Dawn was breaking over the southeast Florida coast as Jack Nicklaus arrived home in his private jet from a golf tournament in Australia—a match that he won. Now, at an exclusive course of his own design near his North Palm Beach home, Nicklaus is perspiring as he hits balls in the noonday sun. Further along the verdant practice tee of the exclusive Loxahatchee Club, members and guests stop to marvel at the booming shots soaring high onto the blue horizon—and into their imagination of the perfect golf shot. But Nicklaus, his longtime coach and mentor Jack Grout watching intently, is angry. At each swoosh-whack oí club against ball, he curses the demons that are causing a seemingly imperceptible deviation from classic form. “I just can’t get rid of it,” Nicklaus finally says in complete exasperation about the glitch.
These are days of acute frustration and
deep reflection for the most successful player that professional golf has ever produced. When the long shadows of Sunday afternoon darken the fairways of the pro golf circuit, the man who has won more money than any golfer in history— and more important tournaments—rarely sees his name up on the leader board anymore. Indeed, he has a host of other middle-age preoccupations: children in school, the challenge of running a business that has had ups and downs, deteriorating eyesight and a chronic sore back.
Worst of all, having turned 49 in January—a day when he could do no better than shoot his age in the wind on the front nine at Loxahatchee—
Nicklaus is confronting a classic dilemma for a professional athlete: he is deciding whether or not
to give up playing tournament golf on tour.
This week in Augusta, Ga., could be a turning point. When the Masters tournament ends on April 9, Jack Nicklaus would dearly love to claim yet another green jacket as the victor. In his profession, winning the important tournaments is proof of being the best—and throughout his life, Jack Nicklaus has aspired to nothing less. He admits that he does not have much of a chance to win the Masters, that he has entered the autumn of his career on the PGA Tour. In a candid interview, Nicklaus acknowledged that he is passing through “the hardest time in any athlete’s life” (page 50).
It is not that Jack Nicklaus has become a source of pity—to the contrary. He is a multimillionaire through his Florida-based Golden Bear International Inc., a reorganized empire of products and services from home videos to swank courses. With his own distinctive golf links completed or planned at 115 sites around
the world, Nicklaus commands fees in excess of $1 million per project. One of his finest new efforts is the Loxahatchee course, which he designed as the highlight of an exclusive retreat developed by two Canadian real estate executives in Jupiter, Fla.
In 28 years as a professional golfer, Nicklaus has achieved what some multinationals have taken generations to accomplish—establishing a trusted brand name that is known around the world. In his personal life,
Nicklaus is happily married to his college sweetheart, Barbara, pursues a wide range of outside interests—especially fishing—and is delighting in the exploits of five accomplished children, aged 14 to 27.
It all began in Columbus, Ohio, where he was born on Jan. 21,1940, and played his first game golf when he was 10 (he shot 51 for nine holes). From the beginning, he had two mentors—his father, Charles, a kindly pharmacist who “led me into things but let me make my own decisions”; and veteran golf pro Grout who now lives near Nicklaus in Florida. But Nicklaus’s chief asset was his own talent and enthusiasm for practising. As he told Maclean ’s, “I was one of those kids who didn’t come home at night until my mom grabbed my ear and pulled me in.” By the time Nicklaus was 15, muscular thighs already resembling tree trunks, he had twice won both the Columbus and Ohio state junior titles.
Nicklaus turned down dozens of golf scholarships and entered the School of Pharmacy at Ohio State in 1957. In his first week on campus, met the vivacious 17-year-old Barbara Bash and, after a three-year campus courtship, they were married in July, 1960.
In 1963, Ohio State forced Nicklaus to de-
cide between )etween osu OSU and and continuing continuing to to play play on on the the pro golf :olf tour. tour. He He chose chose golf. golf. And And that that year year he he won the Masters, the Professional Golfers’ Association Championship, three other tournaments and more than $100,000. Still, in the early 1960s, he did not imagine that some day
he would win 71 tournaments—or that his total winnings would soar to more than $5 million in 28 seasons.
In the early 1960s, Nicklaus was largely an unloved figure—and such a figure.
Crowds actually rooted against the man in the porkpie hat they called “Fat Jack”—and no more so than when he beat Palmer in his first pro victory during a playoff at the 1962 U.S. Open.
But by the start of the 1970s,
trimmed down to 175 lb. from 215, his golden locks modishly long, Nicklaus had established his supremacy. During a 17-year stretch ending in 1978, he finished no worse than fourth on the PGA money list (eight times he was first). In 1973, when he was 33, he won his 14th major
trimmed down to 175 lb. from 215, his golden locks modishly long, Nicklaus had established
championship. That victory put him one ahead of the great Robert Tyre (Bobby) Jones Jr., who died in 1971.
But Nicklaus did not rest on his laurels. He went on to win six more of golfs designated “majors,” including his dramatic victory at the Masters three years ago when he was a ripe old 46. Throughout, he has faced the constant challenge of maintaining his edge. He told Maclean’s:. “I would go through periods where I’d play well and then I’d get bored with it and stop playing well and, all of a sudden, I’d have to put myself back to work. We’ve all gone through that.”
Another challenge that Nicklaus has shared with many of his fans is a series of major setbacks in his business affairs. In late 1985, Nicklaus realized that the building of units around his redesigned St. Andrews course in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., was not keeping pace with sales. Faced with increasing his debt, Nicklaus approached the lender, Chemical Bank, and undertook to promote the condominium project and to take a $3-million loss; the bank took over the property, forgave a $35-million loan and subsequently sold the project to another developer. Nicklaus’s longtime friend Gordon Gray, chairman of Toronto-based Royal LePage Ltd., says that Nicklaus reacted to his setbacks calmly. “He is the perpetual opti-
mist,” Gray said.
In the fall of 1985, Nicklaus decided that he had to reorganize his sprawling enterprises. He parted company with a longtime partner and eliminated as many as 70 different entities in such diverse fields as oil and gas production,
shrimp farming and satellite television. Nicklaus told Maclean’s-. “I’m very happy with the type of business I am doing now. It’s very sound, and the only person who can screw it up is me.”
One of his trusted aides is an ebullient Montrealer, Larry O’Brien, who serves as Golden Bear’s vice-president of public relations. O’Brien, a former sports reporter and broadcaster in Montreal as well as the publicist for Sea-
NICKLAUS’S 20 BIG WINS
1959: U.S. Amateur 1966: Masters, British Open 1973: PGA 1961: U.S. Amateur 1967: U.S. Open 1975: Masters, PGA 1962: U.S. Open 1970: British Open 1978: British Open 1963: Masters, PGA 1971: PGA 1980: PGA, U.S. Open 1965: Masters 1972: Masters, U.S. Open 1986: Masters Source: PGA Tour Guide
gram Co. Ltd., used to pitch batting practice for the minor-league baseball Royals in the 1940s. Since 1972, he has been pitching the Nicklaus story and stoking the mythology. “Jack is firm but he is very fair,” says O’Brien. “If you make a mistake, tell him. But never lie to him.”
The Golden Bear network is wide and deep. In addition to a real estate partnership, there are five other divisions. Jack Nicklaus Marketing Services oversees the sale of endorsed products, Jack Nicklaus Publishing produces a series of instructional books, and Jack Nicklaus Productions markets Golf My Way, an instructional video that has sales second only to the worldwide leader, Jane Fonda’s Workout. As well, Nicklaus retains a 20-per-cent interest in the golf equipment company, MacGregor Golf Co., after selling the majority position to Helsinki-based Amer Group Ltd. in 1986. But the largest revenue spinner is Jack Nicklaus Golf Services, which has designed and supervised the opening of golf courses in 18 countries, including Glen Abbey in Oakville, Ont.—one of four Nicklaus courses used for PGA tournaments. Golden Bear is a private company and declines to reveal its total revenues. But the
royalties alone from sales of Nicklaus and Golden Bear products amount to $450 million annually.
With Nicklaus’s two oldest sons, Jack and Steven, now involved in the business, Golden Bear is already a living legacy for his family. And that pleases Jack Nicklaus more than any of the victories. “The kids,” he said, “are far more important than anything else we’ve done.” At the same time, Nicklaus says that he still feels the passion to test himself against the best out on the golf course, even though he no longer can see his longest shots land after he hits them. “I turned pro in 1961,” he said, “because I wanted to be the best. It wasn’t
because of money. I needed to play against the best, to be the best. I’ve always had the goal.” That determination has driven Nicklaus to seek relief from the increasing pain of a degenerative disc, caused by his powerful swing. Last fall, he rejected lower-back surgery and opted for a procedure known as facet blocking. As for this week at the Masters, Nicklaus is realistic. Although he won more than $370,000 in two made-for-television matches since the back procedure, he has performed unevenly in the four official PGA toumments he has entered so far this season. But he remains, as ever, optimistic. “Hopefully,” said Nicklaus before heading home from practice, “I won’t have back problems around the Masters time. I’m giving myself every chance to be in as good shape as I can.” Getting into contention is what he has done all his adult life and, this spring, Jack Nicklaus is giving it one last try as the shadows lengthen along the fairways of his career.
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