The Day I Met Jack Nicklaus

This week I'm in Dublin, Ohio, playing The Memorial Tournament, an invitational put together by Jack Nicklaus.

On Monday, I told my caddy that I was going to be right back -- I was just going to have a quick lunch in the players' lunch room and then we'd go out to practice. So I sat down to eat with my buddy Kenny Perry. Right as we were about to stand up, none other than Mr. Nicklaus himself walked up. "Do you mind if I join you guys?" he asked.

Do I mind?!

What was supposed to be a 20-minute lunch turned into an hour and half conversation with one of golf's greatest legends. (Until Tiger breaks his record, Nicklaus is still the standard by which everyone else is measured.)

He had no idea who I was. So I told him I was a rookie and it was my first time at the Memorial Tournament.

"Ah, you're a first-timer," he said. I just grinned.

He then proceeded to tell me about all the ins and the outs of the course -- he was the one who designed it. He told me where he likes to hit and the spots I should try to stay away from. I literally hung on every word.

Nicklaus is now 71 and he doesn't play competitively anymore. But what struck me about him was how much he feels like he has a moral obligation to the game. He talked about how golf has been so good to him and how he feels a need to give back to it and try to improve it.

Now he's probably golf's busiest entrepreneur and advocate. His golf course design business, which he started back in the 70s, has 30 projects currently under construction. And since the recession, he's made it his personal mission to make the game more appealing and accessible -- especially for junior golfers -- by working with municipal courses and figuring out ways to lower the barriers to entry into the sport. It's very inspiring to meet someone who still has such a great love for the game after all these years.

Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer circa 1965
When he had finished eating lunch, he wished me luck and said if I needed anything, I should just let him know.

I walked out of the lunch room to find my caddy, Josh, more than a little upset. "I thought you said you were going to be right back. Where have you been?"

Just had lunch with Mr. Jack Nicklaus, I said, still grinning. All transgressions were quickly forgotten.

Flickr photo courtesy of cliff1066, CC 2.0