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Jewish World Review August 30, 2000 / 29 Menachem-Av, 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Consumer Reports


From inside all those screen porches, one more cheer


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- ON THE GOLF COURSE where my father and his friends used to play, there was a young caddie -- his name was Mike Podolski -- who was a very good golfer. He entered a local junior tournament, and made it to the finals.

It was to be a head-to-head match with the other young finalist, and my dad and his friends went out to cheer on Mike Podolski. They thought he would almost certainly win; they had been watching him practice all summer, he was a fine athlete, and the boy he was scheduled to play against was several years younger.

When my father came home that night, I asked him if Podolski had won.

"No," my dad said. "Not even close."

He said he had brought me something. My dad was not a man to ask people for autographs -- and it's difficult for me even to imagine him asking a boy not much older than a child to sign his autograph -- but he handed me a golf scorecard, and said "Hold on to this."

He said he had seen something he could barely describe. The boy who had won the junior tournament -- the boy who had defeated Mike Podolski -- was such a remarkable golfer that words could not do justice to his talent. My dad -- stunned by what he had just observed -- had walked up to the kid and had asked him to sign the golf card, so he could bring it home to his own, even younger, son.

I looked at the card. There was a signature: "Jacky Nicklaus."

He's no longer a kid; he's 60. He's no longer Jacky; he has been Jack for many years. The other day, Tiger Woods won the PGA Championship in Louisville. But the PGA may very well turn out to be the last major tournament in which Nicklaus will ever compete. He missed the cut; he was out of the tournament. So I'd like to say a few words about him here.

He came out of the middle of Ohio, which is not exactly renowned as the birthplace of legendary golfers. His dad ran a pharmacy, and there was no reason anyone outside of Franklin County should ever have heard of Jack, except that he decided to make himself the best golfer who ever lived. For those of us who grew up under the same central Ohio skies as Jack, breathing the same air, there is a certain sense of pride in how he has conducted himself all his life. Put simply, it's this: He came from among us and he became the best in the world at something, and he never turned into a jerk.

That's pretty good. Think of how many people let you down, of how many people get famous and turn their backs on the places from where they came. With Nicklaus, even though he mostly lived elsewhere, even though he became welcome in some of the most storied country clubs on the planet, he remained Jack Nicklaus of Columbus. Listen to his voice. It's still there.

For so many summers, if it was a weekend you could walk on the sidewalks anywhere in town, and you were likely to hear, from a screen porch: "Get up, Jack!" Someone would be watching television, and somewhere else in the world Nicklaus would have putted a golf ball, and it would be on its way to the hole, and back here, back home, you would hear those words: "Get, up, Jack!" Back home, in all those houses, they'd be cheering him on.

I heard the other day from Judy Alspaugh Harrison, whose father was the doctor for our school sports teams. She said that she was watching Nicklaus' progress in this year's PGA with even more interest than the rest of us: "You see, my father delivered him." I always got a kick out of a photo of Jack that used to hang in a sandwich shop at Port Columbus airport; beneath the photo there was a sign that identified him as "Jack W. Nicklaus." As if the middle initial were needed in case we might mix him up with some other Jack Nicklaus.

The Associated Press reported after Nicklaus failed to make the cut, he said about Tiger Woods: "I think he's a better player than I was." How difficult it must have been for him to say those words; for that boy who turned himself into the best golfer who had yet lived, how difficult -- and how gracious -- are those words.

You can't be young and strong forever; you can't be eternally Jacky. However long Tiger Woods' career goes on, he will be fortunate if, when it is time for him to tell someone else that he is even better, he can look back on a life led the way Nicklaus has led his.

Get up, Jack.



JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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