Jack Nicklaus, right, welcomes Mitt Romney to the stage during a campaign… (Jay LaPrete / Associated…)
CINCINNATI -- You wouldn’t think a guy like Jack Nicklaus, arguably the most successful professional golfer of all time, would have many regrets in life.
But it was regret that drove Nicklaus to take a stand in the 2012 presidential election.
On Sunday, Nicklaus stood in a parking lot at Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals, and asked Ohioans to vote for Mitt Romney.
As Bengals fans grilled hot dogs and sipped beer before the game against the Denver Broncos— yes, a swing-state face-off — Nicklaus stepped off a Romney bus parked next to a gravel works in the corner of Parking Lot E. It’s hard to describe the effect his presence had on some of the football fans, who at first were stunned to see who was standing in their midst.
“I never in a million years thought I’d be standing next to a Romney bus with Jack Nicklaus inside,” said Ryan Sullivan, 29, an Ohio Department of Transportation worker. “He’s the Golden Bear! He’s the guy Tiger Woods is chasing. He’s a great member of society, a class act.”
Cindy Luck, dressed in orange and black Bengals regalia, said she was certain Nicklaus’ support would help Romney. “It does make a difference,” said Luck, 50, co-owner of a Cincinnati title company. “People listen to a man who has that much respect. It has a trickle-down effect.”
Nicklaus, 72, who normally stays above the political fray, was kicking off a two-day get-out-the-vote Ohio bus tour for Romney.
Monday, he will be joined by Olympic gold medal figure skater Scott Hamilton in six Ohio towns, including Columbus, where he grew up.
In a brief interview moments after he stepped off the bus, Nicklaus said he is campaigning for Romney because he is unhappy with country’s direction. A father of five and grandfather of 22, he said he worried that his grandchildren would not be able to live the American dream as he has.
“I feel very strongly about that,” Nicklaus said. “I just don’t like the direction we’re heading. I don’t like the divide we have in the country. I’ve never seen our country get split like this, and I really dislike that.”
Nicklaus, who attended Ohio State University, said his grandfather had worked on the railroads and had urged his sons — Nicklaus’ father and uncle — to strive for a better life. Nicklaus’ father became a pharmacist, and his uncle became a dentist.
“They all had the American dream, the ability to be able to have their own businesses, the same as I’ve done,” Nicklaus said. “I don’t see our kids, our grandkids, having that ability under what’s happening with the government. I want them to have that opportunity. This is more about my family than anything else.”
But Nicklaus said he was also motivated by deep regrets over refusing to help his friend and golfing partner, President Ford, in his campaign against Jimmy Carter in 1976.
“He asked me to get involved and I didn’t,” Nicklaus said. “I said, ‘Mr. President, I’ve always stayed away from politics. I deal with people on both sides.’ And he respected that and he never had an issue with that, and we played a lot of golf after that. But I didn’t help him and he lost Ohio by several thousand votes. Had he won Ohio, he would have won the election. I’ve always had big regrets about that.
“In spite of me not doing that, he paid me a great honor: I was a pallbearer at his funeral. He was such a good friend, such a nice man. That’s why I’ve gotten involved.”