Jack checks in at age 70

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

In case you missed it, Jack Nicklaus turned 70 the other day. No big deal, especially to Jack. You live long enough, the sand doesn't run out in your hourglass, you'll make it to 70, too.

He did appear at a press conference, and spoofed his way through it. Said that if Tiger Woods didn't get back to tournament business this year he (Tiger) would be missing a great chance to pick up some ground on him.

"They're playing the majors on three of the courses he loves," Jack said, and moved on.

You know, Jack doesn't act 70 to me, not that there is a prescribed recipe for acting 70. He really doesn't let scores bother him -- golf scores or calendar scores. He has never attracted those scandal mags, or caused a chorus of gasps with his on-course language. He has been so at-peace with his daily routine that you're sure he has to break out in some kind of gutteral explosion.

I remember the day at the British Open, when news had arrived that his son Steve had been picked up (on Jack Nicklaus Freeway, by the way) and jailed for speeding. Jack went out and shot 83, then insisted that the news from home had nothing to do with it. Then went out the next day and shot 66, as if to prove it. Made the cut, by the way.

He came along at a time when Arnold Palmer was on center stage, and this bulging kid star stirred a lot of resentment.

I walked with his dad, Charley, around the Masters course one day when Jack was off his game, and the gallery was letting him hear it. Charley was hurting, but this was Jack's cross to bear, not his.

Bet you never knew he smoked at one time. But never in public. You never saw him throw a club. Or blue the air with language that carried out over television. And when a mistake was made, he blamed himself, not some unseen enemy in the sky.

And all this time he was rearing five children, he and Barbara, of course. They were America's family. Oh, there were a couple of divorces, but the family never provided any fodder for the papparazzi. And when it came time to consider trimming his bulging figure, it was Barbara who came up with the plan on the flight home from one of the British Opens.

She worked out the diet (I have a copy on file), got him to a hairstylist and picked out his wardrobe.

There resulted the trim-line, late-model Nicklaus.

For 36 holes in 1977, he and Tom Watson played the most memorable golf I've ever watched in the Open at Turnberry -- a match within a championship. Watson won with a birdie on the 18th green, then said, "I have beaten the greatest player in the world."

Nicklaus put his arm around Watson's shoulder as they left the green and said, "I gave you everything I had today but it wasn't good enough."

Sportsmanship at its most civilized level.


Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer.