From growing up in Nicklaus’ home to caddy for his legendary father at the 1986 Masters to learning how to design a golf course, Jack Nicklaus II truly has had the “best seat” in the house. Enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at his life with the Golden Bear and the special father-son lessons learned along the way from the boy who once answered the question of what his father did for a living: “Nothing, just play golf. “
Some additional narratives and quotes from the author:
The first time I caddy for my dad was at the Open Championship at the Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England in 1976. It wasn’t a project or a project. I lifted dad’s bag over my right shoulder and we walked side by side down the fairway. Although I’d spent so much time with Dad on the golf course, he hadn’t been a caddy. I was like a deer under the headlights, and I was so overwhelmed. It was only a few minutes before my new concert when Dad immediately reminded me of my new responsibilities. We had walked about ten meters when Dad stopped and asked me, “Didn’t you forget something?”
I was surprised by the question and had no idea what dad was talking about. I turned and looked back along the fairway, thinking I might drop a club or maybe Raymond Floyd hadn’t made his approach shot yet. I was confused and looked at it. Dad pointed to a small patch of grass that was upside down in the middle of the fairway behind us. “You forgot to replace the divot,” he said, regarding the green turf moved by his approach shot. Having let my new role get the better of me, I was embarrassed when I found the turf removed and replaced it. This was “Golf 101”, a rule of etiquette I knew as a golfer. It was time for me to focus as I was in Dad’s office – and this was serious business.
“Scoring Dad’s Ball”
When I caddy that first time for Dad, our relationship changed. He was a dad before and always, but I also knew immediately that he was working during the course. Golf was his profession, what he did for a living to support his family. Out there I saw him as a competitor for the first time. With me on his bag, I also realized that I could help or harm his performance.
Mom and Dad needed to be entertained by my early efforts as I was determined to be the best caddy I could be. And, boy, have I exaggerated at times. Like most of the guys on the PGA Tour, Dad always marked his golf balls with a pencil mark on either side of the number on the ball. It was something he always did just before throwing his ball on the first tee of a round. It was a light pressure of the pencil lead, barely visible, but enough to distinguish it if ever it was a question of identifying the golf ball.
Dad never scored his golf balls on a practice round. So, after his training round at the Open Championship, I wanted Dad to be prepared. I scored all the golf balls that dad planned to use in the opening round the next day before he went to bed. At that time balata golf balls were the choice for professionals and low handicap golfers. The soft balata cover allowed for more control from the tee and much higher spin speeds on iron and wedge shots.
I was determined to mark dad’s golf balls like no one else. I have planned to have the most accurate marks ever seen on a golf ball. Well, I passed pencil after pencil after pencil as I marked those golf balls. I can’t tell you how many lead points I broke in those soft balata covers. All I can say is that those marks on dad’s golf balls were unmistakable – they stood out like the pimples on a teenager’s nose. I’m not sure how counterproductive my overdoing was, but dad’s brand new golf balls had little bits of lead sticking out of them.
Dad never belittled my efforts as he gracefully searched in his bag for balls that weren’t terminal damaged by me for use in competition. He gracefully asked me to give the forever scarred golf balls to his adoring fans in the gallery. Everyone was happy and, at the time, I didn’t know otherwise.
“Dad also competes with Mom!”
My parents love to fish together, and at the start of their marriage, Mom would giggle silently if she caught a fish bigger than Dad. But over the course of sixty years, the giggles have become pretty impressive garbage chatter. And there’s nothing more fun than listening to sweet Barbara talking crap. (page 127)
According to mom, she started to feel a little comfortable showing off her competitive fire with dad on a fishing trip in the Bahamas nearly twenty years ago. Mum was used to spin fishing and bait fishing, but Dad was helping her learn fly fishing. Dad was trying to be the great teacher he is and he was offering a lot of suggestions. Then, at the end of the day, the biggest fish belonged. . . Mom!
Mom said she didn’t say anything about having the grand prize, but later that night “Dad was sulking.” Now, Dad denies that he sulked – his line was “I don’t sulk, I equal.” When Mom pointed out at dinner that Dad seemed to have hurt her feelings, she mumbled something about the bigger fish. Mom skipped the whole moment. “Yes, I caught the biggest fish,” he said. “And I’m going to do it every time.” (pp. 128-129)
“McDonald’s Happy Meal”
Millions of people have had the opportunity, participating in tournaments or watching television, to see Dad perform in the four days of any golf tournament. But hardly any of them got a chance to see what really made it great. It was the multitude of hours he spent practicing the game and his unique skill set that really led to all those trophies. There is certainly some physical evidence of all that practice. Golf experts say my dad’s classic right-handed golf swing is unmistakable. They indicate his hip rotation, the lifting of his left foot off the ground and his steady pace. These are just some of the components, practiced often, that helped him win.
What the experts don’t know is that a McDonald’s Happy Meal was also part of its success.
Dad missed the 1988 PGA championship cut at Oak Tree Golf Club in Oklahoma. Under normal circumstances, golfers leave town quickly when they miss the cut and do not advance into the final two rounds of the tournament. They don’t earn or get paid when that happens, so there’s really no reason to stay. Dad, however, agreed to help ABC with the televised broadcast of that championship. He stayed at the tournament with his mom instead of returning to Florida. I know it had to be tough on Dad because there’s nothing worse than losing the cut and having to stand by and watch the competition.
Mom took Michael to McDonald’s during round three, while Dad was on the air, where Michael ordered a Happy Meal and a drink. During that era McDonald’s ran a special that each meal came with a glass featuring a Peanuts character offering an inspirational phrase. Michael’s glass quoted Lucy as saying, “There is no excuse for not being properly prepared.” Mom was so caught up in the sentence that she took the glass back to the hotel and had Dad read the saying the next morning. The phrase had a profound impact on dad, even at the age of forty-eight. He recognized that he was not prepared for this tournament. For years, Dad had a course prep regimen and hadn’t followed it. Dad had his orange juice served in that glass to remind him of the importance of preparation. Mom and dad often laugh at that morning.
Incidentally, Mom still has that glass of Happy Meal.