I recently finished “Jackie” Nicklaus’ book about his namesake father, Best Seat in the House. I want to share a little bit about what I learned from it and my overall impressions of the book.
To me, Jack Nicklaus has always been the benchmark of golfing excellence and how we – as golfers – should conduct ourselves on the golf course. While I never really got to watch Nicklaus in his prime due to my age – I have watched numerous videos of him at his peak, have watched him play as a senior golfer and always tune in whenever he is being interviewed. I love the annual Masters press conference the “Big 3” conduct (now, “Big 2”) after their first tee shots on Thursday. Nicklaus has always struck me as someone who is thoughtful about what he says and good natured.
I’d heard some good things about Jackie’s book. So a couple months ago, I finally decided to push the buy button at Amazon.
I can’t imagine trying to “live up” to Jack Nicklaus’ name. Especially, if you are interested in golf and wanting to play the game seriously. Jackie and Gary Nicklaus are the most noteworthy golfers in the immediate family. Gary ended up playing on the PGA Tour from 2000-2003 and almost beat Phil Mickelson in a playoff at the BellSouth Classic. I recall watching that playoff – and was amazed at his composure and ability to make it that far under the heavy weight and expectations of the Nicklaus name. Jackie also had success in golf winning the North & South Amateur and then playing some mini-tours. My sense from reading the book, is that Jackie may have been a bit more “uptight” about his golf and this could have contributed to his not going as far as he’d liked in his golf career. It probably didn’t help he was the first-born – so expectations were likely higher on him than Gary. But this is speculation.
The book centers around 18 lessons that Jackie learned from watching his father in life and playing the game. I thought it was a clever way to arrange the book. The co-auther, Don Yaeger, came recommended to help Jackie put his thoughts to print by family friend John Maxwell.
As a person who generally has followed the game closely, I knew a fair amount about Jack Nicklaus going into reading the book. So, a lot of what Jackie mentions wasn’t a big “a-ha” to me – but the context around some of these events I’d already known about were what added charm and interest to the reading.
It’s no surprise that Jack was highly respected by his peers and others around him. This is echoed throughout the book by Jackie. Character, integrity and sportsmanship were all attributes Jackie gave his father. He sprinkles in stories that re-enforce these characteristics and give the reader the impression that “Jack was one good dude: on and off the course.”
I’ve always thought parents are integral part of anyone’s success and how people “turn out.” Jackie goes into a little bit about his father’s upbringing. By all accounts, it was a good one. Though not overly wealthy, you get the sense Jack did grow up in some amount of privilege. His dad owned several drug stores in the Columbus area and seemed to be a decent athlete himself. Jack’s father Charlie was as influential in his life as Jack was (is) in Jackie’s.
There are some special highlighted moments in the book that I won’t go into full detail about. Though one I thought interesting was how yellow became Nicklaus’ signature color. It was the son of Nicklaus’ minister – a 10-year old Craig Smith – who told Jack after a win, “I knew you were going to win because you had your lucky yellow shirt on.” After the boy’s death, Nicklaus started to wear yellow more often and began a fundraiser in his honor.
Jackie attributes a lot of his father’s success to his mother, Barbara. She seemed to have kept everything together in the family while Nicklaus was away and even “shielded” her husband from bad press.
Barbara is also credited with helping to get Jack interested and to start a children’s healthcare foundation the Nicklaus’ now devout a lot of their charitable activities towards.
One thing I found striking in today’s more “me-centric” world, is the focus Nicklaus put on family. Family was first, then golf. He made it a point to never be away from home more than a two-week stretch and would often fly back home just to be in the stands at a child’s baseball game (even if it was in the middle of a tournament).
Given Nicklaus’ record and accomplishments, many might say his record may have been even more incredible if he’d had more of a singular focus. I sense this wouldn’t have been the case – as family gave him a tremendous amount of focus, purpose and satisfaction.
Over 95% of Nicklaus’ wealth is due to off-course activities. Nicklaus made $5.7 million in his playing career. This is $2 million behind what the leading money on the 2021 PGA Tour money list earned this season (Rahm at $7.7 million). Amazing to think about.
While he may not have been as loved as other contemporaries were (like Palmer), I think this book and the Nicklaus’ legacy has garnered him more love and admiration today than he may have expected.
I can’t say I learned any great insights about the man that were surprises after reading Best Seat in the House, I will say that I did gain more appreciation for his abilities, and (probably more important) who Nicklaus was, as a man.
If you love golf, you’ll enjoy the read.
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