By Alex Podlogar
He was just another dad watching his son play.
He had ambled about 100 yards ahead of the group, holding an umbrella in his left hand as he steadily moved up the steep climb to reach the crest of the majestic 6th hole of Pebble Beach Golf Links. It’s one of the most breathtaking spots in golf, with the 18th hole settled across Stillwater Cove in the distance, the 7th tee’s perch in view and the crashing ocean below framing the iconic 8th.
Something else, though, had caught Jack Nicklaus’ eye.
“This bunker is new,” he called to…well, not really to anyone in particular. There was just a smattering of people around the group, some of them unaware and paying little mind to the gentleman in the sweater vest and khaki cap, the one featuring a bear logo and nothing else.
“This wasn’t here before,” Nicklaus said again, this time catching the ear of a couple of the players in the group with Nicklaus’ son Gary, who was playing a practice round preparing for the U.S. Amateur this week.
That signature voice pierced the wind, and soon a couple of people outside of the ropes slowly started to come over, perhaps anticipating a possible moment. Some had followed Gary for five holes already, had seen Nicklaus, and just wanted to walk near him.
Finally, with Nicklaus walking toward them, one mentioned to Nicklaus he was visiting from Pinehurst, which will host the 2019 U.S. Amateur on Pinehurst No. 4 and No. 2 next August.
Nicklaus’ face lit up at the mere mention of Pinehurst.
“Oh, Pinehurst,” he said. “I’ve always said No. 2 is my favorite course from a design standpoint.
“It still is.”
“In 1959, I hardly saw the 18th hole,” he told the group while they all looked down on the 7th green. Nicklaus was referring to his win in the 1959 North & South Amateur on No. 2.– Jack Nicklaus
Gary walked up to the green after his third shot. Jack, though, had found some people to talk golf with.
“In 1959, I hardly saw the 18th hole,” he told the group while they all looked down on the 7th green. Nicklaus was referring to his win in the 1959 North & South Amateur on No. 2.
He began rattling off names of golfers few in the group had heard off, then mentioned specific shots to go with scores, scores like 9 & 8 and 8 & 7. He recalled playing practice rounds with another competitor, one who also played well that year, so well that had he won one more match, he would’ve faced Nicklaus in the next round.
“He lost though,” Nicklaus said. “I would’ve liked to play him. Nice fellow, but I also knew his game inside and out by that time.”
Nicklaus smiled at the memory, one that will be 60 years old in a few months. His small audience laughed at the witty punchline, and the group turned to watch the players hit their tee shots on 8.
There, Jack caught back up with his wife Barbara, who was making small talk with another tidy gathering of people.
“Down there, on those rocks, see them?” Barbara asked. “I remember one year I saw two young boys down there playing on them, during the tournament! And I remember telling Jack, ‘Look at those boys down there.’ I was embarrassed for their parents.”
Nicklaus grinned. “That’s when I said, ‘Honey, look closer.’”
“It was Jackie and Steve! I thought, ‘Oh no!’ Our boys! How old were they, Jack?”
“They were young. 11 and 9.”
“It was 1972.”
And with that, Nicklaus politely said goodbye and began walking down the path lining the 8th hole. A friend asked about a large home on the ridge facing them, adding he thought he remembered it had pillars. Nicklaus corrected him. “No, it used to have beautiful, large bay windows.”
He still had the umbrella in his left hand, but he never used it as any sort of walking stick. It never looked like he would need it.
But as Nicklaus walked away, the sun that had peeked through for a few minutes on the 6th hole slipped behind the clouds again. A fog rolled in off the ocean and the breeze picked up.
And it dawned on the people left there – none of them had thought to bring an umbrella.
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