PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - The swing was familiar, although no longer generated with a force that, as its peak, seemed as if it could create a vacuum that would suck bystanders into the void. A little more than a month past his 70th birthday, Jack Nicklaus was at the Honda Classic not as a competitor but as a supporter for the tournament and the charities it helps fund. He might have also given a glimpse of the next great Nicklaus to come along.
With none of the shyness that turns most seven year olds into stammering messes who look down and kick nervously at the ground, GT Nicklaus, the son of Gary and grandson of Jack, took the driver offered him by the Golden Bear, teed up a ball on the practice range at PGA National and whacked a hard, low hook. The ball easily negotiated more than 100 yards in the air.
"Nice slight draw," mused Jack. "How'd you like to be seven, pick up a 45-inch driver and do that?" Gary, the proud Pop, put his arm around GT and said, "Pretty good with a driver as tall as he is and with his first shot of the day." At this point GT became a regular seven-year-old, smiling shyly, and pressing into his father's embrace for comfort.
Jack, meanwhile, headed for the first tee where he was to play with former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, musician Kenny G and Super Bowl-winning New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. "Brees had a pretty good year for a Purdue guy," said Jack, who attended Big Ten rival The Ohio State University.
Asked what he expected from the course, which he designed and which concludes with the four-hole stretch The Bear Trap, Nicklaus said: "Narrow fairways, a lot of rough and too much length for me. My game is no longer for public consumption." That matters not a bit for the fans gathered around. He is Jack Nicklaus, and for those who saw him at his best the memories will never fade.
-- Ron Sirak