And Nicklaus always says, "How could I forget?" And the guy laughs, not sure if Nicklaus is serious or not, but happy either way. Someday Tiger may get comfortable with being a god, the way Nicklaus and Arnie did, but he's nowhere near them yet. But then no other golfer in history has endured the worldwide onslaught of attention that Tiger has. Still, Tiger could be, should be, needs to be, better at handling it. Nicklaus and Palmer have a way of going into a room in which every person wants to meet them and remaining relaxed, nonchalant, unhurried. Their whole carriage hints that, yeah, they might meet everybody and actually enjoy it, and hell, isn't the world of golf fun? On the other hand Tiger's carriage hints that if he doesn't get out of this room in the next 10 seconds, somebody's going to get a five-iron through the cerebellum.
But being open and unintimidated has meant a lifetime of people busting the hell out of Nicklaus's personal bubble. That's one reason he took so fanatically to fishing and the outdoors. And even then there was no place on earth he could hide. "One time we were fishing this New Zealand wilderness area," he said. "I mean, this place was totally remote. We hadn't seen anybody for days. We were crossing this rickety old rope bridge over this huge gorge. It was just pouring down rain. I mean buckets. I had on a hat, glasses, a slicker, big boots. Suddenly we see this old couple at the other end of the bridge as we start to cross. Now the lady starts running toward me! Running! I'm thinking, What the hell? What's chasing her? I'm scared. I start backing up, but she keeps coming. She opens her arms, jumps on me and screams, ' Jack Nicklaus! My favorite golfer in the world!' "
Speaking of rain, it had been raining off and on most of the day in Vail, and that, combined with my trying to caddie and interview, plus the ridiculous distances between greens and tees (O.K., so we took a cart sometimes), plus the altitude, plus the three bottles of wine the night before, had started to chip away at my looping skills.
And that's about when it happened.
We were on 15, and the rain was coming in sideways, and the wind was done practicing and was starting to get serious. At this point Nicklaus's umbrella and I were not on speaking terms. It had been a pill all day. It kept blowing away when I set it down, or poking me in the eye, or faking a click—making me believe it was locked open—and then it collapsed nearly on Nicklaus's head.
But this time it went too far.
Nicklaus was giving the folks a little chipping lesson, and I was standing on a hill trying to write and not realizing that I had the bag a little upside down and also trying to make damn sure the umbrella really clicked and was not just conning me, so perhaps I forced it too hard, and suddenly it folded up the wrong way, like a contortionist bending back through her own legs. Three hundred people gasped, then laughed. I felt like Mary Poppins's crackhead sister. And as I looked on in horror, the bag toppled over, sending some of the clubs out and some of the balls out of the unzipped ball pouch just as Nicklaus asked me for another ball to chip.
Nicklaus looked at me amid the guffaws, waited awhile for the down and then said, "Don't quit your regular job." Still, on the bright side, once I'd picked everything up, it left an opening.
"Who's the worst caddie you ever had?" I asked him.