Q&A: What was Jack Nicklaus like in college?

Jack Nicklaus as a 19-year-old freshman at Ohio State University.

Jack Nicklaus as a 19-year-old freshman at Ohio State University.

ADA, Mich. – You bump into a lot of people from the college golf world when you attend the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. Coaches are everywhere, and sometimes the local college players come out to watch.

Well, today, I bumped into a member of the Ohio State Buckeyes family.

Russell Jimeson is a member at Egypt Valley and was a college teammate of Jack Nicklaus'. Jimeson is also a three-time winner of the Michigan Senior Amateur Championship (1997, 1998, 2000).

We sat down in the bridge room, and I bombarded him with questions about the Golden Bear’s college days.

As you watch the U.S. Junior Championship this week, do you ever think what junior golf was like when you were a teenager?

photo

Russell Jimeson played golf at Ohio State with Jack Nicklaus.

When I was a kid, I never even knew about the U.S. Junior. The only junior tournaments I knew about were the Western Junior and the Hearst National Championship.

I grew up in a small football town called Steubenville, which was in Ohio. It was a blue-collar town with steel and coal workers. Not many people or families were into golf or weren’t quite familiar with the game.

With these kids getting recruited by coaches from every direction, how different was recruiting when you were their age?

I was given a scholarship to Ohio University, but things changed when I went to the State Amateur. I was playing in Cincinnati, and apparently one of the players I was paired with was the mascot for Ohio State. He told me after he saw me play that I should go to Ohio State.

The coach then was Bob Kepler, and he helped me get a job in the storage room at the Scarlet Course – which was an awesome course – to help me pay for college. I worked hard and played my way on to the team, and it was great.

What was it like to go to a practice or play with Jack Nicklaus?

Unbelievable. It was something out of this world when you stood near him with his driver. I swear to you the ground would shake when he would hit the ball with his driver.

He would get his heel so high and then stomp it into the ground with his swing. It was something to see, for sure. What also made him incredible was his iron game, and I’m talking 1- or 2-iron. He could hit a 1-iron the way most good players could hit their wedges. I remember watching him as a member of the OSU team and saying to myself, “He is the real deal.”

Were there a lot of people watching the Buckeyes when you guys went to play in a tournament?

Well, people came out to see Jack. He was the star attraction. His galleries varied, but I do remember that when he played he would draw anywhere from a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand.

What impresses you the most with junior golfers today?

I can’t get over how well schooled they are not just with the golf swing, but with the game of golf. I learned how to a swing a club in the 1950s from a book Ben Hogan wrote called, “Ben Hogan's Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.”

Nowadays most kids have their own swing coach and mental coach. It’s just something I wouldn’t fathom back in my day.

You played at Ohio State from 1959 to 1963 and were always a zero or better handicap. Did you ever think about turning pro?

It’s funny, because when I practiced, I would always pretend I was making a putt to win the U.S. Open or some other major tournament. However, I always knew there was a level above what I played.

I saw Jack play, and I was at OSU when Tom Weiskopf was there. I saw two great golfers and knew they were always a step above me. I loved the game, and was pretty good at it, but I always knew there were players out there that were just a little bit better than I was.

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