Jack Nicklaus finally broke 80. Next up: 90.
The Golden Bear, who celebrates his 80th birthday today, doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
More on that in a minute, but first a few thoughts on Jack joining the octogenarian club. He has been getting “up there” for a while now, but because he remains active in golf — as an ambassador of the game and proponent of making it easier for amateurs and more difficult for professionals — the Columbus native and longtime Florida resident seems younger than four score.Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and evening newsletters
Then again, time flies ever faster for those of us who are graying. It seems like just yesterday that Nicklaus was playing his last competitive round, at the 2005 British Open at St. Andrews. Today he becomes the same age as former auto racing champion Jackie Stewart, former Boston Red Sox slugger Carl Yastrzemski and former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka. Does he seem younger or older than those sports greats?
It is all relative, of course. Jack seemed ancient as a golfer when he won the 1986 Masters at 46 — the last of his record 18 major championship wins. Today, 46 seems relatively young.
Nicklaus maintains that age is largely a state of mind, and his mind remains sharp. His body may be breaking down a bit — his right shoulder is particularly sore these days, an ache he blames on tennis more than golf — and he’s not all the man he used to be, having shrunk from 5 feet 11¾ and 205 pounds when he won his first major, the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont, to 5-8 and 200 today. But mostly his health is good, which brings us to his plans.
“I have no desire to retire,” Nicklaus said last week. “From a standpoint of golf, I keep my hand in a few special events where I don’t have to put a score on the board. As far as business, I still love doing golf courses. I have nine or 10 I’m working on right now.”
Nicklaus’ most personal project continues to be the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, which has an alliance with Nationwide Children’s Hospital through the Memorial Tournament, the PGA Tour event Nicklaus helped bring to Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin in 1976.
“Barbara has been so great in the way she’s led the foundation,” he said, crediting his wife. “She supported me for 50 years, and now it’s my turn. It’s been eye-opening to me. It’s changed my life.”
Of that life, Nicklaus is not one to become overly sentimental. Tracking away from his accomplishments on the course, he wants to be remembered as someone who gave more than he received.
“Trying to live your life to pass on lessons to young people,” he said of his legacy goal. “If I did it right, then I hope those are the lessons that get passed on. If I was wrong, well, don’t pay any attention to me.”
Paying no attention to Jack is, of course, impossible. He always has something to say, and the words gain traction with those who appreciate not only his golf but also the way he treats fans and accommodates the media.
“I enjoy speaking engagements. I do a dozen a year,” he said. “It allows me to go back in time and reminisce, and that’s what most people want to talk about.”
Nicklaus ended his teleconference by thanking the dozen or so writers listening in.
“Thank you for making me relevant,” he said. “That’s very flattering, and I appreciate that.”
And then …
“See you at 90.”
Let’s hold him to it. For his sake and ours.