Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player — Class Personified

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting both Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player – and let me just say, God is not making golf professionals like them anymore. If you watched the recent Presidents Cup, I don’t need to argue the class of these two individuals – but I thought two anecdotes could share my personal insight.

For years, I was the Director of Golf at Cheval Golf and Country Club — just outside Tampa, Florida. Each year our sister course, the TPC of Tampa Bay, would host a Champions Tour event (now called the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am). Well, for a few of those years, my course hosted the “Super-Seniors” Pro-Am portion of the event, which was for all the professionals over age 60. Of all the professionals I met — no one wowed me like Gary Player.

I was in the parking lot on the day of the tournament checking on a few things when I received a call over the radio. “Gary Player is in your office and wants to talk with you” was the message from one of my assistants. I told him to stop fooling around and actually do some work – but he assured me it was true – and that I needed to come inside. Well, low and behold, he was right. There he was – Gary Player – standing in my office – waiting for me. As one of the all-time legends of the game, he was on my short list of people I wanted to meet. We shook hands and Mr. Player offered me a gift. He gave me a Gary Player golf shirt – exactly my size. He wanted to thank me for allowing him and the other professionals for playing our course. Turns out, he had someone call up earlier in the week to find out what size shirt I wore. I was completely touched. But – it doesn’t end there. After the round, Player came in and said what a great golf course we had. He said the greens were some of the best he had ever played and were much better than the TPC course. He said that he’d be happy for us to use that quote in our monthly newsletter (entirely his idea) – along with a personal thank you to the members. Needless to say, we got a lot of mileage from that quote.

Jack Nicklaus also played in our Champions Tour event a couple times and called the TPC course one of the best he’d played in years. But – the first year he played – he stayed right alongside our clubhouse in one of the condos. So at night, he would eat in our clubhouse with the owner of the country club. This was very hush-hush, as we didn’t want the members to bombard him during dinner. But of course, that didn’t stop me from finding my way to the restaurant on one occasion. Actually, to be honest, I was there for another matter and then happened to see him. But – like Gary Player – Mr. Nicklaus was high on my list of golfers to meet.

The owner of the club saw me walking by and called me to the table. There I had a wonderful 10-minute conversation with Mr. Nicklaus, who asked me all kinds of personal questions and seemed genuinely interested. I was very touched by his sincerity. A couple weeks later, and completely unsolicited, I received a nice letter and picture. Nicklaus wrote a little note, referencing our conversation, and then personalized a great picture to me. It remains one of my favorite golf treasures.

A couple years later, I was the official starter of the 2nd stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School – also held at the TPC of Tampa Bay. As I looked at the roster of players I’d be starting that day – one name stood out like a big red flag – Gary Nicklaus (youngest son of the Golden Bear). I believe it was Gary’s 4th attempt at qualifying up to that point. I was interested to see him hit it, as I had heard good things. But honestly – I was more interested in asking him about his dad. Needless to say, I was a little surprised when Gary’s caddie ended up being none other than his dad – Jack Nicklaus himself. And was even more surprised when his caddie remembered me and asked how things were going. He even remembered a couple of the things we talked about the night we first met. I must say, pretty impressive for a guy who has probably met thousands of golf professional around the world.

In this day and age of spoiled athletes, it was such a breath of fresh air to see two of the all-time great champions go out of their way to make a club professional feel special. And I for one will never forget the contribution they have both made to the game I am fortunate enough to make a living at today.

3 Responses to “Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player — Class Personified”

  1. Rod Ralph says:

    I found your stories about Jack and Gary very interesting and in stark contrast to the behavior of today’s hero, Tiger Woods. If Woods gets behind or mades a bad shot he immediately starts spitting great gobs and slamming his clubs. His behavior deteriorates as his shots get worse and, as in the British Open he slams the club at the ground, his bag or even the tee, Jack or Gary or Tom never demontrated this kind of rude behavior. Tiger whould have received a fine for doing what he did at the Open–but of course he wont because he is Tiger.

  2. Tom Sandeman says:

    I play on, and in fact live on the edge of the practice fairway, of Kingston Heath G.C. in Melbourne Australia. We were in the running to host the President’s Cup after next but lost to The Royal Melbourne G.C. which incidentally is suffering markedly from our drought.

    In 1970 Gary Player won the Australian Open at Kingston Heath. Having been presented with the trophy and had his usual orange juice, he returned to the practice fairway, sent his caddy out about 200 metres on the neighbouring 1st fairway and proceeded to hit 4 irons. The caddy barely had to move to collect the balls which curved in a gentle draw to his feet. Ray Floyd was sharing a room with Gary and had to wait while this was going on. Finally he went across and reminded Gary that they had to get back to the hotel and the taxi was waiting. (No sponsor’s limousines in those days). Player said “I’ve got to get rid of this draw.” Floyd watched a couple of shots and said “The answer’s simple Gary. Let me show you” He went across, bent down and tightened the strap on Gary’s left shoe. “Now come on, I’m hungry” Player hit a couple more and lo and behold they were as straight as a die! Me? I’d rather keep the draw.

  3. Todd Sentell says:

    A a Senior PGA Tour event at my club in the late 90s, I witnessed Gary Player do something for the club’s superintendent. I was stunned, but not surprised, at this gentleman’s sincerity, sportsmanship, and level of observation. What an amazing moment.

    Gary Player was my hero before that … and he’ll continue to be a wonderfully social, sincere, and engaging man to the benefit of golf fans around the world.

    Todd Sentell
    Author of Toonamint of Champions

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