This week the PGA Tour is at one of my favorite spots, Jack Nicklaus’s Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin. The annual Memorial is one of the most prestigious, and respected “non-majors” of the year. And it’s arguably all because of Nicklaus.
There are so many aspects of Nicklaus’ career and the more I read about the man many consider golf’s GOAT, the more I understand and respect his achievements.
There’s the golf, obviously. Eighteen is still golf’s magic number. Six Masters. Five PGA Championships. Four U.S. Opens. Three British Opens.
Eighteen major victories. Astounding on their own. But did you know that Nicklaus also had 19 second-place finishes in majors? Nineteen times a runner up! That’s 37 top-two finishes in majors.
Rickie Fowler, one of golf’s biggest stars for the last decade, has played in 33 majors. If he quit right now, Fowler would have a nice career resume. And Jack Nicklaus would have more top-twos than majors in which Fowler has even played.
There’s the sportsmanship. I’ve read more stories about Jack’s sportsmanship than any other golfer. Ever. One of my favorite stories is the famous “Concession.”
After making a five-footer on the last hole of the last singles match in the 1969 Ryder Cup, Jack conceded Tony Jacklin’s two-and-a-half footer to tie the hole, the match and the entire tournament.
There’s the businessman. From course design to equipment and clothing manufacturer, Nicklaus has been a successful businessman off the course almost as long as he was winning Tour events. His first credited course, a co-design with Pete Dye, is the still-challenging Harbour Town Golf Links. That was in 1969. By 2005, Nicklaus Design was credited with 299 open courses in the world.
Not sure if that’s a lot? How about at that point, it represented almost one percent of all golf courses.
In the world.
There’s the philanthropist. As the host (official or otherwise) of two PGA Tour events (this week’s Memorial and Florida’s Honda Classic), Nicklaus has raised millions of dollars for children’s hospital systems in Ohio and Florida.
In Ohio, he partners with the Nationwide Children’s Hospital system in Columbus. In Florida, he determined there was a need for a children’s hospital in his southern hometown of Palm Beach, so he started one. Today the Nicklaus Children’s Health System is southern Florida’s only health care system exclusively for children and operates more than a dozen outpatient locations and a flagship hospital.
And there’s the family man. I don’t know how true it is, but I remember hearing a story about Jack never playing more than two consecutive weeks on Tour because he wouldn’t leave his family for that long. Golf’s ultimate spousal team, Jack and his wife Barbara have been married, if my math is correct for 58 years now. They have five kids. And I couldn’t get an accurate number on grandchilden, but it’s plentiful.
While reading up on his family, I came across the terrible story of Jake Nicklaus, Jack’s 17-month-old grandson who died in 2005 when he accidentally drowned in a family hot tub. As the father of a 4-year-old and a 14-month-old, I couldn’t fathom the loss of a child or grandchild. Jake’s story is a reminder that tragedy and heartache have no borders, and that no amount of fame or fortune can prepare a family for something like that.
Today, the Nicklaus family remembers their grandson in part through “The Jake,” an annual fundraising event at Jack’s Jupiter, Fla., course The Bear Club. One of the most supported golf fundraisers anywhere in the world, PGA Tour stars and big donors come together to raise funds for, of course, The Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation.
The 2017 event alone raised more than $2.9 million.
And the more I read, the more I want to keep typing. Nicklaus is a living legend. He’s not only the GOAT of our sport, but also also the gold standard for any athletes off the playing field or course. Quite honestly, I don’t see him being matched by any of today’s athletes.
So let’s enjoy the final round of the Memorial this afternoon. And while it’s certainly appropriate to celebrate the winner, let’s not forget to also celebrate today’s host.
There will never be another Jack Nicklaus. On or off the course.
Jonah Karzmer is a former golf professional who writes a Sunday golf column for The Vindicator. In his spare time he sells commercial insurance and loves getting feedback on his weekly columns via email at Jonah@thekarzmerinsurance.com.