Most of golf's touring professionals seem to do little but play the game, or talk, think, worry and complain about playing the game, except of course on those few occasions each year when their minds turn to another somewhat related sport: stalking the texturized Dacron polyester clothing ad. Jack Nicklaus has always been different. Not only in the brazenly consistent golf shots that he puts on display from one tournament to another, which tend to result in some sort of record being shattered every time he bends over and reaches toward the cup, but also in the life he lives. In 1975 Nicklaus might well have played his best golf ever, and yet it was also a year in which he widened his interests and enriched himself with other sporting and business pleasures. In fact, he was so busy winning or coming close to winning just about every tournament he entered, while at the same time so obviously enjoying a multitude of diversions, that there wound up being only two things he could not find the time for. He did not take his kids snorkeling in Rae's Creek at Augusta National to look for the bodies of Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf. And he did not explore a region of the Amazon to see if he could design an 18-hole course through the rubber trees for the Tupi-Guarani tribesmen.
Forget the golf for a moment. What Nicklaus is about to embark upon during these holidays is typical of both the man and his year. With the family, Jack is headed for Snowmass for his first experience on the ski slopes. Although he has said, "I'm taking my zip-on cast so I can stay at the bottom of the mountain," skiing will nevertheless be the ninth sport, other than golf, that Nicklaus will have participated in during the calendar year. Not necessarily in order, the others have been tennis, basketball, fishing, water skiing, boating, swimming, quail hunting and trapshooting. This leaves out wine-discussing, but that is perhaps more of a hobby.
The tennis was a constant, everyday thing, with his kids or with friends, whenever Nicklaus was back home in North Palm Beach, Fla., fresh from capturing the Masters or the PGA, or unfresh from barely losing the U.S. Open or British Open. Basketball is a persistent pursuit, mostly halfcourt in the driveway except when he was playing on a team at various local high school gyms last winter just about the time everyone thought he was being tormented by the headlines being made by Johnny Miller. With three boats docked out back of his home—beyond the pool—the water skiing, cruising and swimming come rather easily. There is a small game farm near the Florida residence where he takes his older sons for quail hunting and trap shooting. Some of the fishing was off the Great Barrier Reef, seeing as how it tied in with his winning the Australian Open, but he also fished in Cozumel and around the Florida Keys.
As if all of this wasn't enough to relieve the pressures of the golfing business—the tournaments, the course designing, the organizing of his very own tour event beginning in the spring of 1976, and simply running the empire—Nicklaus also squeezed in some spectating.
December 22, 1975
It can be reported that Jack's three favorite football teams are the Benjamin Buccaneers, the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Miami Dolphins. He missed only two Benjamin games all season, Benjamin being a junior high that happens to have a fullback and defensive end named Jackie Nicklaus, and a tailback and safety named Steve Nicklaus. He missed only one Miami Dolphin game in the Orange Bowl—for these he has been known to rent a van, cook dinner for a few chums and join the gangs in the parking lot toasting Bob Kuechenberg. And he would naturally have seen more than just two Ohio State games in Columbus if it had not been for various corporate matters requiring his attention in Japan, Spain, Canada, Australia and all those other pages in this year's Nicklaus Geographic.
There were other things to watch besides football. While warming up for the British Open he played three practice rounds at Carnoustie with his son Jackie, 14. "I was trying to get him in shape to qualify for the USGA Junior," says Nicklaus. He also dashed over to Edinburgh so Jackie could see and play a round at exalted Muirfield, a place so special to Nicklaus that he has named his club in Columbus after it, Muirfield Village. And then Jack, Barbara and Jackie jetted home for the express purpose of seeing Steve, 12, perform at third base in a Little League all-star game.
Nicklaus has admitted that he travels too much to win a qualifying heat in the Father-of-the-Year derby, but he scored high marks on one particular wholesome family unit test the week of the PGA in Akron. There was this understandable urge he had to win another major championship, but it was in slight conflict with a different event of considerable importance. Nan Nicklaus, aged 10, was entered in her first competitive sports event, the 10-and-under division of the Scioto Country Club Junior Tennis Tournament. Nicklaus passed up all of his opportunities for practice at Firestone, other than a late round in the rain the day before the tournament began, in order to watch Nan win the championship doubles and the consolation singles in Columbus. Of course, Nicklaus ran away with the PGA anyhow, further illuminating a remark by Barbara.
"There's a lot of Jack in Nan," she says. "Her jaw gets set when she plays a game."
The purpose served in dwelling on these extra activities and interests of Jack Nicklaus is twofold. They make the year he had in golf all the more impressive, and they help to demonstrate once again what an incomparable athlete we have among us, performing at his peak.
The Masters that he won by hanging in there on Sunday against Miller and Weiskopf was not only a record fifth for him but it has every reason to be called the most thrilling major tournament ever played.
Nicklaus came agonizingly close in 1975 to that Grand Slam he seeks, for between winning the Masters and the PGA, which were his 15th and 16th major championships (Bob Jones had the record at 13, remember), he was right there in the heated dramas of Medinah and Carnoustie, needing only one more great shot to take both the U.S. and British Opens away from the leaders.
"I played well all year long because I worked harder at it," he says. "My mental preparation for the majors was especially good."
Nicklaus did more than play well. In 18 tournaments he never finished out of the top 20; he was out of the top 10 only twice; in 14 events he was among the top six; he averaged 69.8 strokes per round, his best ever; he won five times in the U.S. on some fairly demanding courses—Augusta, Firestone, Harbour Town, Pinehurst No. 2 and Doral; he took the money-winning title for the seventh time, the PGA's Player of the Year for the fourth time, and he became the first player in history to win two major championships in a single year for the fourth time, breaking out of a tie in that odd but distinguished category with that fellow named Jones and another named Ben Hogan.
Which brings up one last point. What Jack Nicklaus proved in 1975 with a devastating finality is something the golfing world has suspected all along, that he can "turn it off and turn it back on again," as the pros say, like only Jones and Hogan before him. And perhaps he can do it better than either. After all, this was the year Nicklaus particularly enjoyed the dual role of an immortal and a human being.