The last time Jack Nicklaus stepped foot in Bloomington, he won a golf tournament.
During the Golden Bear’s senior year playing No. 1 on Ohio State’s golf team, his coach, Robert Kepler, knew he didn’t have a very strong team behind Nicklaus.
Kepler asked Nicklaus to “spread eagle the field” and win by as many strokes as possible to give the Buckeyes a shot at making it to the NCAA tournament.
Nicklaus won by 23.
His team won by one shot and went to the tournament.
But since then, Nicklaus has won a record 18 major tournaments on the PGA Tour, nearly 120 professional golf tournaments and started an international golf design company, all while staying married to his wife Barbara for 52 years.
Nicklaus didn’t come to Bloomington Monday night to blow the field away in
another golf tournament or participate in the Nearly Naked Mile, he joked.
IU’s Theta chapter of Delta Gamma brought Nicklaus to the IU Auditorium as a speaker in the Lectureship in Values and Ethics series.
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Nicklaus and his wife both grew with a set of “Midwestern values” he said reach from western Pennsylvania to Denver, encompassing his alma mater at Ohio State as well as IU.
“The values we have in the Midwest are really great,” Nicklaus said. “To come to IU, such a great school, it was a real privilege and pleasure to be here.”
After leaving Ohio State with a Big Ten championship, a wife and a baby on the way, as he and Barbara were married during his junior year, Nicklaus pledged to his family that he would never be apart from them for more than two weeks.
Some Fridays, he said, after his five kids, Jackie, Steve, Nancy, Gary and Michael, were out of school, Barbara packed up the kids and drove to wherever the Golden Bear was playing that weekend, stay for Saturday’s round and drive home Sunday.
If that’s what it took for the kids to see their dad, Nicklaus said he and Barbara would make it work.
“We both knew it wasn’t easy, but we thought it was important,” Nickalus said. “I wanted to make sure that when my kids went off to college that they knew who their father was.”
The talk’s moderator, Inga Hammond, a sports journalist and IU alumna, said during his whole career, Nicklaus never was known to swear or throw a club, pointing at the ethics he developed while growing up in Ohio.
Nicklaus said with journalists a little more laid back during his career and the lack of social media and the Internet, his actions simply weren’t monitored as closely.
“We never had any of the social media, and thank goodness,” Nicklaus said. “I go to airports now, and they follow my plane in the air. You really can’t go anywhere.”
Nicklaus, linked to Tiger Woods as he continues to chase Nicklaus’s illustrious 18 major titles, said he couldn’t imagine trying to play and win with today’s media as obtrusive and over-bearing as they are.
“Everything he says and does is in the newspaper every day,” Nicklaus said. “When I played, you had trouble finding the recap of the golf tournament.”
Even after Tiger’s personal struggles off the golf course, while dealing with a more critical media, Nicklaus said Tiger could still challenge his major championships.
“Tiger has taken on my record and had it posted on his closet all his life, and so I wonder what kind of pressure he’s had on him to perform,” Nicklaus said. “Now he’s won 14 majors but hasn’t won any in four years. Tiger is an awfully good player, but he has to win five more majors. If he does, I want to be the first one to shake his hand.”
Looking past all of Nicklaus’ wins throughout his career on the PGA Tour and Champions Tour, he said he was drawn to golf because of its ethics.
He said he didn’t want someone throwing the ball back at him because whatever effort he put into his game, like his life as a father and golf designer, he wanted to receive back.
“It’s just finishing and knowing you’ve done it properly, that you can sleep at night,” he said. “I knew I could go out and practice, even if others didn’t want to play, and I could still go out and work on what I needed to work on.”