Even at age 75, Jack Nicklaus' competitive fires still burn

By Rob Oller
Published on
Even at age 75, Jack Nicklaus' competitive fires still burn

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Jack Nicklaus last played the Memorial Tournament in 2005 but still can shoot his age, which is both easier and harder than it used to be. Easier because he is 75. Harder because, well, he is 75.

The good news is that other than the plastic in his hip, Jack is perfectly put together. He looked rested and relaxed at Muirfield Village Golf Club over the weekend, kicking back in a blue golf shirt and shorts with closed-toe sports sandals that had him looking hip without trying too hard to appear trendy.

Maybe it's the fishing trips to postcard-perfect locales that keep him humming along. Maybe it's the occasional sip from his own line of wine that provides energizing health benefits. Maybe it's the active lifestyle he continues to lead – building golf courses, playing tennis and overseeing his charitable foundations – that has him still whisking from here to who knows where.

Maybe it's advising younger players like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth on how to succeed inside and outside the ropes.

Or, maybe – no, probably – it's that famous Nicklaus competitive drive that pushes him toward winning whatever endeavor he chooses to tackle, whether it be course building, winemaking or providing hope through his charitable efforts, such as for children with illnesses.

Ten years removed from tour golf, Nicklaus' golf motor revs at a lower RPM than when he was the game's version of a Ferrari, catching the field no matter where he began. Although he might no longer red-line it, he still sees red whenever he finishes out of first.

"Absolutely," the Bear said on Saturday before playing a practice round with his son, Jackie, at Muirfield Village. "My whole life has been competition. I love it."

It has loved him back, proved by his 73 PGA Tour victories and record 18 major championship titles. The game and the game-changer have been good for each other. Golf gave Nicklaus an avenue to let his competitive nature rip. He gave golf another legend to love. It was a wonderful relationship.

Nicklaus misses that marriage.

"I lost my vehicle to golf competition, which was my ability to play the game," he said, matter-of-factly. "But even when I still play today, when we go out and play those silly little (exhibitions) with Gary Player and Lee Trevino, there is no way in the world I want to lose. And there are only three teams, for crying out loud."

As the Memorial Tournament tees it up for the 40th time this week, the Nicklaus thirst for competition – to become the best – touches everything. The player milkshakes? Best. Course maintenance? Best. Why has Jack found the need to tweak all 18 holes through the years? It's all about his own sense of competition. He wants the world's best players to be challenged. Like he was challenged.

"I've always thought this was a very difficult golf course, for me. I always felt it was a lot tougher for me than it was for a lot of people," he said. "I find it a hard course to score on. Did I shoot some good scores on it? Yes, but I found it difficult. I suppose maybe that's what I tried to design. I probably made it challenging in my own image."

Nicklaus never wants anything handed to him. Competition makes things fun. And competition really is at the heart of why the Upper Arlington native loves talking to younger players about golf.

"It's rarely about the golf swing," he said of the sharing sessions he has had with players like McIlroy and Spieth, who are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the world. "It's more a sense of how do you handle yourself? How do you prepare? But I tell them, 'Guys, you shouldn't try to do it like I do it. The whole key is to understand how you do something. You can take the things I'm giving you, but how do you apply it to yourself?'"

How indeed? That is the inner competition Nicklaus still enjoys. He might be 10 years removed from playing the Memorial, but he continues to hit shots in his mind and through the young players he advises.

This article was written by Rob Oller from The Columbus Dispatch and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.