Today we wish a happy 70th birthday to Jack Nicklaus — the greatest sportsman, in the fullest sense of that wonderful word, since Bobby Jones.
Until Scott Brown so rudely (I’m joking) interrupted my plans by providing the best electoral news we’ve seen in more than 15 years, I was planning to devote today’s full column to Nicklaus, in tribute of his career. It’s worth noting that Nicklaus provided three of the five most compelling golf moments of the modern sports television age (which I count as starting around 1970, when sports on TV became not just an attraction but a near-universally accessible national obsession): his 1975 Masters victory, about which much more should be written; his 1977 Duel in the Sun at Turnberry with Tom Watson; and his 1986 Masters victory, walking off the 18th green with his arm around son/caddie Jackie. (The other two most compelling golf moments: the 1999 Ryder Cup comeback win for the US; and Tiger’s U.S. Open chapionship in 2008 while playing on a fractured leg. Just behind those two would come Ben Crenshaw’s 1995 Masters victory while mourning teacher Harvey Penick.) He also provided so many of the greatest moments of sportsmanship that they are hard to catalogue, but they include the putt concession to Tony Jacklin in 1969’s Ryder Cup and the agreement with Gary Player to let the President’s Cup in South Africa end in a tie in the gloaming. And year in and year out, nobody won with more magnaminity, or lost with more grace, than Jack Nicklaus. Nobody else had the foresight he did, either, with his idea to include continental Europe in the Ryder Cup not only rescuing that event but turning it into one of the greatest events in all of sports.
Plus, he brought into public eye the lady who is perhaps the most gracious champion’s wife, Barbara Nicklaus, who ever walked the planet.
And oh, yes, he won 18 professional majors (and two U.S. Amateurs), and finished second another 19 times in majors. And he always gave straight answers, and thoughtful ones, to almost any question.
So Happy Birthday to the Golden Bear. May he have many more.