Chip Shots: Emotional interviews behind the 18th green

Jack’s Farewell Tour

I must begin by giving a big shout out to my friend Brandel Chamblee at Golf Channel for the reminder that I was part of an amazing chain of events at the four biggest championships in golf. What is amazing about these events is they involve the two greatest players of all time, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Four stories, four locations, all with the same result. So improbable that it reads like a low budget, unbelievable four-chapter Hollywood script.

I assume most of you know that Jack Nicklaus still holds the record for winning the most major titles, with an incredible tally of 18 combined with 19 second-place finishes. Another stat that further defines Jack’s greatness is that from the 1967 U.S. Open to the 1998 U.S. Open, he competed in 154 consecutive major championships for which he was eligible. Over that span, he finished in the top ten 73 times.

Chapter One unfolded at one of the most iconic golf venues in the world on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, Pebble Beach Golf Links. When Nicklaus let it be known that the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble would be his last, no one was surprised. He had won four U.S. Open Championships, including one at Pebble Beach back in 1972, but in the 2000 version, with Nicklaus having no chance to make the cut, huge crowds gathered to witness him finish the 18th hole for the last time in a U.S. Open. Strange but true, Jack reached the par five in two but was so overwhelmed with emotion that he three-putted for a par. Needless to say, my interview with Jack just behind the 18th green was an emotional one . . . for both of us. NOTE: Tiger went on to victory.

Chapter Two finds us at the 2000 PGA Championship at the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, KY. Nicklaus was in the field but had announced this would be his last PGA Championship. As Nicklaus walked up to his 36th hole, he knew he needed to eagle the 18th to make the cut. He missed that eagle just by inches and the five-time PGA Champion’s competitive days had come to an end. And, you guessed it, another emotional interview behind the 18th green. NOTE: Tiger Woods went on to win after a dramatic playoff with Bob May.

Chapter Three. The Masters. Nicklaus had always said that saying farewell to the Masters, as a competitor, would be difficult. The Golden Bear’s first Masters took place in 1959 when he was only 19. In his Master’s debut, he missed the cut by only one shot and then went on to play three Masters as an amateur. In his incredible career, Nicklaus won a record-setting six Green Jackets, the first of which was in 1963 and the last, 23 years later, in 1986. As you can imagine, Jack was welcomed by a standing ovation as he arrived at every green on that April Friday in 2005. And yes, you guessed it: I was the first member of the media to interview Nicklaus in 1986 and once again had the privilege in his farewell Masters in 2005. NOTE: Tiger won the 2005 Masters.

For Chapter Four, we crossed the Atlantic to the Home of Golf, St. Andrews. As Jack approached the 18th green in 2005 for the final time, the scene was electrifying. Thousands of fans and every player possible participated in the loudest standing ovation I had ever heard. As I was standing green side and had already talked to Jack’s wife, Barbara, and their oldest son, Jackie, on our live talkSPORT broadcast, I could see that Jack was clearly overwhelmed with emotion as he prepared to putt. So, what happened next? Naturally, a storybook ending . . . the greatest player of all time gathered himself and just knocked in his 10-ft. downhill, side hill putt for birdie. I swear the entire village of St Andrews was on hand to cheer this great golfer. NOTE: It was Tiger who took home the Claret Jug.

So, as Nicklaus said his goodbyes from Pebble Beach to Louisville, Augusta, and St Andrews, there were three constants. Golf fans had a chance to show their appreciation for Jack, Tiger showed he was ready to assume his role as heir apparent in the world of major championships, and I was privileged to interview Jack after each one.

As Jack was saying four emotional goodbyes in the majors as a competitor, Tiger was quietly saying hello by winning all four. Tiger’s major count currently stands at 14 and counting now that he’s healthy again.

bobthevoiceofgolf@gmail.com