ORLANDO – The pairing of Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino never grows old.
They may be a little older, a little grayer, and the ball doesn’t go as far, but it’s still a treat to see these two great competitors together. The grandstand behind the first tee was packed when Nicklaus tipped his hat to his faithful fans. Even a family of deer came out to watch them near the first fairway. Seeing Nicklaus and Trevino together conjures so many memories.
“It was the same as it was 30 years ago,” Trevino said.
Which is to say Trevino had plenty to say. At one point, Nicklaus said to him, “Who are you talking to?”
“Anybody who will listen,” Trevino answered.
For Jack’s son Gary, the PNC Father-Son Challenge at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club at Grande Lake Resort was the first time he had played with Trevino.
“He hit his best shots when he was talking,” Gary said of Lee. “If he was still talking when he was swinging the ball, it went well.”
Nicklaus and Trevino joked with each other most of the day. When Nicklaus hit a drive at the third hole that just cleared a fairway bunker, Trevino whipped out the needle: “You used to hit your 4-iron there. I can tell you that.”
“Another one just like that and I get home,” Nicklaus kidded.
Their mutual respect dates to some of the greatest mano-a-mano duels in golf history. Nicklaus called Trevino one of the two best ball?strikers — along with Hogan – he’d ever seen.
“Lee is, like I am, a shell of what we were before, but he still flights the ball, and particularly with his irons and short game and maneuvering the ball, he’s terrific with it,” Jack said. “He hits some shots that you look at it and you say, ‘Now, man, you just take about 30 years off that and you can tell how good this guy was.’”
“Not a lot of players that beat (my dad) as many times as Lee beat him,” Gary added.
“I beg your pardon,” Jack said.
“You beat him a lot, too,” Gary said.
Neither had their best stuff today, but in the two-man scramble format Jack had as he put, “The right horse.” Team Nicklaus shot a 9-under 63 and trail first-round leaders Stewart and Connor Cink by two strokes.
“I supported Gary just a little bit. Not very much. Just a little bit,” Nicklaus said. “It was basically Gary’s round with just a dab or two from the old man.”
Not bad considering that Gary was supposed to be attending his college roommate’s wedding this weekend and was a late replacement for his brother, Jack II, who fell ill with the flu.
Team Nicklaus rebounded from a sluggish start when Gary holed a 10-foot par putt at the fourth hole. That turned out to be the turning point in the round.
“I haven’t hit a good putt yet so let me go first,” Gary told his father.
That began a run of birdie putts by Gary at the fifth, seventh, eighth and ninth holes.
“I actually hit a couple good putts after that,” Gary said. “When I missed, he made ’em.”
“Every putt he hit was a highlight,” Jack said.
None was better than the lengthy birdie putt for a deuce that found the bottom of the cup at 17.
“We’re a great team, hey Roger,” Jack said to NBC’s roving reporter Roger Maltbie.
But Jack, as he has done so many times, made the clutch birdie putt at 18.
“I’ll be better tomorrow,” he promised.
“Please,” Gary said with a smirk on his face.
When a member of the media asked Jack if winning still mattered to him, he made it clear that Team Nicklaus would be playing with a sense of purpose on Sunday.
“That’s why we’re here,” Nicklaus said. “That what my life has been all about.”
• • •
Many honors come with winning a major championship. Somewhere on that list is qualifying for the PNC Father-Son Challenge. For Stewart Cink, it entered his mind within a day or so of winning the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry.
Cink and his son Connor, who are rookies in the 20-team event, grabbed the lead with an 11-under 61, one shot better than Steve and Sam Elkington.
“I think he probably surprised himself out there a little bit today,” Cink said of his older son who is a junior at Clemson, “and it was fun to watch him.”
Connor agreed. “Oh yeah,” he said. “Helps having a good teacher.”
Hot on their heels is Team Elkington, which got off to a great start with four straight birdies and an eagle at the par-5 14th hole.
On that particular hole, father told son, “Whatever you do, don’t go left.”
So what did Sam do? “Snap-hooked it into the water,” he said.
That’s why the scramble format makes this event. Team Elkington still had one of the great drivers of the ball in reserves and he delivered. A 3-wood to 30 feet set up the eagle opportunity.
“I said, ‘Now, look, don’t make me have to make this three by myself,” Steve Elkington said. “He said, ‘Don’t worry dad, I’m going to tap this one in.’”
Elkington, a 10-time Tour winner, said he plays with his son nearly every day when he is home and his 16-year-old son has grown six inches and added 40 yards in the past year. Does competing in the Father-Son stoke his desire to be a professional too someday, Sam was asked?
“Makes me feel like I want to aspire to play college golf and see where it goes from there,” Sam said.
• • •
SHORT SHOTS: The defending champions Davis and Dru Love shot 64. . . . First-round leaders/co-leaders have gone on to win this tournament 11 times over the previous 15 events.