Memorial golf honoree Ben Crenshaw recalls first time he met Jack Nicklaus — in a bathroom

DUBLIN, Ohio — The first time 2022 Memorial honoree Ben Crenshaw met tournament founder and host Jack Nicklaus included a bit of bathroom humor.

Crenshaw was a young and upcoming Texan who had grown up idolizing Nicklaus, 12 years his senior and already a golf legend, when the two PGA Tour players showed up at the 1971 U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia.

“I’m watching the Masters every year since I was a little kid,” Crenshaw said Wednesday during the honoree ceremony, which also recognized co-honoree Charlie Sifford. “Every kid idolized Jack. I really wanted to meet him, so here we are at a practice round (at the U.S. Open) and I go into the locker room and here he comes.”

Nicklaus, at the top of his game and height of his fame, charged past the 19-year-old Crenshaw and up the stairs, blond hair waving.

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“He’s got the white shoes on and I’m going, ‘Oh my god, there he is,’” Crenshaw said. “He was by himself, didn’t have an entourage around him, so I thought, ‘This may be my chance.’ Like a little kid, I waited a bit and then ran up the stairs and there Jack was – using the restroom.”

Undeterred, or maybe better put in a panic, Crenshaw stuck out his hand while approaching Nicklaus and said, ‘Hi Jack, I’m Ben Crenshaw.’

“And he just said, ‘I’ll be with you in a minute.’”

Nicklaus laughed at Crenshaw’s telling of the story, later saying he was glad the story got told by the tournament honoree and not the host.

“Jack to me is a player who was conjured up from somewhere else,” Crenshaw said, turning serious. “He had power, touch and always knew what club to hit. I played with him and he would pull out that 1958 MacGregor 3-wood, and that thing won him a lot of tournaments.”

Crenshaw also addressed Nicklaus’ outstanding sportsmanship.

“Jack was always doing the right thing,” Crenshaw said. “I played with him in 1977 at the last round of the Masters and I did not play well. And Jack played the most magnificent round you ever saw. He did not miss a shot, but unbelievably he hit a 6-iron fat at No. 18 and made a bogey, and Tom Watson made this curling putt on 17 and beat him. We played twosomes and we went into the tent and signed the cards and Jack turned to Willie Peterson, his caddie, and said, ‘Gee, Willie, that’s too bad.’ I thought, ‘Is that all he’s going to say?’ If I’d have done that I’d have torn up the tent. … But that’s the kind of guy Jack Nicklaus is.”