Jack Nicklaus to Receive Congressional Gold Medal
Despite his consistency in the game of golf, and off the course, my thoughts about Jack Nicklaus’ career have taken more turns than a roller coaster through the years. He’s the consistent one – I have changed. I recall, as a kid, seeing a cover on Mad Magazine, in which a grinning Arnold Palmer leaned on his driver, standing next to a brimming pirate’s chest, while a giant Nicklaus was caught in full swing, with a tape measure swirling around him. Someone was commenting on his early weight issue, and his profound driving distance for the time. Now, he’s going to receive the Congressional Gold Medal as a grand old master who has an endowed chair at the hearth of every American’s sports consciousness.
Back then, Jack was the villain, the threat to King Arnold, the perfect, beloved sportsman. I recall rooting against Nicklaus with a vehemence that only a kid could muster. And suddenly, it’s 2014, and Nicklaus’ record puts him at the top, almost regardless of how you judge these things. Congress voted for him to have the Medal by a vote of 371 to 10. I would be curious as to what the minority of ten was thinking. There is always a group that objects to giving these awards to non-military individuals – perhaps that’s it.
I have also come to think of Nicklaus, through the years, as dreadfully opinionated, and not always to my liking. Despite my admiration, I have always held a small but persistent nugget of a grudge. However, I will freely admit that such a degree of success as Nicklaus’ allows one to be publicly outspoken, and that I am every bit as opinionated as he is- it’s just that in my case, no one is listening.
Where shall I go with my ever-changing thoughts on Nicklaus? He’s is an absolutely phenomenal golfer, and in his forthrightness, has been an authentic and proactive off-the-course person. But does golf greatness bleed over into making us think he’s right about everything? Have we inappropriately deified him in all matters? On the other hand, he’s just being the member of a democracy, and as any government class will tell you, everyone has the right to speak openly and “seek his majority.” And, after all, Nicklaus has done much more than talk. A lot of people have his back, and a lot of them are kids, including his work through his foundation. But the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor?
Former recipients include Arnold Palmer, which would suggest that to bestow it on Nicklaus is the right thing to do. Others include Rosa Parks, Neil Armstrong, Joe Lewis, and Robert Frost. All right, Frost depicted the ultimate Northeastern American landscape and social tableaus through words. Uniquely American, give him the Medal. Joe Lewis was, for a time, Captain America, because he beat Max Schmeling, the Nazi champion. So, has Nicklaus enjoyed a Rosa Parks or Neil Armstrong moment? How much of his award is “can do” versus “did do?” I don’t know the answer, but feel sure that if confronted with a Parks, Armstrong moment, he would act brilliantly. Whatever my changing thoughts about Nicklaus over the decades, there’s no hint of observed cowardice whatsoever. Such a thing would be entirely out of character.
Jack Nicklaus is, for me, no longer the villain that threatened the rule of Arnold Palmer. Considering an entire body of work, he is, more than likely, the best that ever was on a golf course, an authentic individual for whom integrity off the course and on are the same. Although it still bugs me that famous people get to pontificate more than I do, I applaud his receiving the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor with the same vehemence with which I rooted against him as an adolescent – with only a little gritting of the teeth remaining.