Jack Nicklaus and the Power of a Great Story


As a presenter, one of the best ways you can connect with your audience—and get your audience to connect with YOU—is to tell a personal story. Stories are easy for listeners to follow, and the most likely part of the speech that people will remember and share. Don’t just make it about yourself, though. In our training, clients learn the art of storytelling by turning it into a listener-focused message, one that makes the listener feel as if they can apply the lessons to themselves.

We thought of stories after watching a Golf Channel program last month honoring Jack Nicklaus on his 80th birthday. Nicklaus, the golfer who has won the most major trophies and certainly one of the great sportsmen of our time, shared a version of a story that still occasionally causes him to tear up.

Here’s the story that Jack has shared multiple times. He seems to have a short, medium and long version that he can tailor to the occasion. We have pieced together several versions for our own telling:

A very wonderful young man named Craig Smith, someone with whom Jack formed a special relationship early in his golfing career, still makes a huge impact on Jack when he plays. Craig, on a family vacation visiting his grandparents who lived at Pinehurst, fell in love with golf. He lived in Columbus, where his father was minister at a Methodist church. It happened to be the church attended by Jack Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara. The families became good friends, and Jack took an interest in Craig, particularly in his zest for golf.

Sadly, Craig contracted a bone cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma. Jack visited Craig when he could, and on one visit he asked Craig what his favorite golf shirt color was. Craig told him about how he and his grandfather would wear yellow golf shirts for good luck on the course.

And so, as a way of saying “Hello Craig” when playing, Jack began wearing a yellow shirt on Sundays when he competed in golf tournaments. Craig would predict a win by Jack on those Sundays, and he was often right!

Craig continued to play golf as best he could as he went through many difficult and painful treatments. He shot 84 at Pinehurst’s No 1, a 4-iron’s distance (with a nice wind) from his grandparents’ home. Sadly, that was the last round he ever played. Craig died in 1971 at age 13, and Jack continued to wear yellow when he golfed on Sundays, winning a mess of tourneys along the way.

Fast forward to 1986 at the Master’s Tournament in Augusta, the most prestigious competition of them all. Nicklaus, at age 46, had really been struggling with his game. The Masters didn’t start well for him. He had to scramble to make the cut on Friday, yet on Sunday was within 5 shots of the lead. Victory was improbable but not impossible. For luck, Jack once again pulled out a yellow shirt, thinking of Craig. Nicklaus went on to shoot a magnificent 65 for the win, in what became one of the most memorable rounds of professional golf ever.

Craig’s parents were watching. And Jack continued his tribute to Craig last year when he and his wife launched the “Play Yellow” campaign to raise $100 million for children’s hospitals. Many of his fellow golfers have been seeing wearing yellow at courses across the country.

That’s a great story. It’s real, it’s authentic, it’s emotional, and it helps us all get to know the great Jack Nicklaus just a little better. Most people we know—and work with— have the ability to let their audiences know them just a little bit better as well. The most important part is trusting yourself to BE to be yourself. Let us help you become a great storyteller.

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David Steuart
Quality Director, The Walsh Group

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