Lasting Values Over Materialism



Daughter of Jack Nicklaus

One of the biggest regrets of my life took place almost three decades ago. I’ll never forget it. At the time it did not seem like a big deal, but in retrospect it was, and it has stayed with me all these years because of my unique relationship with my father and because of what it taught me about being a good parent to my own children. My father respected that my needs as an emerging young woman came first, in spite of the significant events going on his own life. Different than indulging and spoiling his children, my dad was sensitive to these needs, and put them and his family first, always.

It was early April 1986, and I was a student at the University of Georgia. Dad was on the road in Augusta playing in the Master’s Tournament, as he had every year since 1959.
After Friday’s second round, he was still in contention but was considered a long shot to win.
I had been planning for some time to visit my friends at SMU in Dallas that weekend. But it occurred to me that maybe I should go to Augusta and cheer my father on along with the rest of the family. Yet at age 19 or 20, I wanted to hang out with my friends, not my parents. So I went to Dallas. On Sunday while I was still with my friends, we turned on the TV just as the final nine holes were being played. Dad was four strokes off the lead, and made some incredible long-putts that people still talk about today. Every time he made a birdie, the gallery of spectators roared. It seemed like the entire sports world was willing him to win. He shot 30 on the back nine and won his last major at age 46. He proved to everyone in the golf world that he was far from through.

People always say to me, “Wow, it must have been great being there for one of the most electric moments in sports.” And then I say, “Um, but I wasn’t there.” They cannot believe I went to Dallas to be with my friends. Dad never said a negative word about my choice. He understood the priorities of teenagers, especially his own daughter. He has always been a father first and a professional athlete second. He understood his responsibility; Golf was his job and he was away at work a lot of the time. At the same time he understood mine; as a young college student, being with my peer group was important. Had I asked him before the tournament, I have no doubt he would have said without hesitation, “Go to Dallas.” He wasn’t disappointed in me and never made me feel bad. I’m the only one who ever got upset about it.

Most people who don’t know our family are surprised to learn that Jack Nicklaus even has a daughter. My brothers were always caddying for him, so they got all the publicity. So when people find about me, Jack’s only daughter, they want to know, “What’s it like being the daughter of someone very famous?” Not as glamorous as you’d imagine. They want to know if my brothers and I grew up in a mansion with servants. Did we travel in dad’s private jet? The reality is that my parents made sure being a Nicklaus didn’t go to our heads. We had a very traditional and “normal” household, and while we had a nice house, it wasn’t pretentious. We had family dinners where mom did all the cooking; I would set the table and then help mom with the dishes. We didn’t eat on fancy china with sterling silverware. I still don’t know which fork to use first at a charity or formal dinner. Family values were, and still are, most important to my mom and dad. When were younger, it was, “That’s Jack and Barbara with their kids.” There was no golf champion worship in our home, in school or anywhere off the course.

Sports were big in our household. I played volleyball, soccer, softball, and tennis at school. Volleyball was my favorite. Our parents attended our games. I remember wondering why my friends’ parents who were working nine-to-five jobs didn’t make it to many games. My dad was traveling all the time, and yet he made it to most games.
Yes, dad put a golf club in all of our hands, but only when we asked. He didn’t force us or drive it into us (pun intended). Today, I play with some of my friends, but not on a regular basis. Growing up he made a pledge to my mom never to be gone more than two weeks at a time. Once he might have been gone for seventeen days but that was the exception. He was always there for us. He made it a point to be home for all the big family events.

My brothers and I had the typical sibling rivalries and I would get jealous when he took my brothers on hunting and fishing vacations. But my dad knew that those things didn’t interest me. He felt he had to do something different for “Daddy’s Little Girl.” My special father-daughter trip with him was always the British Open. The week before the tournament was our time to be together and we always found some special way to spend it. My father also surprises me twice each year with a special antique or memento on my birthday and Christmas. Sometimes it’s a serious gift and sometimes it’s kind of goofy. It may be from a place he’s traveled, or from some antique shop nearby where we all live. Now I have a wonderful collection of antiques ranging from a sterling silver meat platter to a crystal cruet set to a toast rack from Scotland crafted out of golf clubs.

I have to laugh about my father’s famous nickname, “The Golden Bear.” The press made him out to be a ferocious competitor with a steely stare on the golf course. Though on the green he was focused and concentrated on winning, at home with his family he was more like “The Cuddly Bear.” In the business world though, he’s tough. But he’s honest, he’s loyal, and he’s fair. And above all he’s a gentleman, on and off the course. Now that he’s older, he’s more sensitive and sappy. He tears up more easily because of all his grandchildren.

The highlight reels of my dad’s career don’t reveal the way he looks at his grandchildren. It is with the same tenderness, understanding and sensitivity he had for my brothers and me as kids. And just like he did for my brothers and me, he rearranges all his business appointments so he won’t miss my kids’ football games.

On a daily basis in raising my own children, I am faced with doing what is often easiest and possibly best for me or doing what I know will be the right thing for my children. Because of my father’s example, the choice is clear.

Jack Nicklaus was born on January 21, 1940, in Columbus, Ohio. In 1962, Nicklaus embarked upon his career as a professional golfer. He quickly emerged as a dominant player on the professional circuit, winning the U.S. Open, one of golf’s most prized tournaments, in 1962. Over the course of his career, Nicklaus established numerous records such as winning the most Masters, U.S. Opens, and PGA Championships, winning more major championships (twenty) than any other player in history up to that point, and the longest record of winning at least one tournament per year (seventeen). Nicklaus also received numerous honors and awards, including being named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year in 1978. Over one dozen magazines or newspapers named Nicklaus golf’s greatest player of the twentieth century. Besides playing golf professionally, Nicklaus emerged as one of golf’s greatest course designers. He has designed more than two hundred courses. In 2005, Nicklaus essentially retired from professional golf, although he did not rule out playing in selected tournaments. He currently lives in North Palm Beach, Florida.

Nan O’Leary lives with her husband Bill and their five children in Florida.