Wearing some trendy shades and smiling broadly as he approached the second green at Augusta National Golf Club, this gentleman was dressed in normal golf attire just like the thousands of other patrons enjoying the greatest golf tournament in the world.
Curiously, the driver of the cart actually did look quite familiar, as it was the Emmy Award-winning sportscaster Jim Gray, who was covering the prestigious event for television.
But the other guy seemed to be way out of place on a golf course, because that’s not where I ever expected to see … Jack Nicholson!
18 UNDER PAR? DEPT. It was 1997, the year Tiger Woods took home the first of his four green jackets, and Nicholson and Gray were following him around the front nine.
The actor got out of the cart and climbed up one of the photographer stands in order to see Woods attempt to putt for birdie on the par-5 hole.
After Woods made his bird (he broke the all-time course record that year with his 12-stroke victory over Tom Kite), Nicholson ambled slowly down the steps, virtually ignored by the golf fans.
I was only 20 feet away from one of my all-time favorite actors and found myself frozen with fear and trepidation.
I knew I had to say something to him or else I would have never forgiven myself. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance but one question remained: what could I ask Nicholson that wouldn’t casually be blown off or even worse, ridiculed by the world-renowned figure?
THANK GOD FOR CAFFEINE DEPT. Fortified by numerous Diet Cokes and egg salad sandwiches, I walked up to Nicholson and arrived right as he was getting off the platform ladder. I smiled, stuck out my hand and said cheerily, “Welcome to Augusta, Mr. Nicholson. Can you believe how fast that green is? Are you having a good time?”
Jack, perhaps taken aback by the unexpected accosting/greeting on the course, offered his best “Here’s Johnny” grin and said “you betcha I am, buddy.” We shook hands and I told him, “I hope you have a great time in Augusta.”
He thanked me, walked back to the cart, got in, and Gray drove away to the next tee.
That was it. It was over almost as quickly as it began. But I certainly did have the most impressive story at my friend Charles Hilburn’s Masters party that night. One’s just gotta love bragging rights among friends, y’know.
DID THE TWO JAKES THREE-PUTT? DEPT. As I later discovered, Nicholson’s presence on the course should not have been surprising. At the time, he was an avid 10- to 12-handicap golfer and played regularly. Nicholson caddied as a teen in his native New Jersey and later became a member of the prestigious Hollywood-area Bel Air and Lakeside golf courses.
His absence from the Pebble Beach pro-am tournaments (he semi-jokingly says that television can’t afford him) that gives Bill Murray so much golf notoriety is probably to blame for that misconception.
Sure, Nicholson’s been spotted for years at Lakers’ games in LA, but that’s basketball. Jack, like millions of others, also loves to tee it up!
WHOM HAVE YOU MET? DEPT. Sure, meeting Nicholson (especially on a golf course) was the last thing I thought would happen that day. I’m certain that many of you readers have had similar experiences in meeting someone famous in the unlikeliest of places … and we want to hear all about them!
Was it a well-known actor at a restaurant? A rock musician in a church? Maybe it was a singer at a Baskin-Robbins, just as many locals experienced when James Brown would visit the company’s original ice cream parlor that once was located in Daniel Village.
Send us your stories and we will print some of the most unusual ones. Give us details, no matter how good, bad, or embarrassing they might be.
Yes, one never knows when they might just run into a McMurphy, a Col. Jessup, or even a Joker just as I did so unexpectedly 16 years ago.