Jack Nicklaus: “It’s a legacy. That shirt lives on.”

When a person has been around golf as long as Jack Nicklaus has, it’s easy to imagine that he would have some definite thoughts when asked what the most important part of the game was to him. 
Jack Nicklaus, Barbara Nicklaus - The Masters
Jack Nicklaus, Barbara Nicklaus - The Masters / Andrew Redington/GettyImages

Funnily enough, Jack Nicklaus doesn’t see golf as something that can be segmented into parts. He sees the whole.

“I love what the game of golf does for people,” he said. “They have learned how to grow up and learn -- and they have learned the courtesies of the game.”

He loves the challenge that the game presents, because he sees it as an important educational experience.  

“There's a challenge to everything you do in life,” he noted. “And if you don't like, if you don't like challenges, go someplace else, because golf's got a bunch of 'em.”

He also cited programs created through golf, like the First Tee program.

“First Tee has taught the lessons of life to so many kids. I think it's unbelievable what they have done,” Nicklaus continued.

In Nicklaus’ case, he has also seen what golf can do in a big way with the Play Yellow program that he and his wife Barbara started in conjunction with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and the PGA Tour.  Play Yellow was based on the story of a young boy from Columbus, Ohio, who was the son of the minister of the church that Barbara Nicklaus attended growing up.  The boy’s name was Craig, and he had Ewings Sarcoma, a cancer of the bone and soft tissues. 

As it happened, Craig was a huge fan of Jack Nicklaus.  

“He was like 9 or 10 years old, and his mother asked Barbara if I would call him,” Nicklaus explained. “So, I called him and talked to him and developed a relationship. And I talked to him quite frequently.”

In one of the calls, a day after Nicklaus had won a tournament, Craig said to him, “Do you know why you won today? I wore my lucky yellow shirt.”

Craig died when he was 13. That was in 1971. And really, it was a story that only the Nicklauses and Craig’s family knew, although Nicklaus often wore yellow on Sundays.

Then at the 1986 Masters, someone in the Nicklaus entourage found an article written by Tom McCollister which said that Nicklaus had lost his game and ability to win. Someone else posted it on the refrigerator in the home they were renting. Nicklaus saw it every day. You can imagine what that might have done.

Sunday came around, and as Nicklaus told it, he was rummaging through his suitcase looking for a shirt for the final round. He saw the yellow one, still unworn that week.

“I said, ‘What do you think, Barbara?’ And she says, ‘Craig would love it. Go for it.’ So, I wore a yellow shirt on Sunday in '86, and then I won and ended up having to tell the story,” Nicklaus explained.

The rest is history. Nicklaus captured his 18th major.

From then on, the Nicklauses did several things with the yellow theme, but they didn’t publicize it a lot.

After many years came and went, Play Yellow came up again.

“Children's Miracle Network came to Barbara and me and said that ‘We would like to raise a $100 million dollars over the next five years through the game of golf’,” Nicklaus explained. “They asked how they could do it.”

The Nicklauses brought the Children’s Miracle Network people to meet with the PGA Tour. 

“We said, ‘Look, this is -- they said this is what they want to do,” Nicklaus recalled, adding that there are 180 Children's Miracle Network Hospitals and that the money raised in each community would stay there.

He compared it to the fundraising they had done for Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and for the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, Florida.

“So, we started on this program, and we passed, after about three and a half years, we passed about $130 million,” Nicklaus said. “I think we're probably in the, by now, by the fourth year of our campaign, are we not? Am I correct? We are in the fourth year of the campaign. So, we've done very well. We'll not stop here. We'll continue to raise money. And this one little boy's, it's a legacy, I feel that shirt lives on.”

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Play Yellow Fundraiser:

The Memorial is having a Yellow Out for the Sunday round, asking fans to wear yellow to the tournament. Those who want to buy something yellow can do that with AHEAD or Nicklaus brand merchandise in the golf shop. Fans at the tournament can make donations at concession stands or in the golf shop.

In addition, there’s a new stuffed Golden Bear supporting Play Yellow for Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The Limited Edition Bear is named Bash, which is Barbara Nicklaus’ maiden name.  Bears can be purchased and donated to Nationwide Children’s for patients or kept for a child you know.