There was a big golf championship match at the East Lake Country Club here in the Atlanta area this past week. Many years ago, about 1963 I think, they were playing the Ryder Cup matches at East Lake. The Ryder Cup is a biennial men’s golf competition between teams from Europe and the U.S. and you have to be really good to be selected to be on the team. That year they were playing at East Lake. I was a young and eager golfer at the time and Jack Nicklaus was my hero. Jack was at his finest and I attended that Ryder Cup match just to see him. He was playing very fast and was way ahead of the rest of the players.
So I took off to a hole that was some distance ahead and was all by myself when Jack and his caddy approached. Just the two of them, with me standing off in the shadows. I don’t remember the exact distance of the hole but it was well over 400 yards. I was standing off to the side and Nicklaus was so tunnel-visioned he didn’t even acknowledge that anyone was watching him.
He turned to his caddy and said, “Do you think I can make it in one?”
The caddy looked at the distance and said, “Well, sir, that’s a mighty long hole to do it in one.” Jack just grinned at him and reached for a club. Nicklaus took his driver, lined up and in an instant he whacked that ball. You know the “click” when a golf ball is hit squarely? It made that noise and the tee jumped backward two feet. The ball soared through the air and was so far away even with my young eyes at the time I could barely make it out. And then I saw it. It rolled and rolled and rolled right up on the edge of the green. I was so stunned I couldn’t move so I just stood there. But I’m sure that Nicklaus, who was as good a putter as he was off the tee, eagled that hole. I left after that. There was nothing to top what I had just seen.
I never was a good golfer, but I’ll never forget seeing Jack Nicklaus hit a golf ball farther than anyone I have ever seen. He was the greatest, and still is right up there with Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead and all the rest of the world’s best at the game of golf.