They just stared at me some more.
Too bad. I really was going to steal that NICKLAUS.
Jack showed up beaming. He loves opening days. "If we open 10 courses this year, those will be 10 of the most enjoyable days of my year," he said. "This is the fruit of all your work. You finally get to see it."
He'd been working on this course for almost two years, but he'd never seen the finished product. That would be like having painted a canvas over the phone from 3,000 miles away. You'd want to finally see what the picture looks like.
There was a whole rigmarole on the 1st tee when former president Gerald Ford showed up. He and Nicklaus chatted warmly about their wives. Very nice. Ford looked good, but he seemed taller and thinner than he used to be. Then the developer showed up and made a little speech you could hardly hear, and then Nicklaus took over and proceeded to entertain the 300 or so people following us for the next four hours.
Nicklaus was miked, and a huge speaker accompanied us down the fairway so the 300 could hear his every thought on anything that came up. And plenty did. On one hole he said, "If you want to drive this green, I'd suggest using a cart." Another time his playing partner, Pentti Tofferi, then the Summit head pro, outdrove him, and Nicklaus didn't know it. He walked to Tofferi's ball, even though I was standing back at his. He saw me, and his shoulders sagged. "You know what the longest walk in the world is?" he asked me, the crowd hanging on the question. "The walk back to your ball."
You could see on the very first green that the Summit, the highest private course in the country at 9,100 feet, had a unique problem: Herds of migrating elk tear up the greens and bunkers. So many elk, in fact, that the greens had to be fenced off. Elk vandalism is not a big issue at, say, Lubbock Country Club.
Understand, as Nicklaus was trying to entertain the crowd, I was trying to caddie and get material for my book and not choke from nervousness. So when he was answering my questions, the whole crowd was hearing them, which put a lot of pressure on Caddie-Journalist Boy. "Has there ever been a better lag putter than you?" I asked after he cozied up a 50-footer for a nice par.
"Hard to say," he replied, though you knew it wasn't going to be hard to say at all. "Sometimes I'd go into May or June without a single three-putt. One time I went clear to the British Open before I had a three-putt."
This, of course, is the largest whopper ever told. But it speaks to the man's confidence in himself. I honestly believe that Nicklaus believed it because Nicklaus's mind wouldn't register a three-putt. Had to be a spike mark or a sloppy hole cut or a camera click. And if it was, he didn't count it. He's famous for that kind of stuff. Like, sometimes, if he hits a bad shot into a green, he'll go fix a ball mark right near the pin, shaking his head and saying something like, "These damn greens won't hold anything," even though you and he and everybody around the green knows his ball mark isn't anywhere near the pin. It's the kind of unshakable belief that you have to have in yourself to win 73 tournaments, I suppose.