Back in 1980, Jack Nicklaus gave his son Jackie a Father’s Day lesson to remember

Jack Nicklaus book cover and photo

At the 1980 U.S. Open, Jack was a winner, times two.

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On Father’s Day in 1980, Jack Nicklaus was doing what he loved most — being a dad.

And I — 18 years old at the time — was being selfish. I had just completed my second round in a Palm Beach County Junior Golf Association tournament. I was at the scorer’s table that late-Sunday afternoon signing my scorecard when somebody yelled over to me that my dad was on the telephone.

I was a little frustrated about the timing of the call because the tourney was still being played. At that moment for me, this junior golf tournament was the most important thing going on in the world. I had just graduated from high school and signed a golf scholarship to play at the University of North Carolina. I picked up the telephone receiver. Dad asked me how I played.

Well, I hadn’t scored very well, but I proceeded to describe my entire round, hole by hole, shot by shot, whether I lifted my head during a swing, misread a putt — whether it went left instead of straight — or if the ball slowed against the grain. Literally, I went on and on for 20 straight minutes.

Dad patiently and intently listened. He responded with questions about why I thought I might have made certain mistakes as I rehashed my 18 holes.

jack nicklaus after his win at the 1980 U.S. Open
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When I told him I was having problems with my chipping, he promised we’d work on it when we both got home. He was so interested, generous and genuinely wanted to hear about it. All of it. As I finally finished, there was a short silence. I was about to thank Dad for calling me and say goodbye.

Then Dad said, “Jackie, would you like to know how your dad did today?”

A little embarrassed, I quickly said, “Well, yes, how did you do today?”

“Well, I just won the U.S. Open.”

That was Dad. The Golden Bear had just set a new tournament scoring record to win his fourth U.S. Open title, at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. And he was on the telephone, some 1,200 miles away, asking me how my round went at a junior golf tournament.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but Dad taught me a valuable lesson that Father’s Day. It’s a lesson that I have grown to understand and tried to incorporate into my daily life as a husband and a father to five children. That junior golf tournament has no meaning for me to this day, but Dad’s telephone call still resonates deeply. A good parent always makes time to listen to his or her children.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. Dad could have quickly changed the direction of our conversation that Sunday afternoon 40 years ago. That was a big, big day for him, having not won a tournament the year before, in 1979, the first year in 17 he had gone winless as a professional. The experts and pundits believed that, at age 40, he was past his prime. But minutes after making history with a new U.S. Open scoring record of 272, he telephoned me to see how I had played.

That is just one of many examples throughout my life when Dad made me his top priority. He always made a point to arrange his schedule to meet mine. Just as important, Dad was always there to listen.

Adapted from Best Seat in the House: 18 Golden Lessons from a Father to His Son, by Jack Nicklaus II and Don Yaeger. Copyright 2021. Reprinted with permission of Thomas Nelson Publishing.

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