Nick­laus shares the best les­son he learned from Bob Hope

The Island Packet (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON

Jack Nick­laus pulled into cir­cle drive at The Break­ers and couldn’t make it 25 feet to the door with­out be­ing stopped for a hand­shake, a greet­ing, a photo. It was like that for the next three hours and Nick­laus didn’t mind.

Still with him was an ex­am­ple set for him more a half­cen­tury ago that has served Nick­laus well.

The oc­ca­sion on this evening, on Nov. 14, was the Amer­i­can Can­cer So­ci­ety’s “19th Hole Club,” which was cel­e­brat­ing its 50th an­niver­sary. Nick­laus took part in the first one with Bob Hope, Perry Como and Julius Boros. He has made more than a dozen other ap­pear­ances for the Palm Beach group over the years.

His work with Amer­i­can Can­cer So­ci­ety be­gan a few years ear­lier in Colum­bus, Ohio, when Nick­laus played an ex­hi­bi­tion with Hope, James Gar­ner and Scioto Coun­try Club head pro Walker In­man. The strongest mem­ory is what hap­pened that night.

Nick­laus in­vited them over for din­ner. His wife, Bar­bara, was in the fi­nal weeks of preg­nancy with their third child.

She asked Nick­laus if he would start the grill. In a minute, he told her, af­ter they played some pool. Then, she asked if would pre­pare the steaks. What about the grill? She had done that her­self. Af­ter 15 min­utes later, she called back down and told him din­ner was ready. She had grilled the steaks.

They sat down to eat about 9 p.m. and his wife ex­cused her­self. Hope and Gar­ner were telling so many sto­ries that Nick­laus lost track of time, lost track of his wife and fi­nally went to check on her. He found her in their bed­room with her bags packed.

“She said, ‘I don’t want you to leave your friends. I called the doc­tor. I called a taxi. I need to go to the hos­pi­tal,’ ” Nick­laus said. “I walked back out and said, ‘Guys, I’ve got to take Bar­bara to the hos­pi­tal.’ You’ve never seen a room clear out so fast.”

Nan, their only daugh­ter, was born two hours later.

Nick­laus loves telling that story. This time, though, there was a postscript.

“The next day af­ter Nan was born, I went down to Cincin­nati with Bob Hope. We played at Makete­wah,” Nick­laus said. “From the time we walked onto the prop­erty to the time we walked off, they pulled at him. ‘Please take a pic­ture, Bob. Please tell a story, Bob. Please do this, please do that.’ He never had one cross word. He did ev­ery­thing ev­ery­one asked of him.

“I got back that night with Bar­bara and said, ‘I learned one of the great­est lessons. Here’s a guy who just had every­body pulling on him from ev­ery di­rec­tion, and not one

cross word. Noth­ing but a smile.’ I told her, ‘That’s some­body you want to em­u­late.’ And that’s what I’ve tried to do. It was a great les­son for me.”

Nick­laus es­ti­mates he makes about 50 ap­pear­ances a year, and the im­pres­sion left by Hope stays with him.

Some of his work is busi­ness, such as speak­ing at golf cour­ses he has de­signed or on be­half of his Me­mo­rial tour­na­ment. Most of it is char­ity. The Amer­i­can Can­cer So­ci­ety be­came even more mean­ing­ful af­ter that in­au­gu­ral ap­pear­ance in 1968 with the 19th Hole Club in Palm Beach.

Eigh­teen months later, his father was di­ag­nosed with pan­cre­atic can­cer, which spread to his liver.

Char­lie Nick­laus first took his son to Scioto while re­cov­er­ing from an an­kle in­jury and watched him blos­som into the gold stan­dard in golf with his 18 pro­fes­sional ma­jors. He died just more than two months af­ter the di­ag­no­sis, in Feb­ru­ary 1970, and his death is what caused Nick­laus to ques­tion how hard he was ded­i­cat­ing him­self to golf. He went on an­other tear, win­ning at least one ma­jor each of the next four years to break Bobby Jones’ hal­lowed record in the ma­jors.

“The first let­ter I got af­ter Dad passed away was from Vince Lom­bardi,” Nick­laus said. “I played golf with him, he had met my dad and said, ‘I saw that a great re­la­tion­ship you had.’ It was a nice let­ter.”

More poignant was his fi­nal Christ­mas din­ner with his father, when for­mer Ohio State foot­ball coach Woody Hayes showed up. He gave them his book and wrote in it, “The best father-son re­la­tion­ship I’ve ever known.”

Around the time his father was di­ag­nosed, the son of a Methodist min­is­ter where Bar­bara Nick­laus at­tended church was bat­tling Ew­ing’s sar­coma, a rare bone can­cer. Nick­laus spent time with Craig Smith, whose fa­vorite color shirt was yel­low. Nick­laus told him he would wear yel­low when the boy could watch on TV.

He wore a yel­low sweater when he won at St. An­drews for the first time in 1970. He wore a yel­low shirt in the fi­nal round of the 1971 PGA Cham­pi­onship, the last ma­jor Craig saw Nick­laus win. And his yel­low shirt when he won the 1986 Masters for his 18th ma­jor was not an ac­ci­dent. Nick­laus re­calls telling his wife the morn­ing of the fi­nal round, “I’m go­ing to wear a yel­low shirt to­day. I think Craig would like it.”

The 19th Hole Club cel­e­bra­tion in­cluded a Q&A with Nick­laus hosted by Kim Bokam­per, part of the Mi­ami Dol­phins’ “Killer Bees” de­fense. There was talk of golf, ques­tions that Nick­laus has heard be­fore and a dis­cus­sion on can­cer.

When it was over, Nick­laus rarely sat back down at his table be­cause of so many peo­ple who wanted a story, an in­tro­duc­tion, just some of his time.

There was never a cross word.

AP file photo

On April 13, 1986, golfer Jack Nick­laus watches his shot go for a birdie on the 17th hole at the Masters in Au­gusta, Ga. He wore a yel­low shirt that day to honor a fan who died at a young age from can­cer.

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