A magazine writer asked Jack Nicklaus if he might interview Jack Jr., 15, and Nicklaus asked the scribbler a good question: "Why?" Well, because he's your son, the magazine man said, and Nicklaus said, "Let's wait. Let's wait until he does something on his own. Then he'll be worth a story on his own."
The magazine writer persisted. But, Jack, there's all this interest in Jackie, and he is playing in national tournaments. So Nicklaus said, "Go talk to Jackie. If he wants to talk to you, he will."
Sheepishly, the writer said, "I already talked to him."
"What did he say?"
"He said to wait until he'd done something on his own."
Nicklaus smiled. "Look, Jackie's going to be a helluva player in two years. But right now he's not ready for that pressure. Let him grow up. He loves to play golf and he works at it, just like I did. But I had one advantage."
The greatest golfer ever smiled again. "I didn't have that monster (himself) over there. My father wasn't a name. I just don't want Jackie to say the hell with it, it isn't worth it."
At 37, Jack Nicklaus has won 14 major professional championships, more than anyone else. In the four major tournaments, he also has finished second 15 times. He has won 63 tour tournaments and more than $3 million in prize money in 16 seasons. Eight times he has been the leading money winner on tour; never has he been worse than fourth on the money list.
That is a monster, and the question for discussion today is not so much how Nicklaus did it, but how in the name of Bobby Jones he keeps on doing it. When you've won everything 12 times and you own Ohio, how do you stay interested in hitting a little ball into a hole in the ground?
You love to be the best.
And make no mistake, Jack Nicklaus loves the attention, the applause, the recognition that come with public acceptance of his supremacy. From his baby-fat days in Columbus, Ohio, when he dreamed of doing what Jones had done. Nicklaus his pursued his ambition skillfully, both on the course had off. His image is shinning; a great athlete, a gracious man.
So gracious is Nicklaus in his public comments, so correct and diplomatic, that a casual listener may well feel Nicklaus is the modern-day embodiment of Jones, a sportsman who tries his best and, should he lose, is happy for the other fellow that day.
Think of Tom Watson. Ten years younger than Nicklaus, as Nicklaus is 10 years younger than Arnold Palmer. Watson is golf's leading money winner this year. IN classic tournaments, Watson won the Masters and British Open this year, both times beating Nicklaus head-to-head the final day.
Nicklaus can't stand it.
Oh, he is saying all the nice things at press conferences. How Tom is a great player. How those last-round duels were fun. How it's good for golf to have tournaments such as those.
But . . .
On the putting green here three days ago, shortly after Watson's clubs, and the clubs of seven other players, were declared illegal because the grooves were too wide. Nicklaus approached Watson.
"I guess I just won the Masters and British Open," Nicklaus said to his conqueror.
Both men smiled.
And Watson later said it was just a needle.
And Nicklaus said it didn't mean anything.
Sure, and Ann-Margret is a boy.
A story in a local newspaper carried the headline: "An Asterisk for Watson's Wins?" It suggested the illegal clubs may have helped Watson win his six victories this year, the nearly $300,000 in prize money.
One day, in a one-on-one interview, Nicklaus said the clubs probably hurt Watson more than they helped.
The next day, talking to four or five reporters from nationally circulated newspapers and magazines, Nicklaus chose to be unkind to Watson.
"Maybe there should be an asterisk," he said. "Who knows? Nobody really knows, do they, if the clubs helped or not."
Nicklaus has a conversational style that may be called Ohio Innuendo. If he doesn't want to say something straight out, he says just enough to help his listener decide for himself. For instance, after Nicklaus said no one knew if the clubs helped Watson or not, the world's greatest golfer shrugged and said in a confidential tone, "But Tom has been controlling the ball awfully well this year, hasn't he?"
In his first year as a proffessional, Nicklaus won the 1962 U.S. Open. Only once since has he gone as long as two seasons without winning one of the four major championships (in 1968-69 when he won only five tour events, causing a rash of Nicklaus-is-washed-up stories). But Nicklaus didn't win a major last year, and this week's PGA is his last opportunity at a major this season.
That terrible slump (he has won only four tournaments and $600,000 in the two seasons, a grand career for anyone less) has prompted another journalistic epidemic. This time typewriters are busy clanking out the-king-is-dead-long-live-the-king stories.
Tom Watson, the new king.
Not if Nicklaus has anything to say about it.
"I can't be like Muhammad Ali and go pick on guys I can beat," Nicklaus said with a smile. "They keep throwing these guys at me. But I kind of enjoy it. I came up the same way as these guys. I beat Arnold. I think it's good for the game, and it's good for me."
That's what Nicklaus said in a press conference.
One-on-one, somebody asked Nicklaus if it were really fun to be challenged. Johnny Miller tried, and Tom Weiskopf, and Lee Trevino. Now Watson.Is it fun?
"I much prefer it when there's nobody," Nicklaus said, laughing.
He quickly added, "No, I don't mean that."
Yes, you do, somebody said.
"You're right, I do mean it," Nicklaus said.