Happy birthday to the Golden Bear

UnknownIN 1986 BEER cost 82p a pint, the M25 had opened and Diego Maradona scored his infamous ‘hand of God’ goal against England in the World Cup quarter finals in Mexico. And Jack Nicklaus won his 18th major golf title aged 46. 

To many of us it seems like only yesterday, and the fact that 29 years later he appears just as much a part of the golfing scene as he did then is the mark of enormous respect and regard golf fans hold him in. Maybe the affection during his earlier playing days was never quite as warm as it was towards Arnold Palmer, whose vulnerability was every bit as endearing as his talent, but what held Nicklaus apart and in such esteem was his ability to lose with every bit as much grace as he displayed when he won. On January 21st Nicklaus was 75.

Those who witnessed his titanic battle with Tom Watson at Turneberry in 1977 may not recall his comment, ‘You never begrudge somebody for doing something good. That’s all part of the game’ as Watson holed a monster putt on 15 to even up the round. Having parred the long 17th to Watson’s birdie Nicklaus then made a miraculous birdie, after draining an enormous putt from the front of the green, but it was not enough, as Watson birdied it too. Yet he still walked off with his arm around Watson as if they were simply two old pals having just enjoyed a friendly Sunday afternoon round on their local course.

His gallantry in conceding Tony Jacklin’s slippery little putt at Royal Birkdale during the 1969 Ryder Cup match because ‘I did not want him to miss it,’ and which squared the match and the contest after years of British and Irish defeats did not go down too well with some of his team mates but showed the sportsmanship and stature of the man. That one act has gone down in golfing folklore.

And then there were all those runner up spots in the four major tournaments; 19 in all, plus a further nine third places over a period of 25 years to go with his six Masters’ victories, four US Open Championships, three Open Championships and five PGA victories. No one has ever dominated major tournaments for as long as he did beating the world’s finest over three decades.

He said, when asked about his attitude on the course, “As with so many things in my makeup, the answer derives from Charlie Nicklaus. My father taught me the single hardest thing a professional athlete has to learn, which is how to lose gracefully. Dad convinced me very early in my involvement with sports that I had to accept the bad with the good; that, however much it hurts inside, you smile and keep a stiff upper lip; that you shake the hand of the man who’s beaten you, and tell him congratulations, and mean it.”
Nicklaus earned $5,723,192 in his playing career, around one tenth of what Rory McIlroy is expected to earn this year. But Nicklaus would never be so churlish as to begrudge the young player and has done so much to encourage talented golfers, McIlroy included.
The golf press will doubtless be running those same old stories about Tiger Woods and his chance of closing the gap this year on the 18 majors won by the man who became known as the ‘Golden Bear’. He may well do, but his demeanour both on and off the course has never approached that of the standard shown by the legendary Nicklaus, a truly great competitor and a most honourable man.
Happy birthday, Jack Nicklaus.

3 thoughts on “Happy birthday to the Golden Bear

  1. Jack’s 75th. A very nice article on the world’s greatest golfer. In my mind, you cannot place Tiger up there in the same way, in part for the reasons given in the other article about his attitude and graceless behaviour, if anything now accentuated. I watched Jack in many Opens and saw him many more times on television. He was always a pleasure to watch. I remember one particularly bad first round he had at Sandwich after one of his son’s had just been involved in a car accident back in the States. I saw him after that round at neighbouring Deal where he was hitting practice balls with another son and then going off together to pick them up — impossible to think of that happening nowadays. He was very friendly and signed a postcard of the course for me. One small correction to your article. At the 72nd hole at Turnberry, Jack indeed managed to get the ball onto the very edge of the green from a bad lie near one of those left-hand bushes and then holed an incredible putt which was thus for a birdie (not the par that was mentioned). Unfortunately for Jack, Tom’s shot into a few feet meant that Tom himself birdied and remained one shot ahead to claim the claret jug. Wouldn’t we all have love it Tom could have repeated that feat at Turnberry only a few years back. Many thanks for the interesting set of articles in the blog.

    • A correction to the above and not an extra comment to post. I just saw that in my comment above, I mentioned Jack near the left-hand bushes; it was actually near the bushes on the right. Sorry for that and I hope you can correct it in the above. I was at Royal Ashdown with a friend last Thursday hoping to take advantage of the £50 winter green fee on a course I have always wanted to play. We ended up watching a real deluge of rain for 2 hours with the greens flooding and finally giving up. I will have to come back another time as the course looks wonderful.

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