My Shot: Jack Nicklaus
Age 64 • North Palm Beach, Florida
I had polio when I was 13. I started feeling stiff, my joints ached, and over a two-week period I lost my coordination and 20 pounds. The doctors thought I had the flu. I played an exhibition with Patty Berg and shot 53 for nine holes — not very good for a kid with a plus-3 handicap. My sister, Marilyn, was diagnosed at about the same time; the doctors deduced that she got it from me. Marilyn, who was 10, was unlucky. For a year she was unable to walk but eventually got 95 percent of her movement back. I recovered after a few weeks, but I still may suffer from post-polio syndrome. My whole career, my joints have gotten awfully sore at times. Polio is just a memory now, but it was a horrible disease. I got it a year or two before Jonas Salk's polio vaccine was distributed.
My favorite team was the Columbus Redbirds. They were a farm team for the St. Louis Cardinals, and their best pitcher was Harvey Haddix, who later pitched 12 perfect innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Harvey signed a baseball for me, and I kept it as a keepsake for many years. One day the ball disappeared, then mysteriously turned up again, beat up and caked with mud. I never did discover what happened to that baseball, though I think a 10-year-old boy named Steve Nicklaus had something to do with it.
I'd rather be two strokes ahead going into the last day than two strokes behind. Having said that, it's probably easier to win coming from behind. There is no fear in chasing. There is fear in being chased.
I always liked to visit a major-championship site early. One reason was to prepare, but I also enjoyed taking my boys along and having them play with me. It was a blast watching one of my kids who, say, was an 82-shooter, try to break 90 on a U.S. Open golf course. I enjoyed it more than they did.
In 1972 I took the Masters and the U.S. Open, then came close to winning the British Open. I've been asked how I would have done at the PGA if somehow I'd come through in the British. Well, when I arrived home from Scotland that year, I went and got a haircut and a manicure. A manicure, for heaven's sake, the only one I ever had in my life. And I developed an infection in my right forefinger that required surgery. It hurt, and I had a big bandage. I played the PGA with my right forefinger off the club. [Nicklaus tied for 13th.] So I'm not saying I couldn't have won the PGA, because I'm sure I would have loved the pressure. But that darned manicure wouldn't have made it very easy.
When Jock Hutchison and Freddie McLeod were the honorary starters at the Masters, for years they hit more than one shot. They'd play all 18 holes. It's been suggested that the next honorary starters, whoever they are, should keep playing for a while. Nine holes maybe, just to give the fans a chance to watch these legends play. It's an intriguing idea, and if you're asking if I'd be interested in doing that, the answer is no.
When I fly in a helicopter, I insist there be two sets of controls, one for me in case something happens to the pilot. I'm no expert, but I know enough to at least get the thing on the ground. Nothing scares me like the thought of not being in control.
I take that back. MRI tubes confine you so much they scare me, just like they scare a lot of people. A friend of mine had an MRI, and when he was finished, he went right to his lawyer and changed his will. He chose to be cremated instead of buried.
At 21, I was making $24,000 a year. That was pretty big money for a kid in those days. I made $12,000 selling insurance, $6,000 working for a slacks company and $6,000 more playing customer golf for the slacks manufacturer. Had I kept on at those things, I would have been miserable. The chance to make money was not a factor in my decision to turn pro, because I already had enough money. Heck, my first house cost only $22,000. All I ever wanted to do was play competitive golf against the best players in the world.
It's very important to lose graciously. My dad taught me that. The guy who won had to be pretty good to beat you, right? So give him credit, and mean it.
Spanking your children these days is frowned upon. That to me is ridiculous. Giving your child an occasional little smack on the rear end — and I want to emphasize I don't mean a beating — is an acceptable way to get your point across. It's not the pain that makes it effective. It's the anticipation of getting spanked, the noise of it and the fact you're unhappy that makes an impression, not the spanking itself.
I never saw a single episode of "M*A*S*H." I've never seen "Cheers" or "Seinfeld." The only show remotely like them I watch is "24." Gary [son] got his wife some episodes for Christmas and brought them on the boat, and I got hooked. Other than that, my favorite program is "SportsCenter." I especially like it in the morning, when they air last night's show four times, back to back.
Even the news is hard for me to watch; the media seems obsessed with nailing President Bush every single day. In a country where someone dies of diabetes every three minutes, the attacks on him wear me out. Where's the balance?