News & Opinion

Pros exalt Memorial and ‘Nicklaus way’

DUBLIN, Ohio – CBS Sports executive producer Lance Barrow has one rule at the Memorial: anyone who goes to the men's locker room with him to have a milkshake has to order the Buckeye, that sumptuous mix of chocolate ice cream and peanut butter.

"It's unique to Columbus," Barrow said. "I've never tasted a Buckeye as good as at Muirfield Village, and I'd never bother to have one anywhere else."

Well, I hate to break it to Barrow, but here's the dirty little secret about these tasty treats that have become a tradition at the Memorial: The ice cream is Haagen-Dazs, and the peanut butter is Jif, which means you can get essentially the same thing at the local mall’s food court. But even when Jack Nicklaus was in the ice cream business with Schwan's, he didn't mess with a winning formula. Why would he? Just like the ingredients for Coke, the Memorial, now in its 44th edition, already is a classic.

“What it represents is my total vision as it relates to a golf course, a club and a tournament,” Nicklaus said.

Muirfield Village Golf Club was the fulfillment of Nicklaus' dream to attract a world-class field for an annual PGA Tour tournament. The concept was much the same as that of his childhood idol Bobby Jones, who after his retirement in 1930 built Augusta National as a place to honor the game and its traditions at an invitational tournament. Four years later, the Masters was born. In 1966, Nicklaus acquired 220 acres of mostly cornfields on the northwest outskirts of suburban Columbus, on land where he had hunted rabbits with his father, Charlie, as a boy. Construction began in earnest in 1972, as Nicklaus teamed with Desmond Muirhead on the layout. It's one of the best courses the PGA Tour plays all year. Its practice facility sets the standard. From the immaculate bent-grass fairways to the swift greens, Muirfield Village is always the best-conditioned course on Tour.

"I'd put it in my top-10 courses in the world," said Paul Azinger, noting that his victory here in 1993 was a source of validation.

Jack Nichlaus
Memorial host Jack Nicklaus greets Bryson DeChambeau after his victory in 2018.

© GOLFFILE/BRIAN SPURLOCK
Memorial host Jack Nicklaus greets Bryson DeChambeau after his victory in 2018.

Jack's masterpiece began welcoming the PGA Tour stars in 1976. It has become something of the Midwest Masters, and it goes beyond the striking resemblance in some of the holes, such as the par 3s, Nos. 12 and 16. There's the dedicated building built as a media center, the old-school manual scoreboards and the light-gray blazers worn by members of the Captains Club. There's a reason why it is a longtime players' favorite, and it goes beyond the fact that the Memorial was the first tournament that provided pros with three square meals a day. The more time I spend at Jack's Place, the more I feel as though he has left no stone unturned.

"Great design, a constant process of evolution and pursuit of perfection," said Ernie Els, the 2004 Memorial champion. "It's a pleasure to tee it up here."

It all starts with two names, Jack and Barbara Nicklaus, says Tom Watson.

"It's the Nicklaus way," said Watson, a two-time Memorial winner. "If Jack and Barbara have anything to do with something, you know it is going to be run perfectly."

One of the highlights of the week is how Nicklaus shows his appreciation for the lore of the game. The Memorial is themed each year around a designated individual who has played golf with "conspicuous honor." It was Nicklaus' idea as a contribution to perpetuating the achievements of the game's greatest players. The 2019 Memorial honoree was Judy Rankin, whom LPGA commissioner Mike Whan called "the face, the voice, the conscience of the LPGA tour." Whan recounted the story of a time when he and Rankin shared a ride to a pre-tournament awards ceremony in Texas. When they arrived, Whan opened the door for Rankin, and she walked in as a fan shouted, "Hey, you; you're the LPGA."

"I thought, I am the commissioner; I am the LPGA," Whan said. "Then I heard him say, 'Not you.' He pointed over my shoulder at Judy, and said, 'She's the LPGA.' I thought, She is the LPGA."

There's also a Journalism Award, which last year was presented to Larry Dorman, whom I grew up reading in The New York Times, and the late Ron Balicki, my former colleague at Golfweek who owned the college golf beat until his death five years ago. It's a classy move to heap praise on an ink-stained wretch or two, and yet further confirmation that Nicklaus still gets it. He always has. This year, Peter Alliss was the recipient. The eight-time Ryder Cup player, who was wearing red socks and walking with a cane, left his audience in stitches. The presence of Watson, Azinger, Tony Jacklin, and Hale Irwin added to the pomp and circumstance. If you play your cards right, you might get to talk shop with Irwin while he waits for a chocolate shake with an extra squeeze of chocolate sauce or sink into a leather couch in the locker room and have Watson show you videos of him and his wife, Hilary, in cutting competitions, a western-style equestrian event.

"Little things like that make it special," said Rory McIlroy, one of the younger pros who appreciates those who paved the way for him to enjoy a wonderful life of trying to hit a ball into a hole.

Nicklaus lives in North Palm Beach, Fla., these days, but his signature tournament has another central purpose, and that is to enrich the community of his youth. The Memorial has generated more than $32 million for central Ohio charities since 1976, with more than $20 million given to the Nationwide Children's Hospital.

More than the milkshakes and more than the three-year exemption awarded to the winner, the players simply want to come here and compete because of Nicklaus and what he has meant to the game. And they all want to receive that very special handshake behind the 18th green from the tournament host come Sunday afternoon.

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf.com and The New York Times. He is the winner of the National Sports Media Association's "Golf Article of 2017," and the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: golfsdrivingforce@gmail.com; Twitter: @adamschupak