Storehouse of memories that Jack built
Jacklin flies back to witness dying of the light but Nicklaus' flame is eternal over the game he illuminated
Sunday 17 July 2005
It was no time for lengthy reminiscences. The 1969 Open champion, who had benefited from Nicklaus' generosity in the Ryder Cup that same year, the American conceding a putt to him when a miss would have won the match for the United States, recalled wryly: "I just said to Jack, 'Give 'em hell'."
Nicklaus couldn't quite manage that on a day when the tears so welled in the eyes of even the most cynical it was surprising the burn under the Swilcan Bridge hadn't overflowed with them. He did offer the many thousands occupying every vantage position, though, a last glimpse of sporting heaven.
The man who seized his last major 19 years ago and had not made the third day in one since 2000 did not survive here either, yet still managed to tease the galleries with a belated challenge for that distinction. There had been a flicker of optimism, with birdies at the fifth and 10th, but by the time he secured his third, on the 18th, with that final shot, a 13-foot putt, he knew that his final total of 72 would confirm only an early cut for Edinburgh airport.
You sensed, as he spoke with relish of travelling home today with his wife, Barbara, and second son, Steve - Nicklaus' caddie here - to be with the family he adores, that he wasn't entirely displeased by his fate. The man with the artificial hip conceals his aches and twinges well, but in the midst of a group of several ageing opponents among the 156 starters whose creaking limbs would keep an orthopaedic department busy for months, even a sportsman of Nicklaus' enduring qualities would have approached another 36 holes with some trepidation.
While that would only confirm the belief in some quarters that this valedictory appearance was always going to be ceremonial rather than competitive, few of those present here on Friday would concur. They knew that it was not until those final two holes that he was prepared to capitulate. As he confirmed later: "This year, I've shot 75, 76, 75, 77, 73, 77, 77, 75, 72. That's not great golf. My biggest fear here was I didn't want to finish shooting a pair of 80-somethings. I was a golfer today. That's what I'm trying to say."
And so we witnessed the dying of the light; a career of 18 triumphs in majors finally extinguished by his own hand. Yet an eternal flame lives on, in the influence he has exuded over his sport, over his fellow players. If you had a Scottish fiver, bearing his image, for every player claiming to have been inspired by him, you would be wealthy indeed.
Luke Donald, who was rewarded with the honour of being drawn with Nicklaus for the Golden Bear's last two rounds, was one. "I watched him win the '86 Masters [his last major]. That was about the same time that I started playing golf," recalled Donald, who emerged from the experience still in contention for the lead. "He's always been a mentor for me."
The English-born, American-domiciled player added: "I've tried to be in a bubble. Not be distracted by what was going on. It'll be a bit easier now. Maybe it'll be a letdown, not being cheered on every green." And Nicklaus' advice to him? "Jack told me just to be patient, and that I can be a great golfer. That meant a lot to me."
Nicklaus' profile metamorphosed from that of a brash, crew-cutted kid to a cover-photo image which defined aspirational, wholesome America. Under that blond, curly mop a brain was functioning with frightening intensity. This, allied to his power and panache, made him a Jack the ripper of his opponents' ambitions.
Now, physically defying his years, he returns to a life of fly-fishing, tennis and course-designing. Later this year he opens a joint venture with Jacklin, the Concession in Florida, with the emphasis on the history of the Ryder Cup. He will also have time to advise on the progress of Jacklin's 13-year-old son, Sean, who harbours a desire to become a pro.
"I told Jack how Sean's always complaining about not being big enough," said Jacklin. "Jack told him not to despair, and said that the only way he'll keep up with these big, long hitters is to work hard on his chipping and putting. He works hard at that, and using his imagination."
Jacklin's presence here in an Open - only his fourth since 1989 - was also his last, at 61. He departed with rounds of 79 and 76, 11 over. "I had intended Lytham [scene of his 1969 triumph] in 2001 to be my last, but this came up, Jack's last championship. We have the dinner here. Past champions are all invited. I thought, this is a hell of a long way to come [from his Florida home] just to go to dinner. So I brought my clubs..."
He added: "This is the last time, because I don't want to go through the nervous bloody nonsense again. Otherwise I'd play until I was 65. But I don't want to go through all those butterflies and twitching, awake in the night at two, three, four, five. It's got a lot worse over the years. Probably because you know all the things that can happen."
Like double-bogeys. However, say what you will about Jacklin's rusty game, the player who back in the Sixties and Seventies epitomised fashion chic is still stylishly turned out, though it is doubtful whether he would quite receive the approval of Trinny and Susannah here; his now-full frame was clad in a salmon-pink cardigan, complementing black trousers and shirt.
A woman in the crowd cooed: "He's still very handsome, keeps himself very fit, doesn't he?" Which appeared rather generous until you realised she was, in fact, referring to another of his playing trio, Greg Norman, the 1993 winner at Royal St George. "I hit a lot of funky shots and a few good shots, and I struggled coming home both days," reflected Jacklin, who on the 16th had given spectators a brief reminder of his prowess with a beautifully crafted 20ft-plus putt. He acknowledged the gallery with the flourish of a Shakespearian actor. Fortune favours not necessarily the brave but the man who is nine over and acknowledges his time on the greens is nigh.
Others, meanwhile, seek to emulate him. Jacklin contends that Donald is the likeliest of several likely Brits who could secure majors. "There's a fair number of others, too, but you never really know what's going on inside them. It's the bits that you can't see that win majors. It's the courage and the desire - the ones who set their hearts on not being second-best, the ones who want to win more than anything else. You really don't know that until it evolves and happens."
The words were appropriate, on a day when we witnessed the final acts of a man who espoused all those qualities, and more.
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