DUBLIN, Ohio — As the PGA Tour stops at the Memorial, we spoke with numerous pros about their first time meeting the tournament's host, Jack Nicklaus. Here are their stories.
Nick Price: "It was probably the most nervous I ever was in my life. I think I probably could've met the Queen of England or the President of the United States and been less nervous. Because as a youngster I idolized him and Gary [Player] and Arnold [Palmer] so much. One of the things that was great about Jack right from the get-go was he treated me as an equal. That meant a tremendous amount to me, the way he treated me on the golf course when I was a 23-year-old rookie. Amazing, amazing man."
Gary Player: "I first met Jack Nicklaus in the early 1960's when he played at The Masters as an amateur. What I remember is seeing him swing, and I told him that he was going to be some golfer someday. What impressed me most was that he was very positive in his attitude. Little did I know that he would turn out to be the all-time greatest and become perhaps my best friend on tour."
Bubba Watson: "I think the first time here I did the clinic with him, he did the junior clinic on the range, so the first time I met him, I had to hit my driver in front of him, and everybody always saw me as a long hitter. I think it was my rookie season, so he's talking to them, and he's telling me to hit the ball in front of them, and I was so scared to hit it. But I had to hit it good. I had to show off for Jack. How are you going to impress Jack?
"I just kept hitting it hard, and I was hoping it would go out so fast that he couldn't see it, so I could go, yeah, it went a long way. He had some age, so hopefully his eyes weren't that good so he couldn't see if it was going right-to-left or left-to-right, he would just see it go real fast."
Keegan Bradley: "First time I ever met Jack, it was here last year. I had won [the Byron Nelson] the week before, and I came in and he said, 'Great win last week, Keegan.' It was pretty cool to know Jack even knew who I was."
Trevor Immelman: "I was 13 years old, and he came to South Africa because he was designing a golf course. The guy who brought him out to design the golf course was a friend of my dad's. And, obviously, he knew how much I was in love with the game of golf, and how serious I was about it. So he invited my dad and I over to have lunch with him and Jack. And it was unbelievable. Sat next to him for a couple of hours. There I was, just a young kid. Jack and I still talk about it, actually. I learned a lot from him that day, and then was fortunate enough to stay in contact. Spent some time with him down in West Palm once I was a professional, trying to suck up some more knowledge from him, and then obviously I've been coming here for many years. And the most exciting thing is the last few years I've had a chance to spend some time with him at the champions dinner at Augusta. I've been very lucky to have lots of time with him, and he's been very open and forthright with his information for me. It's something I'm very thankful for."
Jim Furyk: "I played nine holes with him at Doral, with Gary [Player] and Ernie [Els]. He and I were partners playing against Gary and Ernie. I got the biggest kick out of the trash talking. He just kept yapping the whole time, giving Gary and Ernie a hard time. I didn't expect it, but I got the biggest kick out of it. It was extremely fun, especially since I wasn't on the taking side."
Geoff Ogilvy: "I can't exactly remember the specific occasion. It was definitely here at this tournament. But I was just blown away at first. Jack was actually sitting at my table. He always comes through and has lunch with guys, has breakfast with guys, and has quite a presence in the clubhouse the whole week. I was just listening to everything he said and just amazed Jack Nicklaus was sitting at my table."
Steve Stricker: "I probably met him back in college. His son [Gary] played for Ohio State. I played for Illinois. We crossed paths during my college days. Jack would come watch Gary play. That was always a big thrill. Sometimes he'd fly in his helicopter, and we were more worried about what Jack was doing than us playing our own games. Those college days when he would come around, we were pretty awestruck."
Jonathan Byrd: "My rookie year on Tour , I was the last guy in the field. I found out mid-day on a Wednesday. I flew up here from home, and I got here and looked at the tee sheet. I had gotten Scott Hoch's spot, and I was paired with Vijay [Singh] and Jack — my rookie year, my first Memorial. So I was very nervous. That next morning on the first tee was my first time meeting him. I got to play the next two days with him. Watched him play pretty well, I think he made the cut that year. On Friday he birdied 16, 17 and 18. The next year I got paired with him again. Out of the four times in two years watching him play the 18th hole, I think he birdied it three times."
Dustin Johnson: "I think I was here, pretty sure. I think I said hello to him in the locker room. But the first time I saw him, I was like, 'I think that's Jack Nicklaus.' I was kind of thinking to myself, should I go say hey to him, or should I not, and then I think he kind of stopped at our table, and I stood up and introduced myself. But yeah, I was pretty nervous, actually."
Erik Compton: "The first time I met him was here at this event. I played 18 holes with him. It was one of the thrills of my life in golf to spend a whole day with him."
Davis Love III: "I met him when I was real young, because my dad was playing some on the Tour. I met him when I was probably 8 or 10 years old, just hanging out with my dad, probably at Atlanta Country Club. I was lucky."
Lee Trevino: "I saw him for the first time in San Francisco in 1966 when they played the Open there. I wasn't out there until 1967 when I qualified for the Open at Baltusrol. And I remember walking over this little bridge going to the parking lot in the dark, and I could see this white putter moving, and it was Jack. Jack at the time was putting with a Bullseye, and he had painted it white. He was down there practicing on the putting green, and it was pitch dark. Of course he went on to win the tournament."
Rory McIlroy: “I was going shopping with my dad in Palm Beach Gardens and pulled into the car park and Jack was getting into his car, and we were getting out. I was like, that's Jack Nicklaus. I just went over and introduced myself and just said it was a pleasure to meet him. I called him ‘Mr. Nicklaus.’ My dad said, ‘Hi, Jack.’ I was like, ‘No, call him Mr. Nicklaus.' No, it was good. That was the start, and actually developed a relationship with him, had a couple of lunches with him just to sort of pick his brain about a few things, and it was really nice of him to take time out like that to help me.”
Tom Watson: “First time I met Jack was in 1966. It was at Topeka Country Club on a cold, March day. And I was invited to play with him in an exhibition … I was in awe. I was awe of how solid he hit his long irons. Two guys could hit the long irons better than anybody. One was Jack and the other was Byron [Nelson] … That’s what I admired most about how he played his game that day.”
Robert Allenby: “He was always an idol of mine growing up. First time I met him I was obviously in awe of him. I remember I was hitting some shots on the range [at the Memorial], and he came up and stood right behind me, and I started to get pretty nervous. But I hit a nice shot, and he said I had a great swing, so that was pretty nice. And now I’ve been good friends with the family for a long, long time. I know all of the family really well. We live, virtually right next to each other down in Jupiter.”
Bo Van Pelt: “I played with Gary [Nicklaus] at the second stage of Q-school. I was right out of college, and we were playing the last round to get to finals. I finished eagle-birdie to get into a playoff. He came up to me and congratulated me on my finish, and wished me good luck in the playoff. The fact that he took the time to do that just told me he was the kind of person that I’d always read about. He and his wife [Barbara] were there that day, and they exceeded all expectations. They set a pretty awesome standard for me on how you’re supposed to act.”