Nicklaus tells tales of Charlie Coe, Jack Grout and other Oklahoma connections

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By Murray Evans
Photos by Nathan Jeans

NORMAN – The Q factor of having Jack Nicklaus involved in a golf tournament is strong, even for those in positions of authority who are used to being around famous people, something clearly evident on Saturday during the Compliance Solutions Championship at Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club.

As University of Oklahoma President Joseph Harroz left the building in which he’d just met Nicklaus, a huge smile crossed his face. “It’s neat having Jack Nicklaus here! That’s about as cool as it gets,” Harroz told a nearby reporter. A few minutes later, Norman Mayor Larry Heikkila presented Nicklaus with an honorary key to the city, to which Nicklaus quipped, “The key should really go to the real boss,” as he handed it to his wife, Barbara.

And while Nicklaus is an athlete who transcends his sport, he’s not so self-important that he won’t pay attention when he’s speaking to someone.

Former Oklahoma State basketball player Bryndon Manzer, now an ESPN analyst, played for the OSU team on Saturday afternoon in the inaugural Compliance Solutions Championship Celebrity Shootout, being held in conjunction with the Korn Ferry Tour tournament. The night before, Manzer attended a function with Nicklaus at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater – OSU’s home course – and was one of a line of people who did a meet-and-greet with the legendary golfer.

“Each person came up to take a picture with him and (his wife) Barbara,” Manzer said. “They said their name, he’d look them in the eye and there would be a 10- to 15-second exchange. He did that with everybody. It was cool. … When you’re growing up, you see this unbelievable athlete, but you get older and see what kind of person he is. That makes it even more cool.”

Nicklaus was in Norman on Saturday to serve as “the ultimate ace-in-the-hole” to teams of former OU and OSU athletes who competed to benefit two Oklahoma-based charities, AutismOklahoma and Folds of Honor. Before taking his putter out on the course, Nicklaus regaled media with stories about his connections to Oklahoma, which included a match in which he made what he described as “the most important putt I ever made in my life” and a tale about his first teacher.

Jack Nicklaus speaks at a press conference during the Compliance Solutions Championship.

Charlie Coe, whose name adorns the OU practice facility at Jimmie Austin, is a major historical figure in Oklahoma golf, tying for second as an amateur in the 1961 Masters and winning U.S. Amateur titles in 1949 and 1958. Coe might have won a third U.S. Amateur title, but fell in the 1959 title match at Broadmoor Golf Club in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on the 36th hole by one shot to a 19-year-old Nicklaus, who buried an 8-foot birdie putt. That putt came after Coe, whose second shot had landed on the fringe on the back side of the green, had chipped to within inches of the hole.

“That eight-footer told me that I could now make a putt and do the things you had to do when you had to do it,” Nicklaus said. “That was my biggest push forward … to know that I could compete.”

He also talked about watching Coe warm up before the 1961 Masters.

“For breakfast, Charlie would have about four cigarettes and three Cokes,” Nicklaus said. “I guess it was ’61 that Charlie finished second in the Masters. I will never forget – I was on the practice tee and I was in contention, too. Charlie walked out on the practice tee and threw some balls down, took out a 7-iron to warm up and shanked it. Put another ball down, shanked it. Put another ball down, shanked it. He said, ‘That’s enough,’ picks up his ball, went to the first tee and finished second. True story.”

Jack Nicklaus, serving as ultimate ace-in-the-hole, putts on the seventeenth green for the Celebrity Shootout event during the Compliance Solutions Championship at Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club on June 22, 2024 in Norman, Oklahoma. Photo credit: Nathan Jeans/Golf Oklahoma
Jack Nicklaus sinks a putt in the Celebrity Shootout.

Nicklaus also spoke about a person he’s called his “first and only” teacher of golf, Jack Grout, who was born in Oklahoma City in 1910 and served as the pro at Edgemere Country Club before moving to Texas, Pennsylvania and, eventually, Ohio, where he first worked with a 10-year-old Nicklaus at Scioto Country Club in Columbus.

“Jack Grout was one of the greatest guys of all time,” Nicklaus said. “He taught me how to play. … He taught me to be responsive to my own game and figure it out.”

Although Nicklaus has played professional tournaments in Oklahoma many times, including majors at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa and what’s now Oak Tree National in Edmond, he’s never won in the Sooner State. Just two years after winning his last major title – the 1986 Masters, at age 46 – he famously flamed out of the 1988 PGA Championship at Oak Tree, missing the cut.

Asked about his thoughts on Oak Tree, Nicklaus said he didn’t know much about the course, because “I played it for two rounds and I didn’t do very well. … It isn’t Oak Tree’s fault that I didn’t play very well. It was Jack Nicklaus’ fault, because he didn’t prepare himself for it.”

Nicklaus said he also learned a key lesson the first time he played a competitive match at Southern Hills – when he was 13 and playing in the U.S. Golf Association Junior Championship. He was the first player off the tee at 7 a.m. and sauntered up to the tee box about 30 seconds before his tee time. Joe Dey, then the USGA executive director, looked at him and said, “Young man, 30 seconds later and you’d be on the second tee, one down.”

Lesson learned.

“I’ve never been late for a starting time,” Nicklaus said.

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