PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Jack Nicklaus had one objective when he stepped onto the first tee box Friday to hit the first shot at the opening of Panther National.
“If I reach the fairway I’ll be delighted,” he said.
With his co-designer Justin Thomas looking on, Nicklaus took an easy swing and watched as the ball settled in the short grass.
“That was my goal,” Nicklaus said before Thomas gave him a high-five.
Nicklaus, 83, had not swung a golf club since April when he served as an honorary starter at the Masters. That was 225 days ago.
When he addressed the ball, other than reaching the fairway, Nicklaus had one other concern.
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“I was worried about hurting myself,” the 18-time major winner said. “I just swung easy enough to not hurt myself.”
Nicklaus admitted he hit a better tee shot at Augusta National. “I warmed up at the Masters,” he said.
Thomas, who lives in Tequesta and is involved in designing a golf course for the first time, was impressed.
“I hope I can out drive Jack,” he said before hitting the second tee shot.
Of course he did, but his was not the drive he was talking about when he met up with Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele, Lexi Thompson, Morgan Hoffmann and Erik van Rooyen to play a pro exhibition match at the course.
Nicklaus said the last time he “played” was in February. In 2005, the R&A hosted the British Open so Nicklaus could end his career at the esteemed St. Andrews course. He missed the cut and said he has never played an 18-hole round since where he’s holed out every putt.
“I’d love to play again but I don’t want to hurt myself,” Nicklaus said. “For two weeks after (playing in February) I felt so miserable.”