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Nicklaus still hands on at Memorial

Jack Nicklaus learned to swing a club as a blond, chubby kid living in a Columbus suburb. He grew up to become a champion, then built Muirfield Village Golf Club, home of the Memorial Tournament, in the area.

Even though he seldom returns to his hometown and has designed almost 300 other courses around the world, he still has a special place in his heart for one of his first layouts and the tournament he created.

The Memorial, which begins Thursday, always draws a glittering field. One reason is that Nicklaus wants the top players to feel the same way he did whenever he came back.

"From day one here our goal was to make sure that we took care of the players so that when they came here, they felt like they were at home," Nicklaus said Tuesday before playing in the pro-am. "Their needs are taken care of from the family standpoint, transportation standpoint, accommodations, child care."

It might seem incongruous for a multimillionaire athlete and corporate executive to be concerned about having baby sitters available for the children of Ernie Els or Jesper Parnevik. But times have changed, and the Memorial must compete with the other tournaments on the PGA rotation to draw the best players.

"I had a couple of players saying, 'We select our tournaments based on the child care,' " Nicklaus said with a grin. "I said, 'I'm sorry. I beg your pardon?' ... It's different than when we played. We took care of our own kids. One wife would go to the golf course one day and the other wife would go the next day. They'd get to see one or two days. It doesn't happen that way now."

A winner of 18 major championships, Nicklaus didn't have to concern himself with child care. His wife, Barbara, watched over the five kids while Jack traveled the globe first as a player and then as a course architect.

He didn't build his schedule around amenities, for his family or himself.

"It was always around the golf courses -- the ones that I felt were the greatest challenge," he said. "It was built around the majors and then built in between with the ones that I wanted to play that I felt were good golf courses and I would enjoy playing."

Bob Tway, who won the Memorial in 1989, said he doesn't pick a tournament because it hands out gift bags, massages, a limo or concert tickets.

"I'm a creature of habit. I've been out here for so long I always play the same ones," said Tway, who will tee it up for the 19th time at the Memorial. "I kind of nail down the places I really enjoy going, the golf courses I really enjoy playing. And I really like this place."

The Memorial will draw eight of the top 10 and 39 of the top 50 players on the PGA Tour money list. Every top player has visited the tournament over its 28 years. Past champions include Tiger Woods (three times), Hale Irwin and Nicklaus (twice each), Jim Furyk, Greg Norman, Tom Watson and Vijay Singh.

This year, since there is no conflict with a major European tournament, many of the world's top players are also visiting the Memorial. Padraig Harrington, Carlos Franco, Lee Westwood, Jose Maria Olazabal, Bernhard Langer and Sergio Garcia are in the 105-man field, which includes 21 of the top 32 in the world rankings.

Some players make the stop in New Orleans because of the food. Some make sure they play in Las Vegas because of the nightlife and gambling. Others favor Orlando because of its proximity to family entertainment.

Nicklaus created the Memorial in the image of his favorite tournament, the Masters. The Masters, started by Bobby Jones, has perpetuated Jones' legacy.

The same will likely be the case for the Memorial and Nicklaus, long after the many of the Golden Bear's records have been surpassed.

Nicklaus, now 63, recognizes that his days as a player are nearing an end. Still, he will tee it up in his tournament -- as he has in the previous 27 -- and hope that his achy back and his artificial hips can yield a few more birdies.

As he said before last year's Memorial, "I've played every one of them and I don't want to stop now."

 

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