Memo To: Website browsers, fans, golfers.
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The Quintessential Golfer
Those of you who have been coming to this website for the two years of its existence know that I am a great fan of golf and do some golfing myself -- a shaky 16 handicap these days. I’m also a fan of competition and of excellence. I’m always on the lookout for the best, and when I find it, I keep looking, knowing the best will be challenged. Some of my friends do not take me as seriously as they should. Some years back, after a round with my buddy Jimmy Barnes, I bought him a beer to celebrate his breaking 90. “Jimmy,” I said, “you have got to be the best ‘26’ at the club, referring to his lofty handicap.” He smiled and with a little wink said “I try to be the best at everything I do.”
Well, I always watch at least the last round of the Master’s, and it was with great pleasure that I cheered Jack Nicklaus yesterday, as he came just a few strokes from winning his seventh Masters, at age 58. Mark O’Meara won with minus nine. The Golden Bear came in at minus five, placing sixth in the field, the oldest player to finish in the top ten at Augusta. A year ago, I wrote two “Memos on the Margin” celebrating Tiger Woods, who won his first Masters as a professional going away. Nicklaus, at that point considered the greatest golfer of all time, was the first to suggest that in Tiger Woods, we may be seeing his superior. How poignant it was, then, to see Jack out there finishing ahead of the kid, who struggled to a minus three. I don’t plan to be around when Tiger is 58, but what we saw yesterday was one more challenge from Jack Nicklaus to Tiger and all the Tigers to follow. We all know that Tiger could be the greatest of them all, as long as he does not weaken. Jack gave him a reminder of that yesterday afternoon.
Here is the brief editorial I wrote for The Wall Street Journal the day after Nicklaus won his fifth Masters, 23 years ago. It looks better than ever today.
April 15, 1975
The Quintessential Golfer
There is something very satisfying in being able to identify the greatest anything of all time, but the opportunity to do so is exceedingly rare. Is Babe Ruth still the greatest baseball player of all time? Can we say with certainty that Secretariat was the best racehorse? Caruso the premier tenor? Abe Lincoln the man to beat at the White House? There are even minority views on “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”
But then there is Jack William Nicklaus. The Golden Bear has so clearly established himself as the quintessential golfer that if minority views exist on the issue, they have been driven into embarrassed silence. In winning his fifth Masters tournament at Augusta over the weekend, he climbed further into that class that he now occupies only by himself, so much so that golf fans must feel some sympathy for those who must compete with him contemporaneously. At the moment, in no other human endeavor we can think of must professionals compete against a living, breathing absolute standard. Imagine a young playwright shooting for the top in the time of Aristophanes or Shakespeare, or a would-be pillager trying to become quintessential when Genghis Khan was in his prime.
If you can imagine that, it might be possible to know how Tom Weiskopf felt in being second again, or understand what young Johnny Miller faces in striving for the ultimate title. There are only a few things we know for sure these days. Twelve inches equals a foot. Mt. Everest is the highest mountain. And Jack Nicklaus is the greatest golfer of all time.