BLAINE, Minn. – Jack Nicklaus was grinding. It was 15 minutes before his 12:20 p.m. tee time at the Greats of Golf, a best-ball exhibition at TPC Twin Cities, and he couldn’t find his swing.
“I can’t play at all,” Nicklaus complained an hour earlier during a pre-round press conference. “I played yesterday in the pro-am and I threw a total perfect game.”
A perfect game? “I had a no-hitter. I never hit one shot on the face of the club for 18 holes,” he said.
Those of us in the press tent have heard Nicklaus bemoaning the disappearance of his game for years. But Nicklaus, 76, proceeded to hit a collection of heeled woods, thinned irons, and fatted wedges. There was reason for concern. Hall of Famer Lanny Wadkins, loitering on the range and looking for nuggets for the Golf Channel telecast, stood behind Nicklaus as he tried to dig it out of the dirt.
“Pretty good, Jack. You almost took a divot,” Wadkins cracked.
Here came Lee Trevino to the rescue. The Merry Mex said he’d been watching his longtime rival and friend from the opposite end of the range.
“You’ve got the ball too far forward. Move it back six inches,” Trevino instructed.
“I’ve played it there my whole life,” Nicklaus said.
“Yeah, well, you weren’t 76 then,” Trevino teased. “We’re getting so old we can find our own Easter Eggs.”
It was the equivalent of Magic Johnson telling Larry Bird to tweak his release on his jumper or Andre Agassi suggesting to Pete Sampras he step closer to the service line to rip another ace. It was an unforgettable scene to see two of the all-time greats still swinging, still caring, still delighting the crowds.
“If you think we’re here just to goof around, we’re not,” Nicklaus said. “We want to have fun but we still want to win.”
The 3M Greats of Golf is golf’s old timer’s day. It is a four-team, four-person hit-n-giggle good times. Dave Stockton, Tony Jacklin, Andy North and Tom Weiskopf posted 17 under to win the crystal, but along the way fans were entertained by Pat Bradley chipping in for eagle, Bill Rogers turning the clock back to his magical 1981 season, and David Graham holing a putt he described as “a rat going down a drain pipe.” It’s a chance to see Nancy Lopez smile, Annika Sorenstam shoot her lasers, and Ben Crenshaw’s silky-smooth stroke. Watching them takes 20 years off your age.
Fred Funk had to withdraw from the tournament-proper when his back locked up, but there he was in shorts and a T-shirt to follow Nicklaus, Trevino, Graham and Jerry Pate.
“How could I miss this?” he said.
Using Trevino’s swing tip, Nicklaus came to life as he has so many times before. On the 10th hole, he socked a drive and Pate asked, tongue firmly set in cheek, “Jack, have you ever thought of playing this game for a living?”
And when Nicklaus connected “on the screws,” as the expression went in his heyday, he turned to Trevino and said, “I couldn’t have done it without that little lesson you gave me. Guarantee it.”
At the Greats of Golf, that’s what teammates are for.