Aug 14, 2019
Jack Nicklaus’ first appearance at En-Joie impresses fans during Dick’s Open week
By Rob Centorani
Courtesy of Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin
The good stuff always comes last.
Last question to Jack Nicklaus as the sun crept below the mountains behind the 18th green Wednesday evening at En-Joie Golf Course?
Who’s the greatest golfer of all time?
Nicklaus rattled off a half-dozen or so potential candidates, including Tiger Woods, before SiriusXM golf broadcaster Dave Marr III asked a large contingent around the green its opinion.
It was unanimous.
Shortly thereafter, Dick’s Sporting Goods Open Tournament Director John Karedes presented Nicklaus with a check for $10,000 for the Nicklaus Children’s Healthcare Foundation, made possible by fan donations and purchases of Play Yellow hats, the most popular head-wear on the grounds.
It marked the first appearance in Endicott for arguably the best player in golf history and one Nicklaus said Joey Sindelar helped to arrange. Nicklaus and Sindelar played in college for Ohio State.
The 79-year-old Nicklaus, winner of a record 18 major championships, was a tad tardy to both of his appointments at En-Joie – a media conference in the afternoon and the UHS Golf Expo in the evening – but no one seemed to care.
Nicklaus’ son Gary will play in his first Dick’s Sporting Goods Open this week, a 54-hole PGA Tour Champions event that begins Friday.
The 65-minute conversation on the 18th green meandered from how Nicklaus picked up the sport, his early days on tour, family, relationships with players such as Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Tom Watson, the substantial difference in purses from Nicklaus’ time to today and his favorite moment on tour.
Not surprisingly, Nicklaus’ favorite moment was the 1986 Masters, the last of his six titles at Augusta.
In the final round, Nicklaus wore a yellow shirt, shot 65 – 30 on the back nine — and won the tournament by one stroke over Greg Norman and Tom Kite.
Turns out, the reason Nicklaus wore yellow on Sundays was an 11-year-old he met in 1968 named Craig Smith, who had bone cancer. Craig’s favorite color was yellow, so Nicklaus wore yellow shirts during final rounds as a greeting to Craig watching on TV from his Ohio home.
After winning a tournament in 1968, Nicklaus called Craig.
“I knew you were going to win today,” Nicklaus recalled the youngster saying. “I wore my lucky yellow shirt.”
Craig died in 1971.
“But I continued to wear yellow shirts and over the years, obviously, that sort of dwindled a little bit,” Nicklaus said. “But in 1986, I’m rummaging through my luggage before the last round and I saw a yellow shirt. I said, ‘Barbara, what do you think?’
Nicklaus’ wife responded, “I think Craig would like this.”
That started the “The Yellow Shirt Campaign.”
“We started Play Yellow this year and we want to raise $100 million over the next five years and we will,” Nicklaus of money that will go to children’s hospitals, including the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami and Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “In fact, we’ll raise a lot more than that.”
During a 25-or-so-minute chat with about a dozen reporters, Nicklaus poked fun at the state of his game (it’s not good), talked about concentration, pressure, parenting, Tiger Woods and various other topics.
His mind remains sharp, he answered questions fully, looked people in their eyes and seemed at ease in a spot he’s encountered often since bursting onto sports scene in the early-1960s.
Asked about focus, Nicklaus said: “Some people can concentrate, some can’t. If they can play three holes without chasing a frog, then it’s time to learn how to play. It takes about 45 minutes to play three holes. Gary could play three holes and not chase frogs. I have a 45-year-old who still chases frogs.”
Much of what Nicklaus discussed centered on his family, his five children and 22 grandchildren, the latter group including Nick O’Leary, a tight end for the Miami Dolphins.
Even during his heyday between the ropes, Nicklaus said he’d never spend more than two weeks away from his family.
As for Woods, Nicklaus wasn’t surprised when he won his 15th major title in April at Augusta.
“I said he’ll win again once he gets the five inches between his ears straightened out,” Nicklaus said, adding that when Tiger found the green on the par-3 12th hole Sunday – something several contenders failed to do — he knew Woods would continue to his fifth green jacket.