The golf cart rolled to a stop at Creighton Farms, the private links in the countryside of Aldie. After a minute or so, the course’s designer emerged from the passenger seat and took a dozen careful steps toward a gaggle of reporters, leaning on his cane for support––none other than legend of the game Jack Nicklaus.
Nicklaus, 81, blamed the cane on a recent pickleball injury. But it wasn’t going to keep him from appearing at the August 23 tournament to benefit his foundation, which supports the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami and a series of children’s outpatient clinics throughout Florida. Though he couldn’t play in the annual Creighton Farms Invitational himself, Nicklaus joined his wife of 61 years, Barbara, to appear with the pro golfers and amateurs, taking photos with each foursome.
He also made time for a wide-ranging interview, addressing everything from the number of golf games he’s played this year (two) to his endorsement of Donald Trump before the 2020 presidential election (unrepentant).
A few takeaways from the conversation with Nicklaus, who, with 18 major championships to his name, is arguably the greatest golf player of all time:
- He started his Nicklaus Children’s Healthcare Foundation because his little girl once swallowed a crayon. In 1966, a nervous Jack and Barbara Nicklaus watched their 11-month-old daughter, Nan, get whisked in and out of hospitals with a mysterious, persistent choking problem. The cause turned out to be a piece of crayon in her lung. “We weren’t in a position then to help others––we were just young kids,” says Jack now. “But sitting in that waiting room, we said to each other, ‘If we’re ever in a position to help anyone, we want to help children.’”
- Remember Nicklaus for his prowess with a putter or for his charitable endeavors––it doesn’t matter to him.“I don’t really care about my legacy,” says Nicklaus. “I just want to make sure we leave the world a better place than when we came.” While he’s clearly proud of his philanthropy––since 2004, his Foundation has raised nearly $200 million for children’s health facilities––he’s also very much aware that golf made it possible. “This is far more important than any four-foot putt I ever made, right?” he says. “Well, I had to make a few four-foot putts before I got myself in this position.”
- He is perfectly willing to ask for your money for his charity. Today, that is. “I used to walk into an office to see somebody to ask him for $1,000, and I couldn’t do that,” says Nicklaus. “I don’t mind wanting to have $10 million now. I have no problem with that at all.”
- He doesn’t care what you think of his Trump endorsement. It came in the form of a six-paragraph tweet in October 2020, with Nicklaus maintaining, “This is not a personality contest; it’s about patriotism.” Nicklaus says he wrote it at after getting a call from Vice President Mike Pence, who allegedly told him Trump found it awkward to personally ask for the plug. The golfer says that earlier that year, at his request, his longtime friend Trump had gone out of his way to amend the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (aka the CARES Act) to provide funds to freestanding children’s hospitals, which were not included in the original bill. “That wouldn’t have happened without Trump caring about that and wanting to do it, says Nicklaus. “But did he get any credit for it? No, of course not. But that’s all right. He didn’t care about that at this point.”
- Yes, the younger guys on tour look up to him. Did you even wonder? “A lot of them come to me quite often,” says Nicklaus. “They want to pick my brain about this or that. It’s very flattering. I mean, how many 43-year-olds pick an 80-year-old’s brain and then listen to it? It’s kept me young.”
- The stories of the kids his foundation has helped still make him cry. “I just get tears running down my face every time I talk about these kids,” says Nicklaus, wiping at his cheek as he tells the group about one little girl born with half a heart, one lung, and a virtual death sentence from doctors, who defied the odds to graduate from kindergarten recently. “I mean, you want to talk about it?” he says. “It’s pretty neat.”
For more stories like this, subscribe to our Senior Living newsletter.