In my youth, I dressed up and pretended to be Jack Nicklaus. I had a couple of advantages when I was 12, like a squeaky voice, and the fact that in the early 1970s it was okay for a kid to wear the absurdly flared polyester nut-squeezers favored by Tour players. (Looking back, the tightness of Jack Nicklaus’ trousers might well account for the fact that I had a total lack of pubic hair until I was 27, and why I can still yodel with the best of them.)
In the deadly serious world of the 12-year-old Tour player, getting first pick in the hero role-playing department was a lot more important than who got to hit first. The name Nicklaus struck fear into the quivering spleen of Lee Trevino, who had a speech impediment and only four clubs, and positively pureed the bowels of Gary Player, whose mom used to drag him squealing off the course by his ear if he hadn’t done his homework. Being Jack usually meant victory, but it was a total drag when he lost, because Jack had to be graceful in defeat, which was tough to pull off when Arnold Palmer was dancing gleefully around the 18th green, flashing you his pimply bum. As I recall, Tom Weiskopf could be a complete swine, too.
Then I grew up (okay, that’s crap) and turned pro, and after several years of desperately chopping my way around every Nicklaus course I played, I began to think my childhood hero was a landscape gardener on acid. Every time I set foot on the first tee of one of Jack’s golf courses I lost 70 points off my IQ, and my confidence hit the deck faster than Paris Hilton’s pants. I decided that this couldn’t possibly be MY fault: there was an obvious design flaw in Jack’s work, a theory I frequently shared with the tabloid pencil-squeezers with whom I drank after such disasters. Feherty’s play was usually more quotable than notable, and I became known as a Nicklaus-basher. But I never really worried about that. I mean, it wasn’t likely I’d have to look the man in the eye, right?
Uh, wrong. I moved to America and started to play badly on every golf course. I evaporated into broadcasting and then, before I knew it, found myself sweating like a vole in a toaster as I waited to INTERVIEW Jack Bloody Nicklaus. When he sat down beside me he might as well have had one giant sky-blue Orwellian orb in the middle of his damn forehead: in that instant I felt Nicklaus knew every damn thing about me. But the man didn’t even have the decency to get shirty with me. He was warm and friendly and funny, even endearing in a Golf-God-like way. I felt like a mean-spirited little crab in the presence of a really nice dolphin.
Okay, that last sentence was a bit weird, but it worked for me. Moving right along, I need to say this: I actually love Jack Nicklaus, and I have since I was a little boy. You love him, too, of course you do. He’s the greatest winner of all time, and more importantly the greatest loser, and best of all, he had the decency not to retire at the top, so that we could all see that he is human after all. The decline of Jack’s game has been sweetly painful for every golf fan, his occasional flashes of glories past have been magnificent rages against the dying of the brightest light in golf.
God, I wish that I had played with him just one time. In my career I got to play with almost every great player in the modern era, but never with Jack. In my current sate of perfection, I probably couldn’t play a round if Stryker Orthopedics gave me free ceramic hips and a year’s supply of Percodan. (It’s the pain, you know, from a debilitating pelvic condition diagnosed by my doctor as “there’s nothing wrong with you, you whiner, and, no, you can’t have any more narcotics.”) Jack Nicklaus is the bingo I never got to shout, the missing last card in my royal flush, and probably the only person on the planet who might be able to lure me back onto a golf course. Even if it was one of his.