April 06, 2015: The pressroom filled up rather quickly soon as news filtered about the arrival of Jack Nicklaus. The Big Bear was sharp as ever at 76, responding to questions with alacrity and humour. Just before that, there was Tom Watson in the same room speaking about his memories. The big stars of golf sure have an aura about them, but most importantly it is educating to see them discuss specific shots as if they happened just moments ago. Nicklaus spoke about his enduring love for golf and his expanding business interests.
Nicklaus has a special place in golf, and the reverence that surrounds him makes the air lighter. He joked about the driving competition between Gary Player and himself every year at the ceremonial tee, leaving the press corps chuckling with glee.
I asked him about his relationship with Player and Arnold Palmer and how it has evolved over the years. “Well, we started playing golf and then we all grew old,” is the short answer he said, to another round of unadulterated laughter in the room.
“I first played with them in 1958, but that was an exhibition. In fact I did not play competitively against Player till 1962,” he elaborated, speaking in the warm voice of a man, who will never tire of narrating the history of this great game.
“Arnold would come pick me in his plane,” he added. “We played exhibitions all around the country. So my relationship with him was built around our golf.”
“On the other hand, Gary and I had families that were very similar. So the relationship extended beyond the course. He had six children, I had five and we both had 22 grand children.”
Inevitably he was asked about whether Tiger Woods might be able to come back and chase down the record of 18 majors. “I think he is going come back and win again,” said Nicklaus. “I think I managed my share of injuries too.” Nicklaus hasn’t ever been willing to write off Tiger, despite several surgeries and swing changes.
He was also quizzed about his business. “We had plenty of work till around 2007 and then there was a period of quiet,” informed Nicklaus. “But we are working on six to seven deals this year, the number isn’t inked on some of them. Clearly the game is back on a growth trajectory,” said an optimistic Nicklaus.
The host member was eager to call time on Nicklaus’s interview, but Big Bear was happy to remain seated an engage with the press that ran quickly to his table, like children in a candy store. His enduring appeal is such a warm sight for the game of golf.