DUBLIN, Ohio – The world of golf has dropped into Jack’s hometown in the Fall to play The Presidents Cup on a big college football weekend.
Think about it. Thursday through Sunday, golf in October, in the heartland. Not just garden variety golf. Two teams comprising 24 of the best golfers in the world, 12 from the U.S. vs. 12 from six countries on four different continents and one island. And not just any place in the heartland.
We’re talking dot-the-eye Ohio. Try this James Joyceian run-on for what’s going here:
The No. 4-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes would usually be lining up for 102,329 scarlet-and-grey-clad fans across town at The Horseshoe on Woody Hayes Drive on Saturday and the NFL Browns will be playing up the road in Cleveland on Thursday night and the NFL Bengals have the Patriots down the road in Cincinnati on Sunday and, yeah, it’s a good thing the Reds-Pirates National League Wild Card game isn’t until Tuesday and the Indians aren’t playing their American League Wild Card game until Wednesday and, frankly, there’s not a lot of guys who would have thought about pulling off this golf thing in a sports-crazed town like Columbus in the middle of sport-rich Ohio.
Then again, this particular Jack is not a lot of guys. One of the first things he and the committee did when the Oct. 3-6 Presidents Cup dates were set was work with the Big Ten Conference to make sure OSU wouldn’t have a home game on Oct. 5. Not only will the Buckeyes be playing at Northwestern on Saturday, they’ll be playing at night.
So golf gets the center stage at Jack’s Muirfield Village Golf Club, the only golf course in the world that will now have been the site for golf’s three major cup competitions: the Ryder Cup (1987), the Solheim Cup (1998) and Presidents Cup (2013). As accomplishments go, this one is, as the kids like to say, epic.
Or, as Jack said, “It’s a nice cherry on top of the whipped cream.”
Jack W. Nicklaus of Columbus, Ohio, is not a man whose first thought is why something can’t be done. That kind of thinking won’t win you your sixth Masters at the age of 46 with a final round of 65. Tom Weiskopf, also an Ohio native and former PGA TOUR player, was once asked on a CBS broadcast what Jack was thinking at the Masters and replied, “If I knew what he was thinking, I would have won this championship.”
For a crystalline insight into Nicklaus’s confidence and sense of moment, recall what he said to his son, who was caddying for him at the 1986 Masters, 215 yards from the green in the middle of the 15th fairway on Sunday, as he marched to his record 18th and final major championship victory: “How far do you think an eagle will go?”
He has always had that sense of moment. And now -- though he won’t be playing or captaining the U.S. side in The Presidents Cup matches (he is, after all, 73 years old) -- the host has had a ton to do with this present moment.
Nicklaus is a guy who makes it happen. When the original 2013 Presidents Cup announcement was made here during the 2010 Memorial Tournament, Nicklaus was flanked on the dais by PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem, and Jack Nicklaus II, the oldest of his four sons who is the chairman of the Memorial and general chairman of the Muirfield Village Golf Club – and whose correct answer to his dad’s question in the fairway on that golden Sunday back in 1986 was, “Let’s see it.”
Finchem, another guy with a record of making things happen, carefully considers what he says before he says it and studies every angle of each decision before he makes it. Odds are that what he said on that June morning in 2010 about awarding the 2013 Presidents Cup to Muirfield Village Golf Club will look pretty good in 2055 or 2060.
“I think, when you fast forward 45 or 50 years and look back on the history of The Presidents Cup, you will be able to point to Jack’s involvement early on as a real impetus to bringing it the world class attention that it gets today,” Finchem said.
Consider that there have been 35,000 tickets sold for each of the four days of competition at this Presidents Cup. It doesn’t take a math wizard, thankfully, to figure out that not even Ohio Stadium could hold the 140,000 golf fans that will inhabit Muirfield Village over four days starting Thursday.
What they will see at Muirfield Village will be a refined version of a stadium, with bleachers encircling the first tee and behind the greens at No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 6, No. 7, No. 8 and Nos. 10, 11, 12 13, 14 and 16. Seating will hold 8,500. The golf course, remember, was designed by Nicklaus to be a fan-friendly stadium course with plenty of sightlines from a variety of vantage points.
There will be 11 rookies playing -- 4 for the U.S., 7 for the Internationals. The U.S. squad is 7-1-1 in the biennial competition and, led by World No. 1 Tiger Woods and No. 3 Phil Mickelson, is rich in experience and, on paper, heavily favored to retain the Cup.
As its stock seems to be rising as an event, something to bear in mind about this 10th playing of The Presidents Cup is the old NYSE disclaimer: past performance is not an indicator of future success. As in any endeavor involving competition, history can be instructive. Since the inception of the Ryder Cup in 1927 through 1985, teams from Great Britain and Ireland (and all of Europe after 1979) won just four times and tied once in 32 events. The U.S. record was a lopsided 21-4-1, and had never lost on home turf.
All changed in 1987, when the underdog Europeans broke through right here at Muirfield Village for a 15-13 upset win. Since then Europe is 8-4-1 and currently holds the cup. Jack Nicklaus likes to joke about being the first U.S. captain, not to mention host, to lose on U.S. soil as well as the only U.S. Presidents Cup captain to lose at all.
So, yeah, there’s always the possibility something like that could happen here this week. Maybe the 21-year-old Japanese rookie sensation, Hideki Matsuyama, gets hot. Or the veteran Ernie Els inspires the South African contingent of Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Branden Grace and Richard Sterne and Masters champion Adam Scott leads his fellow Aussies, Jason Day and Marc Leishman. Stuff happens in match play.
Whichever way it goes, Nicklaus takes the long view, recognizing that 1987 not only marked the first victory for Europe in the U.S., it was the first time the Ryder Cup was an economic success, something it’s continued to be ever since. For its part, The Presidents Cup has distributed more than $27 million to charities since its inception in 1994.
That, too, is part of Jack’s focus this week as his hometown comes together to support The Presidents Cup.
“They’ll make a great event out of it, it’ll be a great competition,” he said. “Columbus is thrilled to have it and I’m thrilled to have it. It’s great to be able to have special events such as the Ryder Cup, or the Solheim Cup or the Presidents Cup or the U.S. Amateur or the U.S.G.A. Junior Amateur. We want to be, and are, part of helping grow the game of golf.”