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Letter to My Younger Self

Mar 13 2019
Photo by
James Drake/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images
Photo by
James Drake/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images
Mar 13 2019
D

ear 10-year-old Jack,

I know you love Dad. He’s your best friend, your mentor — your hero.

You do everything with him. He teaches you how to shoot a free throw, hit a curveball, throw a tight spiral. You’ve been going to Buckeye football games with him in Columbus since you were six, and guess what? You won’t miss one until you’re 20.

You recall that a few years ago, Dad got hurt playing volleyball. It wasn’t bad, but you remember his friends carrying him in the front door, his ankle purple and bandaged. He couldn’t play with you as much as you were used to. The doctors later told him that, aside from his job running a few pharmacies near the Ohio State campus, he had to stay active. He was a good athlete, and he could have chosen a number of sports, but he picked golf.

Golf?

You didn’t know a whole lot about it. And for a few years, you weren’t really too interested.

But today, Jack, you should go bug Dad before he heads to the course. Maybe give his pant leg a tug, or meet him in the driveway. Ask him if you can tag along. Tell him you want to learn a little bit about the game.

He’ll take you along — most of it will seem foreign to you.

You’ll carry his bag. He’ll play a hole or two, before his ankle starts bothering him.. He’ll sit down and rest for a few minutes.

It’s at that time, I want you to walk over, grab a club out of his bag, and take a swing.

Nicklaus Family Archives

Copy your Dad.  

Let your feet feel free. Take the club back, but take it back with power — let your right elbow go loose, channel some of that baseball strength you’ve built up — pause for a split second at the top, and then just unload.

It’s going to feel great. It’s going to feel natural. It’s going to feel right.

You’ll do this for a few weeks. In the hot, sticky, Upper Arlington summer, you’ll fall in love with the game. After a while, Dad’s going to ask you if you want to really learn about the game.

Say yes.

Because the man you’ll meet next will change your life.

Dad will take you over to Scioto Country Club, two blocks from the house. You’ve lived close for a long time, but you’ve never really had a reason to go there. It’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen. The whole landscape looks amazing and fresh that time of the year. The grass is greener, and the sand is whiter than you’ve ever imagined. It’s a Friday morning, school’s been out for a while. Dad will drop you off, there will be kids everywhere. Golf bags banging around, balls rolling around — it’s a scene. It’s your first lesson. It’s warm. There’s too many people. And then you’ll meet the instructor.

“Hi, everyone. How are we doing? My name’s Jack Grout. I’m going to teach you how to play golf.”

Something about him sticks with you. The way he sees the game, the way he talks about the game, it all makes sense. He’s a bit like Dad in that way. When you’d be in the backyard with him, and he’d be showing you where your fingers should go on the laces of the football to throw a spiral — the way he’d speak, you just got it. Not everything in life will come to you like that. School isn’t the easiest, I know. And there will be other things that you’ll battle with soon.

But when you’re at Scioto with Mr. Grout, it’ll come easy. After a few weeks of lessons, he’ll call out to you while everyone else is hitting balls.

“Jackie boy, come over here. Come show these kids how to hit a fade, or one of those draws you’ve been doing! Show ’em how to take a proper divot!”

You’ll do it. And the other kids will just stare at you. Then you’ll get back to work. The whole summer of 1950, you’ll work. Bucket after bucket of balls, swing after swing, divot after divot.

The whole summer of 1950, you’ll work. Bucket after bucket of balls, swing after swing, divot after divot.

Then one day, there’s going to be a bill in the mail. Dad will go grab it. Then he’ll yell your name in that voice … that voice is trouble, you know it. He’ll be holding a bill from Scioto.

“Three hundred dollars, Jack?”

At this moment, hold your ground, young man.

You’ll say this to him. “Dad, you told me you wanted me to learn how to play golf….”

He’ll say, “Yes, but $300 worth of range balls?”

Now you got ’im.

“I don’t just want to learn the game — I want to be great at it.”

Dad doesn’t like to back down. But you’ll impress him. And then, after a few more bills in the mail, they’ll eventually stop coming. Mr. Grout will start ignoring your range fees, because he believes in you. Because he’s a great, great man. You’ll start taking private lessons with him. His kindness, his care — it will never leave you.

Bill Foley/Jack Nicklaus Museum

Remember, Jack, the influence he had on you. Remember how important it is to take time with kids. Remember it’s the little things that, in the end, make the biggest difference.

Keep up your summer routine. You’ll find this nice path from your house, through a neighbor’s yard, right to the fourth tee of Scioto. If you get there early enough, you can play as the sun is coming up. You can play the fourth hole, tee shot at five, and then skip over to the ninth, then play into the clubhouse. You can finish your morning round before the members start getting there. Your day is just beginning. Come in around noon, duck out of the sun after that round, grab some lunch, then head to the range. Free balls now, remember. Get your practice in. Grab a snack, go meet Mr. Grout for a quick lesson. Then, as soon as four o’clock rolls around, and juniors are allowed to play again — get out there. Another round, another 18 holes to improve. The sun will start to fade by the time you hit 18. That big, long par five (at least that’s what it was then). You can barely see the flag. But the back nine, that’s where you’ll come alive, and you have to finish strong — don’t go forgetting that.

Remember how important it is to take time with kids. Remember it’s the little things that, in the end, make the biggest difference.

That summer, something very special will happen. The 1950 PGA Championship will come to Scioto.

During the tournament, Mr. Grout will take you into the clubhouse on the weekend. You’ll meet Sam Snead, Skip Alexander, Lloyd Mangrum, Bob Hamilton and a few others. They’ll ruffle your hair, give you a few pointers, sign a few hats and gloves. You’ll be mesmerized by their play. It’s almost like they’ll be playing a different game than you. All the shots you’ll have hit at Scioto, they’ll look different to you now.

The next time you get out there, pretend you’re Snead, or Mangrum. Pretend you have that type of ability.

See what happens. See where that confidence takes you.


When you turn 13, Jack, something scary is going to happen. But I need you to be strong, because it’s important, and you need to remember it.

You’re going to think you have the flu. It will seem strange at first. You’ll go to the doctors, and they won’t say much. But you’ll start losing weight fast. Nearly 20 pounds in a week. Your game will desert you. You’ll play nine holes with a friend, and you’ll shoot 53. That’s a number you haven’t seen in years. You won’t know who to talk to. Then you’ll go down to Lancaster with a friend for a best-ball tournament. You guys won’t use a single one of your shots. The ride back, you’ll feel worse than ever. It’s a helpless feeling.

The next day, Dad will come grab you from the range. He’ll have news about your sister, Marilyn.

“We just took Marilyn in … the doctors said she has polio. You need to go get checked again.”

They’ll tell you you’re just overcoming a bout of polio and should feel better soon. Marilyn is going to battle with it for a year, but she’ll be O.K. You’ll see how hard it is — how unfair it is. It will frustrate you that there isn’t an easier way to help her, to make her feel like herself again. In a couple of years, there will be a vaccine, and your sister will be back to normal. But the experience you have with hospitals, disease, and other children who are suffering … keep that in your mind. A day will come when you can help kids who are hurting like that. You’ll know — you’ll remember — what it’s like to feel helpless, and you’ll want to help. Don’t ignore that feeling, ever.

In 1954, once all your symptoms have are gone and you’re feeling like yourself again, you’re going to start playing some of the best golf of your life. You’ll play in the Ohio Amateur up at Sylvania Country Club near Toledo.

Bill Foley/Jack Nicklaus Museum

I want you to get into a special habit now: When you have a big tournament — a real big one — you should get to the club a few days early, and play as many practice rounds the week before as you can. It might seem like common sense, but not everyone does it. And it can make the difference come the final round.

So go up to Sylvania on Tuesday, and get to playing.

Nobody else will be out there. It will be pouring down rain. But it might rain on the weekend, so take notes on how the course feels, how it plays. When you’re done with your round, you’ll walk back to the clubhouse to get out of the rain.

But as you’re about to reach for the door, you’ll see a figure on the range. He’s around your height, but he’s just … bigger. His forearms look like tree branches, his legs like stumps. He’ll be pinging iron after iron. Stingers. Rockets.

The rain will start coming down sideways. He won’t even look up.

Go sit. Watch him. Take it in.

After a few minutes, you’re going to be drenched, it’ll be too much. You can try to wait him out, maybe get his name as he heads back inside. But he’s not going anywhere. He might still be there, right now, as I write this.

So go inside. Get dry, Jack.

Try to find someone who can tell you his name.

Eventually you will.

“Oh, that guy on the range?” they’ll say.

“That’s our defending champion, Arnold Palmer.”


You know Arnie. Even in 1954, at just 14 years old, you’ll know who he is. If you’re from Ohio and you’ve ever gripped a golf club, you know Arnie.

He’ll beat you that week. The same way he beat an entire field of the country’s best at the U.S Amateur a few months before. He’s a spectacular player. A gentleman. You’ll cross paths a few more times here and there over the next couple of years. Every time, his swing will blow you away. It won’t be for a few more years until you really get a chance to measure up to him.

In that time, if you work hard enough, you’ll accomplish one of your life-long dreams: You’ll attend The Ohio State University.

You’ll finally be a Buckeye, Jack.

And during your first week on campus, you’ll meet an angel.

Outside Mendenhall Lab, right near Hagerty Drive, you’ll see your friend Mary, with a new pal of hers, Barbara.

You’ll walk Barbara down to her next class. Right away, you’ll know … she’s special.

You should call her that night, Jack, you should.

She’ll play it cool, she always does.

You know what she’ll tell you, Jack?

Listen to this one ….

She’ll say, “Well, I MIGHT have some free time in a few weeks.”

Eventually, you’ll go on a wonderful date.

Barbara, she’s the one. You’ll know.

Well, I MIGHT have some free time in a few weeks.

As your golf game grows at school, there’ll be invitations to the Walker Cup team and you’ll win a National Amateur, too. But there will be this nagging feeling … like you aren’t sure if you belong with the pros yet. Use that. Let it fuel you.

In 1960, play your heart out in the U.S Open. You’ve been a good amateur for a while now, but you need to prove something. And, if you let that swing be free … let the game come to you, you’ll have success. And, boy, Jack, let me tell you — that week will change your life. In Cherry Hills, you’ll finish second to that guy, Arnie. He’ll put on a show in the final round, a 65. Incredible stuff. You’ll see how it’s done.

But more important, you’ll finally know that, yes, you belong with those guys.

So go pro. Don’t look back. No more selling insurance or studying about pharmacy for you. You have something in you, something worth pursuing, worth giving your everything for.

Something worth sharing with the world.

In 1962, you’ll get your moment. After thousands of hours on the range and more near-misses and losses than you’ll be able to remember, 1962 will come, and it will be magic.

That year, the U.S. Open will be held at Oakmont. A monster of a course. Big, daunting, unforgiving. And close to where Arnie grew up. That week, you’ll play each other tight. Seemingly every time you look up at that leaderboard, his name will be right beside yours. The crowd will begin to turn on you. Hold your focus. Block them out. You’ve fought Arnie’s Army before, but remember this: You’ll never have to fight Arnie. He’s a class act.

But goodness, that crowd will be something.

The final round will come and go, you’ll drop a 69. Good enough for top of the leaderboard, but you have company — Arnie won’t quit. So a playoff it is. Once more around Oakmont, 18 holes against that kid you saw ripping irons in the pouring rain a few years ago.

Bettmann/Getty ImagesThere’ll be ups and downs in the playoff. It’ll seem like 10,000 people are out to get you. But those lessons from Mr. Grout will come back to you. You’ll remember Scioto, the hot summers, the endless sessions when you hit balls for hours and the only thing you heard was the club head driving into the grass.

You’ll go into a special zone on the back nine. You won’t hear much. Arnie will waver, if just for a few shots — enough of a gap for you to hold him off. He’s human, after all. And in the end, you’ll be a U.S. Open Champion.

You’ll look over to your mom and dad.

Their faces will say it all.

Champion.

Pretty good, Jack. Pretty good.

You’ll battle Arnie again over the years, and he’ll carry himself with grace and honor every time. After most rounds, he’ll ask you and Barbara to get dinner. That’s just who he was.

The king.


Jack, I could tell you stories for hours. I could tell you about the Sundays against Arnie, the green jackets — the life that’s ahead of you. But, you know what? I don’t want to spoil it. That’s not why I wrote this piece.

I’m writing this because one day, Jack, you’re going to have a baby girl with that beautiful woman you met outside Mendenhall Lab. You’ll name her Nancy — and call her Nan. She and her four brothers will be the best thing that ever happen to you.

One day, before Nan turns a year old, she’s going to start coughing, and then choking, and you won’t know why. You and Barbara will take her down to the Children’s Hospital in Columbus. They’ll find that she has a crayon in her windpipe. When the doctors try to get it out, it will break up and go into her lungs. She’ll get pneumonia. It’ll scare the life out of you and Barbara. But Nan will be okay.

Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

When you’re in that hospital, something will click for you. You’ll remember when you and Marilyn had polio. You’ll remember your visits to the doctor. You’ll remember the sick kids you saw all those years ago. That feeling of helplessness that once felt so vivid will come back, but this time it’s for your own child. It’ll light a fire in you and Barbara.

And I wish that this feeling could come to you earlier, or under better circumstances, but you’ll realize that day that if you get the chance to give back — to make a difference outside of golf, that it’s children who deserve the extra help, the extra love.

You and that guy — yes, Arnie — will team up to help create something called the PGA Tour. You will start to see what a powerful vehicle the game you so love is for giving back.  That same Tour, built on competition among the game’s very best, will inspire you and others to band together to bring a positive impact on people’s lives. That same Tour, led by the efforts of you and Arnie, will stand proudly more than 50 years later to say that it is about to surpass $3 billion in charitable fundraising.

One day you will also stand proudly in our nation’s Capitol. Surrounded by statues of those who shaped our country, members of Congress will hang a gold medal around your neck as a tribute and a thank-you for sharing yourself with the world and with countless in need. You will stand there telling people about how this game of chasing a white ball into a white hole on green grass raises more money for charity than any other sport your father showed you as a boy.

This same sport will teach you how to give back to your community, to families less fortunate, and to children in need.

It will take some time, but in 1976, a great vision of your family’s, the Memorial Tournament, will come to life. You’ll work with the same Columbus Children’s Hospital that saved Nan’s life—one that would later be called Nationwide Children’s Hospital—for them to become the main beneficiary of the event. Over the course of five decades, you will see some $33 million raised by the Memorial, and most of that going to that “little” Children’s Hospital down the street. You and Barb will go by there and you’ll see the difference the tournament is making. It will change your life, I promise you.

And I promise you this, too: Your work with kids will be more important than any four-foot putt you’ll make in your life.

I promise.

There will be countless putts, though, and many of them memorable. Perhaps none more special than those made on an April Sunday in 1986. You will walk around Augusta National — a place so special to you and your father, because of its connection to your dad’s hero Bob Jones—that magical day in 1986 and win a sixth Masters Tournament. Under a green jacket, you will be wearing a yellow shirt. It was the color of choice that day, and by design. It was your tribute to a young fan who lost his life at age 13 because of cancer. That color yellow would decades later become a rallying cry for you, the PGA Tour, and all within the game of golf to help sick children being treated at children’s hospitals around the country. Remembers these two words: Play Yellow.

I promise you this: Your work with kids will be more important than any four-foot putt you’ll make in your life.

Eventually you’ll start a foundation. It will bear your name, but more important, its mission will be about helping children — first in your backyard and then in backyards around the world. You’ll begin working closely with the Miami Children’s Hospital, and your impact will be so great that you will witness them place your name on the hospital. I know this seems distant, and crazy to think about. But always, always keep it on your mind, Jack.

Your foundation will raise more than $100 million in what seems like the blink of an eye. The hospital in Miami will create 14 outpatient clinics up and down the coasts of Florida — again proudly bearing your name — meaning no child will ever have to leave the state to receive world-class healthcare. The hospital, a six-floor pediatric care center, will have 189 beds. Countless new state-of-the-art machines will be brought in every year to keep improving the facility. Every time you go down to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, you’ll meet nurses and doctors who will tell you stories that will bring you so much joy, and usually a tear to your eye. You’ll meet kids who have been coming back for years — kids who came in sick, who were healed, and who come back to help out with other kids.

That, right there, Jack, is what it’s all about.

So, Jack, when you get out there today with Dad, try and remember some of this. Don’t forget to let that elbow go loose. Don’t forget to give Barbara a call. Don’t forget to go to dinner with Arnie.

And most of all, don’t forgive to give back.

The game will give you so much. But what you give in return, that’s how you want to be remembered.

Trust me.

– Jack


To learn more about The Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, and to see how you can help out, please visit https://www.nchcf.org/