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What does Jack Nicklaus do all week during the PGA Tour’s Memorial? We followed along

DUBLIN, Ohio — Jack Nicklaus will have had plenty of practice shaking hands by the time he congratulates the winner of the Memorial Tournament Sunday at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

I stopped counting at 150, but it’s safe to say Upper Arlington’s most famous Golden Bear shook well over 200 paws Wednesday as he moved along the 220 acres of golf course on his way to meet-and-greets, photo shoots, autograph signings, ceremonies, lunch, board meetings and dinner.

And he didn’t drop from exhaustion. That may be more impressive than him winning the 1986 Masters.

“I think he gets very primed for this event,” 2019 Memorial honoree Judy Rankin said. “And it means so much to him, he just decides he can be tired later.”

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Nicklaus is 84 but has more energy than a man in his 60s. I should know. I shadowed him from early morning through late afternoon Wednesday – “A day in the life of Jack Nicklaus at the Memorial” if you will – and I needed a nap by the time we parted company. Jack needed no such thing. He is like the Man of Steel, except Superman never smacked a 1-iron like Nicklaus could in his prime.

That prime is past, but the legacy lives on:

Nicklaus as golf’s greatest champion, winner of a record 18 major championships.

Nicklaus as Memorial Tournament visionary, founder and host.

Nicklaus as a humanitarian, raising millions for children’s hospitals and charities.

Nicklaus as needler, applying a well-placed elbow of sarcasm into the ribs of those he likes.

Jack Nicklaus, Papa Bear, is comfortable around the cubs

The day began with Nicklaus and wife Barbara, or the First Lady of Golf as she is known in these parts, arriving at the practice putting green to shake hands and pose for pictures with officials, parents and kids involved in the Play Yellow initiative, a program in which the Nicklauses, PGA Tour and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals join forces to raise money for kids at local children’s hospitals.

Jack Nicklaus sits with kids in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Golden Cub program during a practice day for the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

Nicklaus listens to Jimmy Smith, whose 16-year-old daughter Madison died of colorectal cancer in October.

“The heartache just doesn’t go away, but things like this help,” said Smith, who arrived at Muirfield from Rockville, Maryland, as a guest of PGA Tour player and Play Yellow spokesperson Denny McCarthy.

Nicklaus nods, then engages McCarthy in a history lesson on the Masters, which he won six times. He shakes more hands before gravitating toward his favorite audience – kids. Cordial to adults, he lights up around 3 and 4 footers.

Nine Golden Cubs – current or former patients from Nationwide Children’s Hospital – swarm like bees around the Bear. Jack’s eyes light up. He signs their shirts, hats, anything they want.

“I’m going to sit here with my gang,” the man said, squeezing between two gigglers. “How long do you think I’ve been married?”

“Fifty years,” someone chirps.

“That’s a good guess,” Nicklaus says. “How about 64.”

An adult speaks up.

“You still look happy.”

Then, the Nicklaus wit: “We’re working it,” he says, patting Barbara’s leg.

Hayden Laycock is one of the Cubs. The 15-year-old Grandview Heights sophomore has a congenital heart block. Nicklaus has his own health issues. The two bond.

“He’s pretty cool,” Laycock says, adding that Nicklaus was “the Tiger (Woods) before Tiger. I know he was really good for his time.”

At least the teen knows that much. Many of the kids simply see a hunched older man in black pants and shoes with a gray sports coat and tangerine tie. They do not realize the ground they stand on, once forest and farmland, might be retail space if not for Nicklaus choosing in 1966 to give back to the area where he grew up by building a championship golf course that would attract the best players in the world.

Then again, Nicklaus is self-aware enough to know that he wouldn’t be standing here either if “I had missed about 10 five-foot putts.”

Had that happened, Nicklaus would have won fewer majors, earned less money and lacked the cache to create his own tournament in Dublin.

Fans recognize Jack Nicklaus as a member of golf royalty 

But he made the putts, which turned him into a king of golf, which is what he resembled as he offered the “royals wave” while driving his cart to the 16th green following the Play Yellow event. As Jack and Barbara sped along the hilly cart paths – does he have a license for that thing? – a chorus of “Hey, Jack” hellos rang out among fans dotting the fairways.

There was even a fist bump.

Jack Nicklaus drives his wife, Barbara, through a crowd of patrons alongside the putting green during a practice day for the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

Three things struck me about the constant attention: 1. It must feel good, especially since it’s been nearly 20 years since Nicklaus played a competitive round (2005 British Open).; 2. I wonder if it’s easy to take the adulation for granted. 3. Celebrity must get exhausting. I mean, 200-plus handshakes?

Pertaining to point No. 3, the only time the sea of fans parted was when Ohio State coach Ryan Day and wife Nina showed up at the Play Yellow meet-and-greet photo opp. Suddenly, Nicklaus was left alone for a few minutes. He did not mind.

Another Ohio State coach arrived on the scene. John Cooper looks younger than his 87 years. While three years older than Nicklaus, he gushes like a little kid when recalling Jack’s generosity.

After getting fired at OSU following the 2000 season, Cooper received a call from Muirfield Village’s CEO informing him that his membership was ending because it was tied to his coaching job. Several years later, Cooper bumped into Nicklaus.

“He asked me why he had not seen me (at Muirfield Village),” Cooper said.

After hearing the explanation, Nicklaus informed the club to renew Cooper’s membership.

Nearly a quarter century later, Cooper wanted to thank Nicklaus again for the kind gesture.

Nicklaus’ response?

“We take care of all our friends.”

Ryan Day picks brain of ‘elite’ Jack Nicklaus 

Eventually, Nicklaus and Day sit together on the nearby “Helen Nicklaus” bench, dedicated to Jack’s mother, who passed Aug. 16, 2000 – the Wednesday of the PGA Championship.

Jack Nicklaus talks to Ohio State football coach Ryan Day during a practice day for the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

“I always like getting a chance to meet, know and study people who are elite. And he was,” Day says. “Just to be around him, listening to the mindset, you can pick something up. I had an opportunity a year ago to go down and spend some time at the house with Jack and Barbara, Nina and I both, and so it was great. We appreciate their support.”

The coach and golfer discuss OSU quarterbacks, NIL and recruiting. Nicklaus, who played golf at Ohio State, could talk Buckeyes football all day. But he does not have all day, because soon it is off to another ceremony.

Wednesday is Military Appreciation Day at the Memorial, sponsored by JobsOhio, and inside a huge tent located near the 16th green Nicklaus shakes at least 100 hands, including that of 76-year-old Bob Patterson, one of 61 living recipients of the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest award recognizing valor.

Patterson says he does not play golf as much as he works at playing golf. The native North Carolinian, who lives in Pensacola, Florida, gets a handshake from Nicklaus, who made golf look as easy as child’s play.

It is something to see a Vietnam veteran, who in 1968 destroyed five enemy bunkers while under fire, melt while meeting a man who fired golf balls into the air. Such is the power of Nicklaus.

“A lot of my friends served in the military,” Nicklaus says to the crowd of military men and women and their families. “It’s a big thing for us to say thank you. We don’t understand what you did, but we understand the results of what you did.”

Nicklaus launches into a brief history of Muirfield Village, telling the crowd it cost $2.5 million to build the course. When asked for his expectation of where the Memorial will be in a decade or two, he raises his index finger to the sky, signaling he wants the tournament to keep trending up.

More humor: “Notice how crooked that (finger) was. From holding a golf club (all those years.)”

At 11:35 a.m., Jack and Barbara hop back in their cart and head toward the clubhouse for lunch in the Captain’s Grill. More waves. More fans pointing out “There goes Jack.”

Lunching with a who’s who of the golf world

Jack Nicklaus goes over his Memorial Honoree Ceremony speech during a practice day for the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

Inside the players’ locker room, Nicklaus and his media representative, Scott Tolley, go over details of his upcoming afternoon speech at the honoree ceremony for LPGA Hall of Famer Juli Inkster. Then it is off to lunch, where Nicklaus shakes more hands. He exchanges a few words with Rickie Fowler, greets members of the Captains Club, including Rankin, Hale Irwin and Andy North, then checks out what’s being offered in the buffet line.

An hour later, he joins the procession of golf dignitaries, including PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley, who walk from the clubhouse to the driving range for the honoree ceremony.

Temperatures reach into the mid-80s. But if Jack is uncomfortable, he doesn’t show it.

The ceremony ends, but, unlike me, Nicklaus is far from finished. There is a Captains Club meeting to attend, then a dinner that will last until 9 p.m.

Finally, lights out. A 14-hour day comes to a close and the Bear gets to hibernate for the night.

The article "What does Jack Nicklaus do all week during the PGA Tour's Memorial? We followed along" was originally published on https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2024/06/07/jack-nicklaus-day-in-the-life-memorial-tournament-2024/