Lucky Me

The columnist with the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus.

I will be the first to admit that if you are very lucky, you get opportunities that make you feel like you’re breathing rarefied air. Just imagine how excited you would be to sit and talk with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Sharon Stone if you were a movie junkie. Or, if music is your sweet spot, sitting with Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Whitney Houston.

So, since golf is my passion, I was able to breathe that rarified air this past weekend as I sat down with Annika Sorenstam, the Black Knight Gary Player, and the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus. This trio has, combined, won 37 Major Championships. Nicklaus leads the way with 18, Annika has 10, and Player with nine.

Only five players have won all four men’s Majors. Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan were the first to accomplish the feat, followed by Gary Player, who is the only international player to do so. Jack Nicklaus was next, and finally, Tiger Woods finishes the current list.

At the upcoming US Open at Shinnecock, Phil Mickelson will try to become the sixth player in golf history to complete this career grand slam. He has come so close by finishing second a record six times. To give that some perspective, Nicklaus has only four second-place US Open finishes.

Annika has made a very smooth transition from championship golfer to mother of two children and a rising superstar in the business world. She let me know that being a mother was the most the most important thing in her life, and certainly the most special.

Even though Jack and Gary have always been rivals on the course, they both share a keen appreciation of each other. Gary, who was in a story-telling mood last weekend, told me that back during the 1971 PGA Championship, he was staying with Jack and Barbara at their home. As the story goes, Gary said that Jack’s wife Barbara fixed the pair a Sunday breakfast. Player said guarding against any effort that Barbara would have slipped some ex-lax into his scrambled eggs, he switched plates with Jack.

In my conversation with Jack, I asked him: Just how special was this past Masters? Jack has won six Green Jackets but said, without hesitation, that this Masters was the most fun he has ever had at Augusta. Jack and Gary, along with Tom Watson, were paired together in the par three contest and Jack had his 15-year-old grandson on the bag as his caddie. Jack is the very proud grandfather to 22 grandchildren, and most of them have taken turns as his caddie during the annual Masters Par 3 contest.

At the last hole, Jack asked his grandson, known as GT, if he would like to hit a shot. Well, much to the amazement of Gary Player and Tom Watson, not to mention Jack, GT’s shot found the bottom of the cup for the most improbable hole-in-one ever, and he really enjoyed reliving that experience with me.

Being able to spend time with these true legends is always very inspirational, rewarding, and a great treat.

Jack still loves golf as much as he loves his wife, Barbara. This year, they will celebrate 57 years of marriage. His love of golf has been unwavering. His two loves actually got off on equal footing. On his wedding day, he played 36 holes before tying the knot.

I am sure, for a lot of you, having time with Pacino, De Niro, Elvis, or Sinatra would be a dream come true. However, for me, even though it was all in a day’s work, being with Sorenstam, Player, and Nicklaus was just about as good as it gets.

By the way, if you’re a Nicklaus fan, Jack will be at Shinnecock two days prior to the start of the US Open. The USGA is conducting a four-hole exhibition featuring the winners of last year’s USGA Championships and Nicklaus will be serving as the official starter. Should be fun; you might want to plan to attend.

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