Pepaw shows golden side

It was another first in the longtime Nicklaus era at the Masters.

The only six-time winner of the championship, Jack Nicklaus has reached the point of honorary starter (with Arnold Palmer) of the tournament. What went unnoticed by many was that his caddie was his granddaughter, Christie, the daughter of Jack Jr. -- the first granddaughter in the family to caddie for the Golden Bear.

She also caddied for Jack in the Par 3 tournament on Wednesday.

A junior at the Benjamin School in North Palm Beach, Fla., Christie spent Tuesday night in Athens. She has been touring colleges this spring with her father and wanted to visit the alma mater of Jack and Barbara's only daughter, Nan O'Leary.

At dinner on the eve of her Masters experience, Jack Jr., who was on the bag when Jack won his final Green Jacket in 1986, gave Christie an insight into what she was going to experience.

He began by explaining to his hosts, "For years, I have been trying to get Christie to play golf, but she has never really had any interest. Then when dad asked her to carry his bag for the Par 3 tournament, she called one day and said to me, "Hey, I would like to go out and hit some golf balls."

Jack Jr. was taken aback at first. Then he remembered that on the final hole, the players often let their caddies tee it up. Christie wanted to be prepared. After a chip shot at the final hole on the Par 3 course, Christie handled the putting chores for her grandfather, two-putting from eight feet. "It was an incredible experience," said her proud father, Jack Jr.

Most Masters' fans have their own unforgettable moments. It is the same with players and those who have a direct link to the playing and winning of the championship. Jack Jr. explained over dinner an interesting relationship within the family.

"My parents have always been so family oriented, and my dad has never wanted the grandchildren to think he was anything special for winning major golf championships. They knew there was something special about his life, but to them he was simply their grandfather. Pepaw, which is what they call him, wanted it that way, but he wanted all of the grandchildren to share in his career if they were interested."

After that, he turned to Christie and said, "You just can't believe the experience you are going to have. With your grandfather playing with Arnold (Palmer) and Gary (Player), you are going to feel the greatest emotion you will ever experience. You just won't believe how wonderful the galleries make you feel. The respect they have for those three golfers is so unbelievable. I am so happy for you."

On Wednesday before the Par 3 event, her grandmother Barbara whispered to an Athens visitor, "I think she sorta likes Georgia." That would please Nan, her aunt, who came to Georgia on a volleyball scholarship. Nan's husband, Bill, was a member of the 1980 National Championship team, and Christie's first cousin, Nick O'Leary, is the top rated prep tight end in the state of Florida.

Jack Nicklaus is a sentimental father and grandfather. He has always involved his kids and grandkids in his life and routine. Early in his career when the money was nothing compared to what exists today, he began his career with a commitment that he would never be away from his family more than two weeks at a time. He had the game to accommodate his family priority.

Christie knows about that from talking to her daddy. After the par 3 tournament and her experienced at the first tee Thursday, she now understands how much her granddaddy means to the world of golf.

Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at loransmithathens@bellsouth.net.