PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- On the occasion of his 44th and probably last U.S. Open, Jack Nicklaus took a short walk down a long fairway, brushed back the tears, waved to the gallery, took a long look around Pebble Beach and said it's a nice place to say goodbye.
He is 60 now and the half-limping walk Nicklaus made down the 18th fairway to the last hole on a sunny day at Pebble Beach is a long way from his first Open as an apple-cheeked 17-year-old amateur in 1957.
Nicklaus shot 80 in that second round at Inverness and missed the cut. At least he completed the cycle Friday. He shot 82 afternoon and missed the cut.
There have been finer moments in his storied career. Nicklaus has played a total of 160 rounds at the Open and this one was his worst.
Followed by his wife, Barbara, and with all four sons nearby, Nicklaus choked up as he strode to the 18th green.
Someone asked why he was crying.
''It was just the wind,'' Nicklaus said.
Well, maybe it was at that. Nicklaus says he is neither the sentimental type, nor particularly reflective and certainly not the type given to introspective anecdotes.
He can tell you each shot he hit in every round of every U.S. Open, but you ask Nicklaus how he felt walking up that 18th fairway with the chance of it being his last U.S. Open and he shrugs.
If this is how Nicklaus ends his U.S. Open career, it will go down as a good example of why. He shot a 41 on the front and a 41 on the back, a round that began about 30 minutes after he ended his fog-delayed first round.
The day began at 4:20 a.m. so Nicklaus could make his early tee time. It also gave him enough time to stretch his aching legs and hip and back. After he finished his first round, Nicklaus ate his breakfast standing up so he wouldn't get too stiff.
If it really turns out to be Nicklaus' last round at the U.S. Open, it is entirely forgettable. He made seven bogeys and two double bogeys.
Still, Nicklaus had one more surprise in store. He stood on the 18th tee with his son and caddie, Jackie, and thought about great it would be to reach the green in two. So that's what he did. Nicklaus said it has been at least 20 years since he last reached No. 18 at Pebble in two. And then he three-putted.
But reaching the green in two? Is that a good farewell or what?
''That was a nice way to finish up what we were doing,'' Nicklaus said.
He didn't sound as though he was coming back again.
Pebble Beach is a nice place to play a final U.S. Open, he said. Aske mer's U.S. Open farewell in 1994 at Oakmont, Nicklaus said, well, he just did it: ''It's gone.'' His golf game just isn't good enough to compete any
more, he said.
It's not a question of Nicklaus tarnishing his reputation. What it's about is choosing the right time to exit. Palmer was 64 and knew the right moment in 1994 at Oakmont, near his hometown of Latrobe, Pa.
There is no doubt that this is Nicklaus' last trip to all four majors -- the Masters, the Open, the British Open at St. Andrews and the PGA Championship at the Valhalla course he designed.
He said his goal was to play four rounds in each of the four and compete as best he could.
''Obviously I blew that today,'' Nicklaus said.
The way Nicklaus decided to play it was to treat his walk up 18 as a last walk.
The journey has been one of the most remarkable in U.S. Open history. No one has played more times or played more rounds or won more or won more money than Nicklaus.
If this truly was Nicklaus' last walk up his last fairway at his last hole at his 44th and last U.S. Open, all anyone can do is thank him for the memories.
After all, it has been a long time since Nicklaus won his first U.S. Open, in 1962 at Oakmont, which was also his first professional victory. He was 22 then.
Strange as it may seen, Nicklaus can recall every club he hit on every hole in that first U.S. Open victory 38 years ago. Don't believe it? Then you don't know Jack.
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