Jack Nicklaus flashed a silky swing, charm and a smile as bright as the countless golf balls he has sunk during his storied career Monday.
The man nicknamed the Golden Bear — winner of 18 major tournament titles and regarded by many as the best to ever swing a club — worked the crowd of more than 150 people who attended a private clinic at the Tacoma Golf & Country Club in Lakewood.
Nicklaus is spending a few hours in the South Sound, en route to a trip to Asia, to help raise money for the expansion of the American Lake Veterans Golf Course from nine to 18 holes. He is co-chair of the committee trying to raise $3 million for the project and is donating the services of his design team.
Before making his fund-raising pitch, Nicklaus put on a clinic, in every sense of the word. Standing at a freshly groomed tee, he launched balls that whistled hundreds of yards away. He stressed how no two golfers’ swings are alike. He even cracked one-liners that knocked everything from his age to his weight.
But when talking with reporters about the expansion — which supporters say will help injured soldiers who use golf for physical and emotion rehabilitation — one of golf’s biggest performers looked down toward the grass to search for words.
“This is one out of love,” he said.
Nicklaus hit balls with three local veterans who have been injured and now golf regularly at the veterans golf course. By the end of the clinic, the soldiers and their swings were the ones getting the applause.
Lt. Col. Danny Dudek, commander with the Warrior Transition Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, was hoping just to make solid contact with the ball.
The 41-year-old from Roy is paralyzed from the waist down, the result of an IED blast three years ago in Iraq. After that, he thought he’d never enjoy an activity with friends without feeling that they essentially were baby-sitting him.
That was until he began playing at the veterans course using a special cart that stabilized him so he could swing.
On Monday, with Nicklaus and the rest of the crowd watching, Dudek launched his first shot more than 100 yards straight down the fairway, causing the crowd to erupt.
“I would have been happy just hitting it three to five feet,” he joked afterward. Someone ended up finding the ball and got it signed by Nicklaus himself.
Nicklaus is scheduled to visit the veterans course for a few hours today before going to Asia.
Read more about this story in Wednesday’s News Tribune.