News & Opinion

It’s no golden moment for Golden Bear

Jack Nicklaus at 2015 Memorial Tournament
Jack Nicklaus, who hosts the PGA Tour’s annual Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, shares his political views via social media.

As Jack Nicklaus takes to social media to call for Donald Trump’s re-election, Alex Miceli applauds the messenger, not his message

It was the day after the 2016 Honda Classic, and I was working on a project with a fellow journalist at Jack Nicklaus’ home in North Palm Beach, Fla.

While most of the discussion centered on the upcoming Masters and Augusta, the subject of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate came up. Nicklaus, his wife, Barbara, and I had a spirited debate about that fall’s election, with Trump emerging as the eventual Republican nominee to face Hillary Clinton, whom he would go on to defeat.

I knew that Nicklaus was a Republican, so his support for the GOP candidate came as no surprise.

I had known and interviewed Trump, whose business interests included upscale golf properties, before he became president, so it was easy to understand how his reputation as an outsider with populist political views made sense to many Americans in 2016.

Unfortunately, that rhetoric of the campaign evolved into a disturbing vitriol that divided the country and showed not only the vilest part of government but that of Trump, as well.

So, on Wednesday, when Nicklaus released via Twitter a glowing endorsement of Trump to win re-election, it was not a surprise, but nonetheless disappointing.

It also was disappointing that some users of social media chose to reflect on comments that Nicklaus made in 1994 to a reporter in Vancouver, British Columbia, regarding the scarcity of Blacks in golf. “Blacks have different muscles that react in different ways,” Nicklaus said, according to the report 26 years ago in The Province newspaper. 

The same story quoted Nicklaus as saying that he didn't “buy” the notion that he and other prominent players could have taken stronger action in helping end discrimination in golf.

For decades, Nicklaus has done so much for so many people, of all races, so it would be illogical to suggest that those comments reveal a closet racist who might align such views with Trump.

Yet, in July, a Yahoo News poll of 1,504 U.S. adults showed that only 37 percent said Trump is not a racist while 50 percent said that he is.

So, it’s easy to connect what seems would be a logical pattern of racial dots, but that connection is wholly without merit regarding Nicklaus. 

What disappoints me is how Nicklaus, the winner of 18 major championships and host of the PGA Tour's annual Memorial Tournament, has been fooled by Trumpism. Was it the belief that Trump would be better for the economy, or that the coronavirus pandemic is a hoax that will just go away or, as Trump keeps insisting, “we’ve turned the corner”?

Maybe deep down, Nicklaus believes that Trump’s opponent, U.S. Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, at age 77, is too old or just not up to the job. Could Nicklaus believe the contention among some Republicans that an electoral victory by Democrats next week will be a victory for socialism?

It was easier to understand why Nicklaus supported Trump in 2016, when the eventual president seemed like an open book, with populist ideas that resonated with so many Americans.

But in 2020, Trump no longer is that outsider. In fact, many government workers and even members of his administration have spoken fervently against four more years.

I support Nicklaus’ right to tweet and to say that he supports a candidate for president. But to make it so public and so vehement makes me wonder why arguably the best golfer who ever played the game would take such a stand.

Is Nicklaus a racist? No. Did he make some unfortunate comments in 1994? Yes, though he maintained that he was misquoted.

Has Nicklaus made a mistake in 2020 by supporting what many would consider to be the worst president in U.S. history? Yes, resoundingly.

As much as I revere Nicklaus, I can’t agree on his arguments in support of the current president. At the same time, I also offer the same support of Nicklaus’ right to make such comments, as we all should, no matter how much we disagree with them.

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