GRANITEVILLE — Jack Nicklaus gave advice to the 54 participants in this week’s Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club on Wednesday night.
The bulk of it, however, was not about his playing career that produced 18 major championships and 73 PGA Tour victories.
Instead, Nicklaus focused on how he balanced his career and family life and offered his thoughts on what golf needs to do to grow the game.
He and his wife, Barbara, have five children and 22 grandchildren.
“I look to golf as a game,” said Nicklaus, who was accompanied by his wife of almost 53 years. “I never wanted golf to dominate my life.
“Barbara and I both came from family-oriented backgrounds. We both felt kids were far more important than any game. Golf was my vehicle to make a living, but we both felt that our family was by far the most important thing.”
He also said an important lesson is how to treat people.
“Most of these young men their ages are 14 to 18, and they are thinking, ‘Where am I going to get my next birdie and where’s the next tee?' ” Nicklaus said. “As you go you learn about your fellow competitors, and you learn about what life is all about.”
Proceeds from the Junior Invitational benefit the First Tee program, and Nicklaus has been involved with the initiative since its inception.
He said he traveled to Washington, D.C., in 2006 to speak on behalf of the First Tee, and came away inspired by the stories of two young people who had benefitted from the program and are now successful college students.
For his work with the First Tee, Nicklaus was presented the Founders Award by Joe Barrow Jr., chief executive officer of the First Tee.
“To see these young kids come out, it’s unbelievable where they would be in life, without the First Tee,” Nicklaus said.
Nicklaus is also committed to growing the game through his Jack Nicklaus Learning leagues.
“We had to go back and find out what is going on in the game of golf,” he said. “We found they are doing something else. Golf takes too long, golf is too hard, and golf is too expensive.”
Nicklaus did offer an opinion on the Tiger Woods’ rules incident at the Masters Tournament. Woods was penalized two strokes for taking an improper drop the day after it happened but was not disqualified.
“We had the best minds in the game of golf, the best officials in the world determining what Tiger’s fate was,” Nicklaus said. “They felt in the best interest of the game of golf that he should continue to play. If Tiger had withdrawn he would have been putting himself above the rules of the game. I think Tiger should not put himself above the rules, nor should the other players and people that criticized him.”
Nicklaus was also asked if he thought Woods, who has 14 career majors, will surpass his record of 18.
“I think he’s young enough to break my record. He has to win five majors to break my record,” he said. “But he has to win more majors, starting to age 37, than any player playing the game today has won.”
Then he paused.
“I still think Tiger will break my record,” Nicklaus said. “If I said anything different, there would be headlines in the newspaper tomorrow.”