Meeting the Golden Bear

jn2I had the great privilege of meeting Jack Nicklaus yesterday, a childhood hero of mine and the most successful golfer of all time. Jack (AKA the Golden Bear) was spending time with some kids on the Empowering Youth Foundation, a scheme that teaches youngsters life skills through the medium of golf.

Pictured from right to left: Jack Nicklaus, Dawn Roberts (Empowering Youth Foundation), Stephen Black (Stephen Black Solicitors), Guest, Guest, Andrew Thorp.

I remember encountering Jack for the first time in 1976 in Southport. He was in his prime, an intimidating presence who was known for not suffering fools gladly. My brother pushed me forward to say hello, and although my mouth moved, no words emerged! Fortunately age and experience enabled me to communicate more successfully yesterday, and I asked the great man what he’d said to his old pal Tom Watson, the 59 year old with a false hip who so nearly won the British Open in July (narrowly losing out to fellow American Stewart Cink). In response, Jack said he’d consoled Watson. He told him he’d played beautifully throughout the week, and should remember that he did win the championship – he just didn’t win the play-off!

This struck me as a rather odd attitude. Like millions around the world I’d seen Watson choke over his final putt and play what might be described as ‘car crash golf’ in the play-off. But perhaps the mark of the uber-successful is to always see the positives and not dwell on the negatives? Earlier he’d been asked by one youngster what was the worst experience he’d had on the golf course. He thought…and thought…and ultimately couldn’t remember one! I’d thought he’s mention the painful defeat to Watson in the famous ‘Duel in the Sun’, the Turnberry Open of 1977. Of that he remembers little – only that he lost. Watson on the other hand says he recalls every shot he hit on that last round!

In many respects golf is like a metaphor for life. It’s a journey with a starting point and a finish, and on the way we have to navigate our way through a variety of obstacles – and cope with the ups and downs of the experience. Great athletes like Nicklaus make mistakes – they’re not afraid to. They work hard to put themselves in a position where they’re under pressure and tested in the extreme. They sometimes mess up, but they learn from it and move on, growing all the time.

It’s a great lesson for us all.

PS: Thanks to Dawn Roberts and the fantastic team at Empowering Youth Foundation – it was a great thrill!

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