Jack Nicklaus' appearance before the first round of the Deutsche Bank Championship was warmly nostalgic. The 67-year-old Golden Bear came to Boston to meet with the U.S. Presidents Cup team he is captaining for the third straight time, as well as promote a book on his career, "Simply the Best!" that presents the finest compilation of Nicklaus photos ever seen. Produced by Martin Davis in the style of his classic, "The Hogan Mystique," the seven-pound, coffee-table volume is a wonderful contribution to golf history and is being excerpted in the upcoming October edition of Golf Digest. My only quibble is the exclamation point in the title, which Davis will hopefully lose in the second printing.
At the book promotion, Nicklaus was insightful as ever. Looking back, he said he essentially had two careers. The first was as a beefy 210-pounder with a crew cut who in his late teens and early 20s hit the ball so hard that he routinely cracked the heads of persimmon-headed drivers. The swing photos in the new book of the young Nicklaus entering the hitting area with a driver are the epitome of golf power being unleashed, the positions so correct, athletic and obviously explosive that they almost by themselves supply the reason for his greatness.
The second career came after the then 29-year-old Nicklaus decided, upon finding himself inordinately tuckered out at the 1969 Ryder Cup, to lose weight. During a break of three months from competition, he accomplished his goal mostly by playing "speed" golf at the course he lives next to in North Palm Beach, Fla.--Lost Tree--running between shots while carrying six clubs and finishing 18 holes in about an hour. After getting down to about 185 pounds, Nicklaus said he definitely lost some of his distance and power, but felt healthier, grew his hair longer and became a better strategist. "After I dropped the weight, I couldn't do some of the things with the golf ball that I used to, but it was worth it," he said. "I think I won my first three tournaments when I rejoined the tour, and I played the best golf of my career from 1972 to 1975."
Nicklaus said what pleased him most about the new book were the tributes written by his toughest competitors and close friends Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson. The book is a rich repository of old photos and memorabilia, but when asked how much he has been concerned with retaining such stuff, Nicklaus made a circle with his index finger and thumb. Most of the saving has been done by Barbara Nicklaus, who is such a pack rat that according to her husband, she still has the dress she wore at her high school prom. And only recently did Barbara finally part with a white vicuÃ±a coat that Jack gave her as a makeup gift for forgetting their first anniversary in 1961. "She gave it to an old friend, who wears it all the time," Nicklaus said. "It cost me $900 when I didn't have a lot of money, but it got me out of trouble."