The Golden Bear left lasting memories - and tears

July 19, 2005|by TIM KOELBLE

It seems only like yesterday watching a fellow native Ohioan challenging Arnold Palmer in the 1962 United States Open on television. There also was his classic 1977 British Open duel at Turnberry with Tom Watson. And don't forget his everlasting image with the raised putter as he sunk a putt on the way to an improbable Masters win in 1986.

He was Jack Nicklaus, Ohio-born and bred and quite possibly the greatest sportsman from the Buckeye state.

The Golden Bear emerged onto the national scene and despite all of his major accomplishments, he was not necessarily even close to being a popular player among his fellow competitors and the fans.

Through the years, with his wife, Barbara, and his family that included three golfing sons, Nicklaus turned the corner in his popularity.


He has gracefully accepted his aging, unlike so many other superstars. Like Palmer, Nicklaus has become a legend because he has warmed to the media and the fans.

Friday afternoon's second round of the 134th British Open was must-see television as it unfolded.

What better pairing could there have been with Watson in the same threesome with youthful Luke Donald? Only Palmer being there would have made it absolutely glorious.

You start watching, urging Nicklaus to sink the putts he needed at critical times on the easier Old Course holes in order to have that last, fleeting chance to make the cut.

When he bogeyed the Road Hole - No. 17 - you knew he was done. It was just a matter of a few moments before the tears were going to begin dripping down the cheeks of millions of golfers watching, whether they were Nicklaus fans, or not.

I've had the opportunity to walk over the Swilcun Bridge after teeing off on 18, but I can't even come close to imagining what it was like for Nicklaus in his final appearance. Then, he goes and birdies No. 18 in his farewell to competition.

Yes, you can add me to the throng that had wet cheekbones watching the culmination of golf's greatest career.

Tiger Woods won his second British Open and 10th major title as he continues his march toward catching the 18 held by Nicklaus. Someday, too, and probably not in my lifetime Woods will have his "retirement" march at St. Andrews.

- While on the subject of golf, let's turn to Michelle Wie.

Unless you've been buried deep under a bunker, you already know the youthful 15-year-old is beginning to make her mark in the game, as much with her competitive stature among the men as she already has with the women.

As an amateur, she's tipped the scale of success this year in the women's U.S. Open and she's tried twice to make the cut in PGA Tour events. Most recently, she tried to scale the heights of the USGA Amateur Public Links that has consistently carried a Masters invitation since 1989.

I'm not necessarily one that agrees with her playing among the men - as an amateur. Maybe I'm old-school, but she should become a professional to compete on Tour. And, she should be in the women's amateur events.

Once she turns pro, than let it fly.

She is winding down the season before returning to school and indications came following the Public Links that we might not be too far away from seeing her turn pro.

In the meantime, there is no doubt the young lady has the tools on the golf course that at least 54 men would like to have - make that 55 counting myself.

If you're familiar with all these names - Annika Sorenstam, Danica Patrick, Ann Meyers, Janet Guthrie, Shirley Muldowney, Julie Krone, Maria Pepe and Manon Rheaume - you know there is that jewel out there that can just flat out compete among the men.

It's only a matter of time until we produce major headlines, greater that what they have been, and odds are Michelle Wie will be the next successful athlete to do so.

Tim Koelble is a staff writer for The Morning Herald. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext 2311, or by e-mail at

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