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June 3, 2012

ON AND OFF THE COURSE: Memorial just one of many visions of Jack Nicklaus

When Jack Nicklaus was a young man, the golfer he most admired was Bob Jones.

Therefore, in the fall of 1961, Jack strongly considered remaining an amateur golfer and following in Bob Jones’ illustrious footsteps. After a successful amateur career, including two U.S. Amateur championships, Jack liked being referred to as “the greatest amateur since Bobby Jones” and had a dream of breaking Jones’ records, so he had a tough time deciding whether he should turn pro.

Luckily for the game of golf, he did. As a pro, Jack Nicklaus has represented and promoted the game of golf far beyond what he could have as an amateur. One of the ways he has given back to the game, and to the Dublin and Columbus, Ohio areas that he grew up in, was to create the Memorial Tournament.

On the Memorial Tournament website, it states: “. . it was Jack’s vision to create a golf club that embodied his personal and professional life, and would forever stand as a representation of his love and respect for the game of golf. It was also his vision to create a golf tournament that would long represent his passion for tournament golf, and would give back to a community that has embraced him and the game.”

In May 1976, the first Memorial Tournament was played on the course that he designed at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Every year, the Memorial raises many dollars in charitable contributions to benefit needy adults and children throughout Ohio.

Part of Nicklaus’ vision was to hold a tournament that would, like the Masters, have global interest and pay tribute to the history and traditions of the game. In particular, Nicklaus wanted to honor those individuals who built the game’s foundation, for him, and for the millions of people who enjoy golf around the world.

Therefore, each year the Memorial Tournament is themed around a person, living or dead, who has made a great contribution to the sport. The honorees are chosen by “The Captain’s Club,” a group of statesmen who act independently of the tournament, but also advise on player invitations and the conduct of the event. Not surprisingly, the first Memorial Tournament Honoree was Robert Tyre Jones Jr., followed in 1977 by Walter Hagen, Francis Ouimet in 1978, Gene Sarazen in 1979 and Byron Nelson in 1980, to name the starting five.

This year, the honoree is Tom Watson. He has had 39 tour victories, including two Masters, a U.S. Open and five British Opens. He came very close to winning another British title in 2009 when he was almost 60. He was tied for first place after 72 holes at Turnberry and lost in a four-hole playoff to Stewart Cink.

Turnberry must be a special place for Watson, because that’s where the “Duel in the Sun” took place in 1977; that was the name given for the battle that occurred over the final 36 holes of the British Open between Watson and Nicklaus. Watson shot 65-65 to Nicklaus’ 65-66 to win by one stroke. In another stunning flair for the dramatic, Watson chipped in from deep rough on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach on his way to his win over Nicklaus for the 1982 U.S. Open. Watson has been a great ambassador for the sport, always showing sportsmanship and class. For that reason, he was selected to the Memorial Tournament’s Captain’s Club in 2009.

You can see the rest of the Memorial Tournament honorees at www.thememorialtournament.com/honorees/pastyears.php.

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