PALM BEACH GARDENS -- Jordan Spieth turned 24 just last Thursday, and before that birthday arrived the tough-minded Texan had already wrapped up three of golf's four Grand Slam titles in his short career. Pretty amazing stuff, enough to catch Jack Nicklaus, the greatest of them all, in this particular combination of major success at an early age.
Not enough, though, to pass the Golden Bear, who accomplished the same thing as a young star and kept right on winning majors until he had stacked up the equivalent of three career Grand Slams.
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Nobody passes Nicklaus on the things that matter most.
We were reminded of that again Monday when Jack appeared at PGA of America headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens to announce a new partnership with the association. The Nicklaus Companies are now a trustee of PGA REACH, the PGA of America charitable foundation that among other things makes golf accessible to kids who might not otherwise be introduced to the game and to military veterans who return with physical and psychological challenges.
During introductory comments at the press conference, a long list of additional philanthropic campaigns involving Jack and Barbara Nicklaus were rattled off, including the Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami, and a specialty pediatric unit at Jupiter Medical Center and 14 outpatient clinics all over South Florida.
We're talking about golf's ultimate ambassador, of course, but the competitive spirit remains. It is what keeps him vibrant and curious at 77. It is what drove him to perform at such a sophisticated and focused level at 23, when the second and third of Jack's major titles, the Masters and the PGA Championship of 1963, were won.
Is there some of that in Spieth? The steady putting skill is evident, marked by stubborn efficiency inside of 6 feet, but the mental side might be a bigger advantage over most of his peers. I mean, the kid took a one-stroke penalty drop on the driving range during the final round of the British Open July 23 rather than trying to chop a recovery shot from a tall and tangled dune. Spieth came away with a bogey there and five holes later, thanks to a blistering finish, he was lifting the Claret Jug.
"My thought in that situation would have probably been trying to figure out how I could hack it back to the fairway," Nicklaus said Monday. "I don't think I'd have gone back 100 yards and put it on the driving range. I probably wouldn't even have thought of it. That was pretty mature to think of that and do it.
"Jordan is a very mature, disciplined young man. Not only does he have a great putter but he thinks well. He managed himself. He's not the best hitter of the golf ball out there by a long ways and he's gonna get better. When he gets better at that, he'll get better at everything, because I don't think he's going to lose the other part."
It's never as easy as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson have made it look at different times. Spieth, for instance, could become the youngest to complete the career grand slam by winning next week at the PGA Championship in Charlotte, but he's always working to escape the shadow of blowing the 2016 Masters with a back-nine meltdown on Sunday.
Takes some real grit to come back strong from a disappointment like that, but again, everybody learns from Nicklaus.
In 1963, he bogeyed the final two holes of the British Open to miss a playoff by one stroke. The PGA came next. Right away. Believe it or not, the very next week.
And as if that instant reset wasn't challenging enough, the shock of going from 55-degree conditions in England to the insanity of 110 degrees at the PGA in Dallas strained every player's stamina to the limit. Most just wanted to finish. Nicklaus, more than ever, wanted to win, and so he did, eventually lifting the trophy with a towel because it was too hot to handle otherwise.
"That was a great learning experience for me at Royal Lytham," Nicklaus said of the British Open letdown. "I'd just as soon have not had it. Would have liked to learn it in another way, but I didn't."
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As for overcoming the draining conditions in Dallas, Nicklaus said "I was 23 years old. I didn't worry too much about heat back then."
This is Nicklaus telling stories, an experience to savor. Spieth will be doing the same thing decades from now. He won't be the greatest ever, but it's not impossible to imagine a player so clever and strong-willed building a career something on the order of Jupiter Island's Gary Player. You know, nine major titles and one career grand slam?
Either way, they'll all be following Nicklaus, forevermore.
On Monday, Jack spoke of a player he met long ago by saying, "I first played with him when he was a kid in Munich in an exhibition. I think he was 17 years old. He's just improved as a golfer. He's a nice young man."
The subject? Bernhard Langer, who on Sunday picked up his 10th senior major title at the age of 59.
This article is written by Dave George from The Palm Beach Post and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
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