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Golf & Life
By Jack Nicklaus, John Tickell
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2003 Jack Nicklaus and Dr. John Tickell
All rights reserved.
You know, I feel lucky — and not just because of my success as a professional golfer, with eighteen Majors and three Slams. It's great to have been described as the Golfer of the Century, but life is special in many ways.
Life goes on and it's there to be lived.
I have some wonderful memories that have nothing to do with golf. I can tell you a story about one of the great thrills of my life and it wasn't on the golf course. It was on the ocean and it's an example of going after what you want and doing what you have to do.
I realize this is a book about golf and life, but let's start someplace else.
I was down in Australia, fishing off the Great Barrier Reef with Jerry Pate, who won the 1976 U.S. Open at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Jerry is a great guy, entertaining to be with because he's always got something to say. I once dubbed him "Mouth of the South, the Lip."
I remember two-time Major winner David Graham and I were playing a three-ball with him one Sunday and I thought I'd just have a bit of fun. As we got to the first tee I put on these green earmuffs and said to Jerry: "I don't want to listen to you today." We all got a laugh out of it.
On this Australian excursion, we were after marlin. I wanted to catch a really big one. I had tried before and never caught one over 1,000 pounds.
The first day out, Jerry caught a 1,047-pounder. He was on a smaller boat than mine and I think he had a less experienced crew. When he came back with that fish and saw me casting envious eyes on it he said to me:
"I'll tell you what, I'm going to ride around with you for good luck, because you need some help."
He came with me for the next three days and drank some beer, just watching me fish. I had no luck until late on the third day. Then my luck changed. I'll let Jerry pick up the story as he later told it to a golf magazine (Golf Digest, August 2001).
Jack finally hooked up — 5:00 in the afternoon — with this fish. It came out of the water, tail walking, big as a whale. It got dark about 6:30 and he just kept fishing and fishing like in Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. He fished forever. Finally, about 9:00, after I'd been in the sun drinking beer all day, I went in and lay down and took a nap. I had eaten a sandwich and just dozed off. I got back up and looked at my watch and it's 10:30 at night and he's still fighting this damn fish. Finally, about 11:20, he brought it up. I'm telling you, he fought it for six hours and twenty minutes. One man fought a fish. There was no one other than Jack Nicklaus who could have done it. Or would have done it.
It was nice of Jerry to have said that, but he was wrong. If the positions had been reversed I'm sure he would have kept fighting that fish, as would so many other guys I know.
That fish weighed in at 1,358 pounds. How can I describe the feeling I had when that monster rose up out of the sea and I felt the awesome energy it was generating down the line and through the reel and then through my body? It's beyond words. Different from winning a Major golf tournament. All I can say is that it was incredible.
We were connected, that monster and I. He was testing me, my character, my strength, my patience and my endurance — and my pain threshold — because, believe me, it wasn't long before I was hurting.
And I was testing him. I had the power of a large boat beneath me and a rod and reel that were at the forefront of technology. The odds may have been all in my favor, but the way that great fish fought for more than six hours made it seem they were all his way.
If this was a lesson in life, then it was a good one. Never give up.
The older or more mature you become, the smarter you get and the more you learn to manage your game better. You learn how to get the distances. You learn a more efficient way of doing it.
On a recent visit to Florida, Dr. John Tickell asked me this rather confrontational question:
"Do you feel older?"
I guess it's a fair enough question, but when I told him I didn't feel any different than I did thirty years ago, he said, "You're kidding!"
So I explained what I meant. Mentally, I don't feel any different at all. I have to admit my body feels a little stiffer and slower, but when I get warmed up after exercising and then go out and play a few balls, I don't feel any different now than I did thirty years ago.
But Dr. John doesn't let you off the hook easily. He ripped another question into me, a mean one —
"Why haven't you won a golf tournament for a while?"
I told him again I don't feel any different. And now that I have a new hip joint, my swing is as good as ever. A little while ago I was measured in a driving contest in New Orleans and scored a 278-yard average. That is about what I used to average to be No. 1 on the pro tour.
The efficiency of my stroke is still good, as I found out when I had a recent test with my driver. For perfect efficiency, the club head moves at one speed and the ball comes off the club head at 1.5 times that speed. I was swinging the club at 106–108 miles an hour and the ball was coming off the club head at 160 miles an hour. So that's almost ideal.
My problem is my putting. I used to hole everything. I don't know why I can't do it now. I've just got to work on it. I haven't lost the ability to make the 4-foot putt, but I don't make as many 15-footers as I used to.
I'm glad Dr. John and I had that conversation, because it's set me thinking about this question of time. In fact, his questions are why this book is happening.
My advice is not to count birthdays. What you should do is think about living life to the full. That's always been my philosophy.
I started having problems with my hip even before the peak of my career — bursitis and a twanging tendon. I had twenty-five cortisone injections in the space of a few weeks in 1963, which I'm sure did more damage.
Before my hip operation a couple of years back, I kept playing golf, but I was a day-to-day proposition. I kept playing in all the Majors and in the 1998 Masters at Augusta I finished sixth, three strokes behind the winner, Mark O'Meara. At fifty-eight, I was the oldest player in Masters history to finish in the top ten, but I was probably also the biggest physical wreck.
My body is not as strong or as quick as it used to be and it is not as flexible. And even after my hip replacement, I still need to work hard to keep my body in shape, especially my back.
I do regular sessions with weights to keep my strength up and to hold my muscle tone — three days a week when I'm not playing golf, and when I am playing, usually one day, just to maintain.
I do stretching exercises to improve my flexibility. Every single day I go through a physical therapy program. If I didn't, I would be in trouble.
My workouts and back exercises take me up to an hour and a half. So that's how I try to fight my limitations. It's a never-ending commitment. If I didn't do it, I wouldn't be able to lead the full, active life I'm enjoying now. It's got me back to where I can drive a golf ball as far as I ever could instead of being severely limited. If only I could putt as well!
When you think about it, we spend our whole lives fighting limitations. Why stop fighting them at the age of sixty, or any age? It starts early — you have to learn to crawl, then to walk and take your bumps. As you grow up you have to learn to get on with people and you have to learn skills to earn a living. You have to break through limitations to do all that.
The worst thing you can do is give up. After a lifetime of being programmed to respond to challenges, you will give your mind and your body an awful shock if you wake up one day, whatever your age, and say to yourself, "That's it, I'm done. No more challenges for me."
If you do give in like that, you will become old in that instant. I know guys who still enjoy golf in their late eighties. One of them is Gerald Ford, the former president of the United States. He is one of the great men I have met over the years. Still to this day, I turn around and there will be something in the mail from Gerald Ford.
I have this belief about life and golf that has carried me through many tough situations, including dealing with the changes in my body over the years. It goes like this — once the gun has gone off, you keep quiet and get on with the job as best you can. The more you let your mind dwell on negatives, of whatever type, the larger they grow and the greater the risk you will convert them into excuses.
As a golfer you spend a lot of time working on your game. I still do. I still work on adjusting my swing so that it works just as well for my "mature" body as it did for my "younger" body.
You can think of life as a game — like a game of golf. In life there are always obstacles to overcome, as in golf there are trees to clear, bunkers to avoid and water to negotiate.
There are always uncertainties in life, as in golf, where you have to compete with the wind, the rain, the rough and slow or quick greens.
In life, as in golf, it's all about choosing the best options. In life and in golf you are playing against yourself — and against the hazards of the course and the hazards of the journey.
You have choices to make. You don't always make the right ones but if you're smart, you'll learn from making the wrong ones and try never to repeat them. I remember learning that lesson when I was a young golfer on the amateur circuit. It was the summer of 1959 and I was only nineteen, out playing with the pros in the open tournaments.
In the U.S. Open at Winged Foot I shot a couple of 77s and missed the cut. What troubled me about my form was the way I played when I missed the small, hard, elevated greens — compared with my playing partners Gene Littler and Doug Ford, when they failed to find the greens with their approach shots.
Over those first 36 holes, Littler got up and down from bunkers twelve times in thirteen tries. Ford did even better — up and down from bunkers eleven times out of eleven for rounds of 69 and 72.
Watching them, I was impressed. I realized that while I might be a hotshot with the muscle stuff, the driver and the 1-iron, I wasn't a contender when it came to the management side of the game, the head stuff.
Beginning the next day I began to spend less time driving those 300-yarders and a lot more time pitching, chipping, hitting from sand and putting. Analysts of the game have described my strongest competitive weapons as self-management and course management.
Well, that summer of 1959 was when my preoccupation with those elements of the game really began. Playing some professional tournaments that season, I wasn't playing with the thought of winning, but simply with the goal of advancing my golfing education.
I was concentrating on learning how to read the courses and how to manage them, how to play smart in terms of distance, angle of entry, ground contour, location, severity of hazards and the dozens of other nuances of the game.
To get answers that give you effective solutions you must observe and analyze all elements of each course you play. Through that process I developed an ever-sharpening awareness that your true opponent in every golf contest is never another player, or even the entire field, but always yourself and the course itself.
I learned to quit trying to play "hero" to get out of tough situations, and not to try to get out of trouble with sheer muscle, which is the way to turn small errors into large disasters.
Isn't that the same in life? Isn't finesse always better than force in handling relationships? Even when you are figuring out some mechanical problem, you are likely to do better with a rusted bolt by squirting it with lubricant rather than hitting it with a sledgehammer.
In studying the pros that season, I noticed that the best of them had progressed far beyond the muscle-your-way-out-of-it mentality. They were able to stay cool and to remain in control of their emotions at all times. They would play one shot at a time without getting either wildly excited or depressed about its outcome.
I learned from this that inner self-control is a much larger factor in winning and losing than ball-striking ability. I grew to realize that along with inner self-control comes realism and patience and these are the only bases from which a golfer can deal effectively with the endless challenges and frustrations that the game of golf has, and always will present.
I believe there are three categories of players in the game of golf — a conservative golfer, an aggressive golfer and a smart golfer.
A conservative golfer is a guy who does not take any chances. An aggressive golfer is the guy who takes all the chances and I think that's reckless. That is poor management.
A smart golfer is a guy who picks his chances and picks the places where he takes his chances.
I think there's a parallel there with the game of life. You have the choice of being conservative, reckless or smart. As you mature it's smart not to be too conservative or too reckless. As in golf, it's smart to have that inner self-control that enables you to be realistic and patient in dealing with all the problems and crises life throws up at you.
It's smart not to think you're "old." Mature, maybe, but never old. Keep doing, keep fighting, keep swinging. Get out there — keep resisting your limitations.
It's smart to think of yourself as a player in the game of life, constantly putting yourself in a position to win.
That's golf. That's life.
In golf, the aim is always to put yourself in a position to win, and you just keep working toward that position.
Often, the hard work would pay off, and I might find myself two or three shots ahead. Then I would try to make sure I didn't blow the chances I'd made — maybe just try to maintain my lead.
In the 1998 Masters (as a fifty-eight-year-old grandfather of eight grandchildren), I had worked myself into such a situation.
I stood on the 15th fairway in almost the identical position I was in during the '86 Masters.
I turned to my son Steve, who was my caddie, and I said that if we could do what we did in '86 or come close to it, then we had a chance — although it would be tight.
I made some putts; I didn't make some putts. It didn't work out, but that's fine.
You can be conservative, aggressive or smart. In Golf and in Life you need to get smarter as time passes by.
What you need to do is work to put yourself in a position to win, then just keep working. If you do get in a winning position, you need to learn how to protect it.
Never give up.CHAPTER 2
The Four Aces
I have a theory about life.
I agreed with Jack that life is like a game of golf.
Here's another analogy.
Let me introduce you to my pack of cards. Life is also like a game of cards and you cannot be truly happy unless you hold all four aces.
Whether you're playing the game or watching the people, the card players sort themselves into groups — the conservatives, the gamblers who will bet the house on one hand, the poker players, the quiet ones, the aggressive ones and the joker in the pack.
Aces are the most powerful cards you can play and the ACE program is simply the most successful all-around program for life ever invented. And I invented it.
Activity, Coping and Eating — A C E.
To be good at life, you need to be good at those three things. I call it self-management.
To be the best and stay the best you have to be really good at them, especially the middle one.
And you don't need to be a fanatic.
Jack Nicklaus was telling me about his teenage years in Columbus, Ohio. During the winter months he didn't play golf from October until around the end of February, because there was snow on the ground.
We both agreed that was probably a good thing.
"I think if you play golf all year round, week after week, you get stale," he said.
"But, Jack, there is so much money going around every week."
"That's my point. If money is your prime motivation, those huge dollars on offer are very tempting, but you burn out."
Back to the four aces.
Life is a game of cards. I deal you the cards. You go and play the game, and whatever game you play, make sure you end up holding the four aces.
To be truly happy, you need all four aces.
There is the ace of diamonds. This represents the drive for wealth ... show me the money.
If that's the only ace you hold, you won't find happiness. Western life — it's a counting game, isn't it? You look at the corporate scoreboards — what do they put up there? They don't put emotions or families up there, they put dollars up there. If your quarterly results show that you're losing dollars, then the market rerates you and your share price goes down. So it's count, count, count. Money, money, money. But you show me a person with the diamonds and a heap of money and I can show you plenty of miserable people, whether they're multi-millionaires or billionaires. Money doesn't make you happy. You can buy friends, and you can rent a few friends for a while, but unless you've got the other three aces in your pack, you haven't got a complete life. You can't be happy, truly happy, without the four aces.
Excerpted from Golf & Life by Jack Nicklaus, John Tickell. Copyright © 2003 Jack Nicklaus and Dr. John Tickell. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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