Op-ed: For Nicklaus, family always came first | Deseret News National
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Mike Fiala, Associated Press
Family

Op-ed: For Nicklaus, family always came first

HEBER CITY — Jack Nicklaus says his most imposing golf records will surely be broken. Perhaps it will be by a player so good he can be identified by one name: Tiger, Bubba, Rory, Phil. It might even be passed by some kid who’s still hitting practice balls in his yard.

Either way, Nicklaus says, he wouldn’t change how he did things: by rushing back after a day on the course to do something besides golf.

In other words, having a life.

People still do that, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to compete in a world where dedication equals obsession. The single-minded Tiger Woods is about as sociable as his name would suggest. His only diversion became, well, quite the diversion. But even the beloved Arnold Palmer, a family man himself, rarely took his mind away from golf.

“Arnold is a good example,” Nicklaus said this week at Red Ledges Golf Club in Heber City, a course he designed. “The guy loves golf more than anyone I’ve ever seen. But Arnold can’t really play now, and it’s so sad because he loves the game so much. I’ve tried to get Arnold to fish and other things, but he would not do it — he’s so wound up with golf. That’s not to criticize him by any means. He’s like a brother to me in many ways, but I wish he would do some of those other things and enjoy them.”

When Nicklaus began in the early 1960s, he and wife Barbara decided to raise a regular family, not the publicity-shot version. At home he preferred playing tickle-bug with the kids to practicing his putting.

He didn’t spend his free hours trying to figure out how to psyche out Gary Player. Instead, he was trying to figure out how to put together his kids’ new bike. Or even more typically, planning a family fishing trip.

On vacations, the best golfer in history would work on his fly-fishing cast, not his short game. Any complete collection of Nicklaus photos includes those with his wife and family.

"A lot depends on your wife and the support you have at home," he said.

True to form, Barbara was there on Wednesday, carefully introducing herself to each clubhouse visitor before Nicklaus came off the course. They were in Utah for the Governor’s State of Sport Awards program, where Billy Casper and Johnny Miller were honored.

“I think balance helps you play golf. It takes your mind off things and you’re not so single-minded all the time,” Nicklaus said. “I always loved to get home because when I went back to play golf, my mind was fresh and clear and I could do whatever I wanted to do. If all you think about is golf ”

Early in his career, Nicklaus decided he would never spend more than 14 consecutive days away from the family, which grew to four sons and a daughter. He broke the promise once, in 1966, on a 17-day trip to South Africa. The disclaimer is that he took his parents and in-laws along.

He wasn’t always home. He just made it a point to bring his home with him.

In his 1997 book, “My Story,” he said “the result has been a strong and secure marriage, plus five temperamentally different but basically normal, generally healthy and — I sincerely hope — reasonably happy children. Case closed.”

It’s certainly closed in the record book. His 18 majors seemed under siege by Woods, until injury and scandal brought the challenger to a standstill at 14. Either way, the family thing worked for Nicklaus, who has 22 grandchildren. He won 115 tournaments and wore the Masters green jacket a record six times. Yet he seems philosophical about someone catching him.

“I don’t think records mean a whole lot,” he said. “My records will be broken, whether by Tiger or somebody else, it’s no different. Could I have done better? Probably. Could I have done better and had less balance in my life? Yeah, but when you look back at the balance I’ve had, the things I’ve done and been involved with, the recreation I’ve had if I want to fish with the grandkids or take them hunting there’s all kinds of things that I do that I get a big kick out of. Would I (want to) win more golf tournaments and give that up? Not on your life.”

It’s a philosophy that has served him well: records are made to be broken; families are not.

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