picked up the pizzas and went out to the family station wagon. "Golf has always been a game for me," he said. "People don't always understand that. They say, 'Three hundred thousand dollars, wow.' But even at the start, it wasn't the money. My dad didn't think I would turn professional. I had talked to Bobby Jones about it. Jones hadn't, of course, and he was a good friend. I remember he watched me play for the first time at the National Amateur in 1955 when I was about 15. He watched three holes—two bogeys and a double bogey. He said, I think I'd better come back another time.'
"Anyway, I'd already been in the insurance business for almost two years and was making about $18,000 a year and that meant a fairly comfortable life. But after a while [two U.S. Amateur championships] I didn't feel I was playing my best against the best. I fell I had to turn pro.
"But I've never treated golf purely as a business. If I had, I think it would have hurt me. I think it hurts Frank Beard that way. You can get so wound up you don't do anything right. A couple years ago I was pressing that way. I didn't sleep well, I got a scaling on my face, like dandruff. I was one big nerve.
"Right now I haven't picked up a golf club in almost a month. People think I'm nuts. But it's best for me to get completely away, not even think about it. Then come back, like a ballplayer comes to spring training—fresh.
"Maybe at 40 I will enjoy the game more for itself. Guys with longer swings, like Snead and I, tend to last longer anyway. But now I feel I have to be refreshed between tournaments. Instead of fewer outside interests I have more. My business really excites me. I'm constantly involved. I'm involved with my kids. I want them to know I'm involved. These days people talk about drugs. When I was a kid it was cigarettes or alcohol. If my kids wanted to try something I'd tell them the same thing my father told me: 'If you want to try something I'd like you to try it first with me. Then we'll understand it better.' "
He thought for a moment, sitting in the car outside his house. "I'm convinced I would burn myself out if I did it the way some people do. The thing about golf is that it is so mental. Golfers peak later than most athletes because the process takes longer. It's not a game of reaction, it's a game of thought and correction. In tennis I don't always react quickly enough, and it makes me mad. When I played basketball [in high school] I was a better offensive player because I could think a little ahead.
"I don't believe I've peaked. I still have the same goals. Win more major tournaments than anyone else and, if possible, four in one year. Sure, I'd like to go down as the greatest who ever played, but all the proof you'd have would be the record and even that might not be enough. Jones didn't have the tournaments to play in that I've had. The big purses. Hogan didn't. Snead didn't. Certainly if you said it now it would be premature. There are still too many deficiencies in my game. I don't drive the ball as well as I should. My irons aren't as good, my play around the green. Too many deficiencies."
He said that was enough. He had been talking about himself since leaving the restaurant. The pizza would be a relief to get into. In the Nicklaus dinette, off from the always buzzing kitchen, Barbara had laid place mats out and was filling glasses of ice with tea. The conversation returned to Hogan. He hadn't gotten to know Hogan that well. They had played for the first time when he was an amateur, in the U.S. Open, and he certainly didn't ask for any tips.
"Actually, Hogan didn't say a word the whole round," he said. "Except afterward. He blew a tie for first and finished ninth, and I was second. He said, That big kid'—meaning me—'shoulda won the tournament.' " Nicklaus laughed, and reached for another slab of pizza.
Jack Grout leaned back in his box seat at Calder Race Course and put his knees on the little ledge that held the programs and binoculars of his host, a millionaire member of the La Gorce Country Club. Of the four men in the box, Grout was tannest and tallest, a stringy man with steel-rimmed glasses and gray hair combed straight back. He wore a clip-on tie that he had grabbed off the rack on his way out of the pro shop after giving a lesson to Ken Harrelson. The tie was no match for his pants and jacket, but it satisfied clubhouse requirements.
Grout has been the La Gorce pro 12 years, migrating to Miami from the Scioto club where he first taught Nicklaus. On request, he was into a leisurely discourse on Nicklaus as the Calder horses slogged through the heat on the other side of the glass.
"I told his father, 'Charlie, be prepared to take a lot of abuse and to keep your mouth shut. Your kid has knocked over the king of golf. People won't like it. If you don't want a lawsuit on your hands, hold your temper." He had a temper, Charlie. He wanted to hit a guy in a restaurant one time. Oh, he'd get so mad!" Grout clenched his fists in front of him making them tremble.
"Charlie was very outgoing, very personable. Jack was just like him at the start. A big happy-go-lucky teen-age kid. He went into a shell a little after he turned pro, but I think that was a defensive thing.
" 'He was such a smart kid. He'd ask me questions most pros wouldn't think to ask. Jack always had it here," he said, tapping his forehead. "He could be the smartest ever for knowing how to manage himself on a golf course. I remember when he was a junior in college in the NCAA match-play tournament. In a 36-hole semifinal he was four down after 18. At lunch Charlie said, 'Jackie' (he always called him Jackie until he won the U.S. Amateur, then Jack told him he didn't want to be called that anymore), "Jackie,' he said, 'shall I check out of the motel?' Jack said, 'Don't be foolish, Dad. I'm going to kill this guy.' He beat him 2 and 1."
His host asked if Grout was betting the fourth race. Grout picked up the program, studying it randomly. "I pass," he said and turned back.
"I teach my kids the big swing," he said. "Some see it. They say, 'The elbow!' But that's not it. It's a full turn. Body and shoulders. Let it go, pop it out there. It's harder, but once you get it under control it's a big advantage. If I outdrive you 50 yards I'm going to beat you, or at least discourage you. With Jack it was easy because he always loved to practice.
"High winds. Mud. Rain. We'd be out there. 'You're going to play in it, you better practice in it,' I told him. Have you ever heard him complain it was too hot or muddy or too anything? Never. He never complains."
At least once a year Nicklaus goes back to Grout, usually at the beginning of a new season, and has him inspect his game. "Treat me like I was just starting," he tells him, and Grout sifts out the pings and knocks of neglect—the bad posture, the erratic backswing, the inferior grip. Nicklaus once spent an entire afternoon with Grout in a La Gorce sand trap. There were other times when Nicklaus sent his jet from some far-off tournament to fetch Grout. "He was hooking something awful at Doral one year, missing the middle of the fairway by 75 yards. He shot a 40 on the front side. I told him, 'You're coming across the ball worse'n I ever saw!' He was still doing it at the Masters. Then, months later, when he got to Pebble Beach he called me. 'Come out,' he said, 'I want you to see something.' I went and watched him hit. He knew he had it, he just wanted me to see. He's like a kid that way. 'You got it,' I said. He said, 'We'll have dinner tonight?' I said, 'Yes, we'll have dinner.'
"Jack hit bottom at the U.S. Open in 1970," he said. "Tony Jacklin won, and Jack tied for 51st. I could have cried. He had an 81 in the first round, and he looked like a dog in the rain. So helpless. But here's the thing I was telling you. He thought it out. He worked it out. Twenty days later he won the British Open. I'll never forget that performance. He threw his putter in the air on the last hole: he'd never done that before. It was just amazing. From the bottom to the top in 20 days."
Grout paused, reflecting. "Listen, Jack Nicklaus is everything I ever wanted to be. He has done everything I ever dreamed of doing. Some golf pros in my position might resent that—some probably do—but I don't. I idolize Jack Nicklaus."
"McCormack had me too heavily scheduled. Too much to do. And I never knew where I stood. Just 'Here, sign this,' " said Jack Nicklaus. He was sitting in his private office, leaning back while a miniskirted secretary placed lunch on the round table. His was a mound of tuna fish on a lettuce leaf, with a side of cut lemon.
"Ugh," said Tom Peterson, looking at the tuna. He lifted a thigh from his own platter of fried chicken. Peterson is the only member of Jack's group, the executive committee of Golden Bear, Inc., who is on the regular payroll. The offices reek with class. The walls are paneled in real rosewood. There is no clutter and only a few well-chosen mementos: a handsome cut-glass decanter of cognac, a specially bound copy of Jack's book, an autographed football from the 1969 Ohio State Rose Bowl team. The reception area is decorated with mounted fish (Jack's catches), enlarged magazine covers of Jack and a long-haired blonde receptionist.
"Don't get me wrong," said Nicklaus, "McCormack can generate a lot of money, and he did for me. I'm grateful for that. But I never saw a financial statement, and I object to the grab-it-and-run philosophy. You get so much for this account, how much are they getting, and what are the long-range possibilities? Endorsements by professional athletes have been overdone. Some of them are laughable. People doubt their credibility."
What his group came up with, Nicklaus said, were more meaningful, long-range relationships with each account. He does not just fly Eastern, he is the airline's "golf pro"—advising its executives on their golf tournaments, putting on clinics. He does not just drive a Grand Prix, he actually owns a Pontiac agency.
Jack got up from the table. He was wearing his office uniform: a cotton print shirt, white loafers and tennis shorts that exposed his thickly muscled fullback's legs, the base of his athletic power. He said, "Before, I was stagnating. Losing interest. I got uptight for all the wrong reasons. My golf suffered."
Some three years ago he went to McCormack for an accounting. Nicklaus refrains from going into the details, but he and McCormack had never really been close. The split was inevitable.
The Nicklaus "group" evolved—six men, partners only by handshakes, all accountable to Jack in projects involving Golden Bear, Inc., his solely owned corporation. Except for Peterson each man has his own business—"Nobody feeds off anybody else." Put Pierman, a man with a background in heavy construction in the Midwest, is titular head of the executive committee. Others are David Sherman, a Columbus attorney knowledgeable in land purchase and contracts, Jerry Halperin, an attorney and tax man from Detroit, and Bill Sansing, a marketing-advertising coordinator who lives in Austin, Texas.
"The point of all this," said Tom Peterson, "is that what used to be a burden became a pleasure."
"And knowing what was going on freed my mind for golf," said Nicklaus.
Two weeks later the Golden Bear was in California for a tournament commitment, holed up rather nicely in a two-bedroom villa overlooking the country club's putting green. He entertained without fanfare a steady stream of friends and business associates.
The second night he took a group to the clubhouse dining room where the waitress asked him for an autograph and remarked how well he looked. "The last time you were in here you were on a diet," she said. "You had the poached salmon. I felt sorry for you."
As Jack teed off in the pro-am I he gallery thickened around him. Halfway down the first fairway he slowed to talk to the stocky, gray-haired scorekeeper for his foursome. She reported the conversation: " 'I'm sorry, ma'am, but I don't think we got a chance to meet.' 'Yes, on the tee, but you were so busy.' 'Well, I'm awfully glad you're here.' "
Throughout the round Jack was relaxed and animated. A striking blonde in a tight purple jump suit trailed around for a few holes. Other galleryites speculated as to who she was; one concluded she might be Nicklaus' wife, but this was ruled out. She was clearly somebody. "It's true," she was heard to say, "he is better looking."
On the putting green the next morning Nicklaus exchanged greetings with Gardner Dickinson, then moved off to the practice range, taking a crowd with him. Gardner watched him go. "Jack works at it," he said. "Arnold always had that...charisma's the word they use. Jack didn't. He had to work at it, and he does. He stands out there for hours signing autographs and granting interviews. I wouldn't."
Dickinson, with a series of taps with his putter, arranged his practice balls in ready-to-fire order. "Jack missed an easy putt on me in Atlanta in that playoff in 1971," he said. "I hadn't won a tournament in a long time and he knew it, and it seemed to me he blew it intentionally. Out of friendship. There was a photograph afterward, showing me talking to him with my jaw out. I was saying, 'Dammit, Jack, you did that on purpose." But he said he didn't. And I know now he didn't, because he simply wouldn't. He's too honest a man."
That night, in the Nicklaus villa, Jack ordered in. Steak and salads all around. He skipped the salad dressing, also the rolls and butter.
It had been another in a series of rainy days in Ohio, one of those wet spells a man with the blues can really sink his teeth into. For three hours an unblue Jack Nicklaus had been trudging around the golf course, his uncovered head shining like a gaslight in the mist. It was not exactly a golf course yet, but it was well on its way. A lot of earth had been shoved around. In places the mud was gumbo, sucking at the feet of trespassers. A small squad of contractor-engineer types squished in Nicklaus' wake, looking not at all comfortable.
"Over there," Nicklaus said, sweeping his arm toward the arc of an embryo bunker-spectator area. "I hate to say it, but those two maples have to go." He pointed farther over. "If we're gonna move a gallery through it we'll have to slope it more. And that"—pointing at a mound of freshly bulldozed soil—"looks unnatural." An older man with a damp yellow pad pursed his lips and made notes.
Nicklaus continued around the course, gesturing to lengthen a water hazard, to expand a bunker, to narrow a green. "You agree?" He said to the man with the note pad. The man nodded and said yes, without enthusiasm.
"Yes, because I want it, or yes, because you agree? Don't agree with me if you don't agree."
The man smiled. "Yes, yes," he said.
Jack smiled back. "I've changed four holes around since this morning. Every time I come up here they shudder. I can't help it. I want it to be right. This is my ego trip."
Ultimately, the course that Jack is building will cover 220 acres on a 1,600-acre plot Golden Bear, Inc. bought on the north side of Columbus. It will be called The New Course at Muirfield, an engaging combination of names of the links upon which he won his two British Opens—The Old Course at St. Andrews and the premises of The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Muirfield. There are now—or soon will be—more than a dozen courses bearing Nicklaus' mark: among them, Heritage at Hilton Head, the one in Columbus, two in Cincinnati, one in Palm Beach. He will build four in Japan. "One is going to be exactly like St. Andrews," Jack said. "They tell me it can't be done. We'll see."
On a knoll overlooking a portion of the Columbus project he stopped. He explained the initial steps had been taken to get Muirfield a place on the PGA tournament tour, probably in 1975. "Sure, this will be a tough course," he said, "but we can ease up on it later. Once you take out a 50-year-old tree, it's out. You can't grow it back in three months."
He said he was oriented now "to build great courses, not just good courses." He said he had come to realize that he did not want to be known as another lucky jock who won a lot of money. "I want to leave more than a record."
Nicklaus does not return to Columbus as often as he used to, except for these in-and-out golf-course inspections. He used to make all the Ohio State football games. He and Jesse Owens are the only athletes in Ohio State history to receive honorary degrees. "The first year I played in the U.S. Amateur I carried a portable radio around to listen to the Michigan game," he said. When he couldn't make the game a few years ago, he called a friend in Columbus and had him put the receiver next to the radio so he could listen. The phone call cost $38.
To a degree Palm Beach has become a refuge from too many friends and too many demands on his time, but he is loath to break ties with his Columbus buddies. Take insurance executive Bob Hoag, for example. Twenty years ago when Jack was 13, he literally drove into Hoag's life. At the time Bob was 10 years Nicklaus' senior and known as the longest hitter at Scioto. On this particular day Hoag had hit his drive and was down a double-dip in the 16th fairway, flexing for his second shot, when a ball from the tee came skipping through his legs. Bob Hoag, meet Jack Nicklaus.
"We were friends from then on," Nicklaus was saying over the hum of the engines as his chartered Lear jet lifted out of Columbus for Cincinnati. "Hoag goes with me to the Crosby every year, to play in the pro-am. He eats it up."
The side trip to Cincinnati was for a look at the two public courses he designed in a joint venture with the Taft Broadcasting Company for its King's Island amusement complex. Ordinarily, he said, he flies commercial, having-discard-ed the luxury of a private jet as one of the first moves to streamline his corporate life—consolidating, cutting off fat.
A sportscaster friend from Miami named Bob Halloran, who was along for the ride, said rumor had it that Jack was lobbying for a football franchise. Nicklaus said he had talked with many of the NFL owners. "I'm still enthused about the notion but I have reservations. A team-sports franchise will be a nightmare for owners if Congress abolishes the reserve clause. I sure don't need that.
"One thing about it—you can't deny the hold pro football has," he said. "Look at me, a regular Dolphin nut. And the coverage it gets. The sportswriters, television—they can't stay away."
Halloran said he could never understand the bad press Nicklaus once received. He recalled a time when he was a cameraman for his Miami station and a PGA official tried to move him from his vantage point near the action at the Doral Open. Nicklaus interceded, saying,' I don't know who's right or wrong, but this man is a member of the press, and we need the press." Halloran seemed to think that was pretty noble.
"Part of it, early on, was my fault," Nicklaus said. "I was too direct, too frank. I have never been the most tactful guy in the world. But part of it, too, is that some guys don't know what they're talking about. The year I beat Arnold in the Open playoff , I had a short shot over a bunker to the 18th green. But a terrible lie. The ball looked like it had been stepped on. All I needed was a bogey to win, so to be safe I punched up short of the bunker. The guy on television said, 'Nicklaus has just hit the worst shot of the tournament!' He didn't know. When I won by three strokes, another commentator asked, 'Did you choke on that shot, Jack?'
"I could get pretty snappy. Just spit things out. I'm still that way. I get a burn on and I have to get it out. Barbara will be mad two weeks. The silent treatment. 'Barbara,' I tell her, 'let's get this thing out in the open,' and when we do, it's over. I never want anybody to doubt where I stand. But I don't always get it across right away."
"Yeah, like with your telephone voice."
Jack grinned. "Nobody told me until recently how short I am on the phone. Especially in the morning. I really teed off old Herb Wind [the co-author of Nicklaus' book, The Greatest Game of All]. He has that very crisp, proper way of talking, and he called and said, 'Hello, Jack, this is Herbert...Warren...Wind.' I said, 'Big deal.' I was kidding, but he didn't know it. Herb's a great guy, actually. He never called me Fat Jack in any of his stories."
"Golden Bear, that never bothered you?" asked Halloran.
"Don Lawrence in Australia started that. Then there was Blob-O and Whaleman, but most of it was good-natured. It depended on the frame of reference. If it came out, 'Fat Jack and his gallery of two or three,' sure, I knew what they were saying. I blew up at Jack Gallagher [of The Houston Post] one time. He had given me one of those zingers, and I said, 'All right, you, come here and feel this leg.' I had 29-inch thighs then but they were hard as rock."
Maybe what Nicklaus should have been, said Halloran, was a tell-it-all kind of open-faced sandwich like Gary Player. Never keep anything inside and say, "I owe it to raisins and push-ups."
"That Gary," laughed Nicklaus. "He talks about exercise and diet. We were rooming and practicing together at Baltusrol in 1967, and he'd been making those speeches and having his weights shipped from place to place. I'd like to know what that cost him. One morning I got up and did my exercises, showered and got ready to go to the course. When we were driving out it dawned on me. I said, 'What happened to you, Gary? You ate at least six pancakes for breakfast, and I sure didn't see you lifting any weights.' 'Oh,' he said with that surprised look. 'I forgot.' "
"Player won't admit you're better than he is," said Halloran. "Trevino says, 'Nicklaus is the greatest.' I asked Gary if he agreed. He said, 'No, Bob, I do not.' "
Jack smiled. "Gary cannot understand Lee. He says, 'How can Trevino say that?' I tell him, 'It's psychology, Gary. He says I'm the greatest, then he beats my ears off.' "
In Cincinnati Jack toured the new clubhouse and pro-shop facilities, introducing people around. He never missed a name. With the weather again pressing in he covered the two courses in a golf cart with Charles Mechem, the chairman of Taft Broadcasting, making suggestions for changes as they drove.
One course was empty of players, or seemed so until they came to the 10th green where two men, one in an orange poncho, were risking pneumonia. Jack stopped the cart behind and off to the left so as not to disturb them, but they had already seen him. Orange Poncho was face to face with a touchy chip shot over a bunker to the green. His horror was palpable: a nightmare reverse role. He was not watching the greatest golfer in the world, the greatest golfer in the world was watching him. He hunched over to prepare his shot, then pulled away. Smiling weakly, he looked toward Nicklaus. "Wanta hit this one for me?" Jack said no thanks, he would probably just foul it up. He gave a go-ahead wave.
The man returned to his task, wrenching the handle of his club like a baseball player, hoping, perhaps, to wring out an acceptable shot. He took a hurried back-swing and lined the ball over the bunker and 30 feet past the pin. He looked up in relief. Jack started up the cart. "That's the way I'd have done it," he called out. Orange Poncho grinned happily, as one who has heard the angels.