For 30-plus years Jack Nicklaus kept saying that fatherhood was his highest priority, thereby screwing things up for the rest of us. Now we dads have to sit through those interminable swim meets on beautiful summer evenings when we could be playing a twilight nine, all because Big Jack never missed any of Jackie’s golf tournaments or Steve’s football games or Nan’s volleyball matches.
Already this year we’ve had Paul Goydos winning the Sony Open as a “part-time golfer and a full-time father.” What kind of message does that send? And now comes Tiger Woods, saying he’ll skip the British Open if his pregnant wife, Elin, looks as if she’s going to deliver the First Child of Sports that week.
The expectant father sounded firm: “That’s the most important thing, not another golf tournament. If she’s going to have it during the week of the Open, I just don’t go.”
Would you at least reconsider, Tiger, if you win the Masters in April and the U.S. Open in June? We’re not asking you to do it for us. (Although it would liven up our couch-spud lives to see you go for a fifth consecutive major.) You should do it for baby Nike. Do you want little Swooshie (suggested toddler nickname) teased with this old playground taunt: “You cost your father the Grand Slam, you cost your father … “? No child likes that.
Phil Mickelson played the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst on baby alert, his caddie packing a beeper. All week long Phil said the gallant, post-Jack thing: The beeper goes off and I’m outta here, whether I’m winning, in a playoff, whatever. Payne Stewart did Lefty a solid by holing that 18-footer on the last to win in regulation: When Mrs. Phil gave birth on playoff Monday, on the other side of the country, Phil and camera were on hand. Phil’s crooked driver has cost him some U.S. Opens, but the daughter born that day, young Amanda Mickelson, has not. In victory, Stewart, one of golf’s last showmen, famously grabbed Phil’s head like a bowling ball and said, “You’re going to be a father!” as if that were all the consolation necessary. Easy for him to say. He was a father and the U.S. Open champ.
British bookmakers will give you odds on Tiger’s missing the Open, but with his career unfolding like Jack’s, it’s a good bet he’ll be clear to play. None of Jack’s five kids were born during golf’s four holy weeks. Jack may have missed a few Pensacola Opens for soccer games but never a major. He played in 146 straight, a record. Tiger is at 40, and counting. There is, however, one thing Tiger must still learn from Jack: Never refer to the bambino-to-be as it. No matter how much it looks like ET.