By Jason Bruno
Hopefully before you check out my Q& A with the Greatest Champion our game has ever
known, you get a chance to read this, my personal experience of how I fell for the game
of golf via a man named Jack. I know the thought about the writer not rooting for the
player, and that to be objective is to root for the story . . . but I wasn't always a writer,
and in several cases I will admit to pulling for the charisma and or talent of an individual. I
think anyone who says otherwise, is either lying to themselves or is void of human emotion.
In the case of Jack William Nicklaus - I'm guilty as charged.
Tom & Jack - Pebble Beach 1982
I was enamored since I first watched Jack Nicklaus play golf on TV, it was Sunday, June 20th,
1982. It was the eve of my 15th birthday and the final round of the 1982 U.S Open was being
televised on ABC sports. That day I was introduced to the game by an Italian man named
Dominick who waited tables at a local Fort Lauderdale Italian eatery called Mario's, he called me
his caddie . . . but truth be told I knew nothing of golf, I was the busboy.
Dom explained to me that the dashing blond guy was the best player in the history of the
game . . . and was on the verge of winning a record 5th U.S Open Championship on the
most beautiful venue in America - Pebble Beach. As an avid sports fan, I of course knew of
the Golden Bear, but had never watched the drama of a major championship before. Dom
had firmly positioned and romanced the story of Nicklaus pulling it off, my sports crazed mind
bought in, hook line and sinker. As I caught the action on TV, I could see the Monterey Peninsula
was stunning, but I was a kid running around busing tables and scarfing down garlic rolls. Dom
and I were sure the story would finish as we hoped, until suddenly we had our hearts ripped out
by a Huck Finn looking character named Tom Watson - the famous chip in on the seventeenth hole.
We were devastated. The Bear had been clipped by a younger rival, but that night I walked home
after work still scarfing garlic rolls and counting tips, knowing three things for sure: 1) I would
one day take up the game of golf, 2) I would one day go to and Play Pebble Beach, and 3) Jack
Nicklaus was my guy.
10 years later, as a new golfer and volunteer on the grounds staff at the 1992 Honda Classic,
I met Jack in person. Even at 52 years old, I thought he was the golf diety and ignorantly I
wished him luck in trying to win his 7th Masters the following month at Augusta. The Golden Bear
was polite and respectful of my cluelessness, or maybe, just maybe he too thought another Green
Jacket was not out of reach.
13 years later, my oldest daughter Taylor (an accomplished high school golfer at the time) and I
watched on television as Jack holed that twisting final putt on the 18th green at St.Andrews. We
knew it would be his last official competition and thought it would be a great moment to share together.
Seven days later while preparing to play in the Nicklaus Jr at Bear Lakes (one of Palm Beach County's
largest Jr Amateur events) we ran into Jack with his grandchildren beside the driving range. It was a
chance for my daughter to meet Mr.Nicklaus, later that day she called it the thrill of her life. The next day
she shot her first even par (72) round in competition, the following day finished off the field in the 15
& over girls division by 10 shots. As we drove home that summer afternoon, she looked over and said
"Do you know what made the difference this week?" I of course said no, waiting to hear that it must
have been some of my sage advice, a swing tip or a course management directive I gave out earlier in
the week . . . she said "Meeting Jack Nicklaus totally inspired me." Bingo! A day for the ages. A few weeks
after, I thought it would be a nice idea to let Mr.Nicklaus know of how Taylor was inspired by the meeting,
so I wrote a short letter thanking him. Shortly thereafter this letter arrived to my office, it now sits
prominently in our golf room or what I call "My Lair".
Of all the golf mementos we own this might be the one we cherish the most.
I have no doubt that Sunday in 1982 was the spark that fueled all things golf for me, so a special
thanks to Dominick and Jack for the inspiration 32 years ago.
photo by Shawn LaRusso
Jack and I in December 2013 at the opening of the First Tee facility in West palm Beach
photo by Scott Baker
Monday April 29th, 2014 at The Concession Golf Club, Jack & I engage in a brief Q&A.