Jack Nicklaus reminisces amid honor at Trump National Doral

Jack Nicklaus, center, Donald Trump and Ivanka Trump at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday, Feb. 20. 2015.
Jack Nicklaus, center, Donald Trump and Ivanka Trump at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday, Feb. 20. 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

A legend showed up at Trump National Doral on Friday and explained how he became a legend.

The legend sat in a villa named after him, and the walls were bedecked with pictures of him in various stages of his illustrious career.

The day was a good one for the legend, Jack Nicklaus, and his friend Donald Trump as they officially opened the Jack Nicklaus Villa at Trump National, one of eight villas named for golfing legends.

Nicklaus, generally considered the greatest golfer of all time, came down from his home in North Palm Beach for the ceremony.

Nicklaus, who just turned 75 on Jan. 21, reached back in his memory some 60 years to reveal what brought him to this point of both recognition and acclamation. And he does it with the humility that he has shown throughout his career.

“Why golf?” he was asked.

Nicklaus as a young man was an excellent athlete who excelled in many sports, including football, basketball and baseball.

“I was a pretty decent football player,” he said, but then Nicklaus held out his hands and added, “Look at my hands. They are too small for a quarterback.”

How about baseball?

“That was probably my best sport,” Nicklaus said. “But baseball was a sport you needed eight or nine other guys to come. I got tired of standing out in the dust waiting for somebody to show up.”

And then there’s basketball.

“I was recruited by colleges for basketball,” he said. “But I’m too short and probably not quick enough. I probably could have played for Ohio State. Maybe the ninth or 10th man on the team. Did I want to be the ninth or 10th man. No.”

So, that left golf, and the attributes of that game gave Nicklaus exactly what he was looking for.

“It’s a game in which how much effort you put into it, the results are directly proportional,” Nicklaus said. “You like to see that your efforts are rewarded for what you do. It’s all you — that’s what I like.”

When he chose golf as a career, he probably didn’t know he would become the face of the game.

He definitely did not think that when he won $33.33 in one of his early tournaments.

His accomplishments in golf are well-documented: 18 major championships (six Masters, four U.S. Opens, three British Opens, five PGA Championships); 73 PGA Tour victories, ranking him third all-time; 115 professional victories; PGA Tour leading money-winner eight times; and five times PGA Player of the Year. The list can go on and on.

His 18th and final major, which came as a surprise to much of the world but not to Nicklaus, was accomplished in 1986 as he captured his sixth Masters. He shot a 30 on the back nine and in the final 10 holes made an eagle and six birdies at Augusta National.

The great Bobby Jones once commented that Nicklaus played golf so well it was a game of which Jones was not familiar with.

Those 18 majors are the basis of golf accepting Nicklaus as the sport’s greatest player ever.

Nicklaus was asked if that was a legitimate way to reach such a conclusion.

“It could change over time,” he said, “but as far a measurement today, there is no better. When I grew up majors were the focus of all the golfers, and they still are today.”

The only current player within shouting distance of Nicklaus’ 18 majors is Tiger Woods with 14, and Woods in recent times has been and still is battling injuries and his swing.

Nevertheless, Nicklaus doesn’t rule out Woods overtaking him.

“He has another 10 or 12 years to play,” Nicklaus said, “but he still has to do it.”

And until that happens, Nicklaus will safely remain golf’s loftiest legend.