In his career Nicklaus won 18 majors and 4 U.S. Open championships.
Why Jack Nicklaus is a Champion
The term Champion is one that I believe is loosely used especially in the world of sports. I don’t think just because a person performs a skill better than their competitors, that makes them a champion. I have known a few and seen a few others who could do that very thing, but in my way of thinking they were not a Champion.
In 1995, Jack Nicklaus lost the United States Senior Open to his fellow Buckeye Tom Weiskopf. He lost by one stroke. As Nicklaus was coming off the 18th green I was in the scoring trailer. Tom Meeks had me wait until Nicklaus finished reviewing and signing his card and then take him to the media tent for interviews.
As we came out of the scoring trailer Nicklaus, who was a bit behind me, was immediately mobbed by the crowd that had been waiting for him. They all wanted an autograph and many in that crowd were young people, children. I will never forget what Nicklaus did. Immediately he stopped, raised his hands and only in that Nicklaus high pitched voice said to the crowd, “Folks, I’m sorry I can’t sign right now. I’ve got to go to the media tent for interviews but my car is parked in the upper parking lot. I will be at the press tent for about 45 minutes. If you want an autograph go to where my car is, I will sign later.” With that we were off and I also thought to myself, “Don’t bet grandma’s egg money that will happen.”
As we started with Nicklaus in tow to the media tent our seven year old grandson, who had been with my wife and me that week at the Championships, bolted. He took off. “Seth, come on with me, I’ll see that you get his autograph when he is finished” I told him. “No, No, I’m not going with you" was his reply. I repeated my words to Seth assuring him that he would get his autograph if he would just stay with me and even a chocolate bar in the process. “He told us what to do if we wanted an autograph and I’m going there to get in line. He told us what to do.” With that, Seth and the herd were off. I thought, “Kid you should have stayed with me.”
We delivered Nicklaus to the media tent for the interview and then waited. About 45 minutes later he was finished. We delivered him to two Pennsylvania State troopers who would then be responsible for getting him to the parking lot and his car. We all have heard the old line, “Curiosity killed the cat.” Well I thought I’m going to watch now and see what happens. Most players I have known once finished with their play and media responsibilities consider it done and want, “Out of here.”
Now earlier Nicklaus had told a group if they wanted something he would deliver and where they could go to receive. So I followed. As we came up over a small hill in the distance I could see the player’s parking lot. It was pretty much empty. Off in the distances I could see the upper parking lot where Nicklaus said his car would be. Now I see his car and a large gathering of people. Many kids. I am thinking how he is going to get rid of that crowd and get out of there? He finished second; he has given the press their interview. He has to be tired and ready to go. As we got within a few yards of his car I heard Nicklaus say, “OK guys if you want an autograph, first line up, little folks to the front, bigger folks to the back. Now don’t push or shove and you will get an autograph, I promise.”
What I saw for nearly the next hour was Nicklaus signing programs, pictures, hats, you name it. Equally interesting, who should be standing there leaning up against their car but his wife, Barbara. She waited patiently and exchanged conversation with various ones in the line. Nicklaus signed every last one in that line. In that line was our seven year old grandson, smiling as big as you can imagine.
For a number of years after that if you entered my grandson’s bedroom you could see hanging on the wall the autographed hat that Nicklaus signed on that day. My grandson once said to me, “See, I didn’t go with you and I got my autograph.” No you got that autograph because a man once told you what to do if you wanted that autograph and he kept his promise in doing such.
Not all winners are Champions but all Champions are winners. Nicklaus is both.
June 17, 2012