Jewish World Review August 30, 2000 / 29 Menachem-Av, 5760
From inside all those
screen porches, one
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
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
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.
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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