AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jack Nicklaus was talking about his grandson. Even at the age of 17 months, little Jake Nicklaus might have been his grandfather's favorite. Something about that kid. Jake's parents said that every time he saw his grandpa come in the room, he stood up and held his arms wide apart.
Jake would hug his grandfather so tightly that not even his mother could separate them. Jake's proud parents, Steve and Krista Nicklaus, said this was one smart boy.
Grandpa Jack said the kid was set for life.
No one knew that Jake's life would be so short.
They're still dealing with the grief, the entire Nicklaus clan, the pain and suffering and the hole in their hearts, the weight they have been carrying since Jake drowned at the family home in North Palm Beach, Fla., a little over a month ago.
It hit the grandfather like nothing else had. Jack said his grandson had just started to talk, jabbering a few words, and he was also just beginning to develop his personality.
Their relationship was not without its bumps. When Jack worked, he would go days without seeing Jake. When Jack traveled, he might not see Jake for a week or two. But Jake always owned a warm place in his grandfather's heart.
"He was a cute little kid," the grandfather said.
More than 500 people attended a private memorial for Jake in North Palm Beach. Even now, weeks later, Jack Nicklaus worries about Jake's parents. And, to tell the truth, he doesn't feel so great either.
Steve and Krista lost a child. Jack said he feels ill because he has to watch his children suffer. He said that's the hardest part. He called it a double-whammy for a grandparent.
"That's just not supposed to happen," he said.
Jack Nicklaus said his son and daughter-in-law cry themselves to sleep every night.
That's understandable and probably best for them both, Jack said. But he also said they probably are never going to get over Jake's death, that he's always going to be part of their lives.
Jack said the problem is that there's nothing anybody can say, and no matter what you say, you always think it's the wrong thing because there is no right thing.
All you can do is grieve as you need to and say that life will get better.
"But it's difficult," he said.
So Tuesday at Augusta National Golf Club, Jack Nicklaus sat down and talked about life getting better, not as a six-time winner of the Masters, but as a saddened 65-year-old grandfather.
For the 45th time, Nicklaus will play in the Masters, probably because everyone in his family thinks it will be good for him to get out on the course again.
After all, he's not getting any younger, and who's to say how many more chances he'll get here? The first year Nicklaus played here was in 1959, when he missed the cut, but had a ball anyway, living in the Crow's Nest with Phil Rodgers, both of them amateurs. That meant they were charged a nominal fee for food -- $1 for breakfast, $1 for lunch and $2 for dinner.
Nicklaus said he and Rodgers ate so many steaks, they were soon charged $2 for each steak they ate for dinner. Fine, the golfers said, then just keep them coming.
That was so long ago, Nicklaus said. He has played the Masters in six decades and he isn't sure whether this is his last time or not. It may not be, but it probably is.
Whatever his intentions, he just doesn't want to make a big deal out of it.
He said his time has passed, that he has had his run at Augusta and that he doesn't need a lot of fanfare over the whole situation. When he decides to quit, he said it's not a big deal for him, so why would it be a big deal for anybody else?
Besides, his mind is on other matters. The last few weeks have taken their toll on the Nicklaus clan, and certainly on the patriarch. There is sort of a tug of war going on here. He is an icon for a generation of golfers, but a grandfather to his family.
Both positions have their merits. This week at the Masters, the golf legend and the grieving grandfather, how they mix together in public view, is a story that everyone can follow with interest. It's something you can wrap your arms around.