Jack Nicklaus fist-bumps The Memorial winner Jon Rahm

Jon Rahm, of Spain, right, is congratulated by Jack Nicklaus with a fist-bump after winning the Memorial golf tournament, Sunday, July 19, 2020, in Dublin, Ohio.

HARTFORD, Conn. – Jack Nicklaus has been the epitome of good on and off the golf course for decades, and he added to his legacy on Sunday July 19 with a notable announcement for everyone.

During the telecast of The Memorial Tournament, the Golden Bear told CBS announcer Jim Nantz that he and his wife, Barbara, tested positive for the coronavirus in March and self-isolated at their home in North Palm Beach, Fla., from March 13 to April 20. They have since tested positive for the COVID-19 antibody.

“Barbara was asymptomatic, and I had a sore throat and a cough,” Nicklaus told Nantz. “It didn’t last very long, and we were very, very fortunate, very lucky. Barbara and I are both of the age that is an at-risk age (80).

“Our hearts go out to the people who did lose their lives and their families. We were just a couple of the lucky ones, so we feel very strong about working with those who are taking care of those who have COVID-19.”

During a virtual pre-tournament news conference at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, Nicklaus was asked about his tradition of greeting the winner with a handshake behind the 18th green.

“I’m going to shake their hand,” Nicklaus said. “I’m going to walk right out there and shake your hand. If they don’t want to shake my hand, that’s fine. I’ll give them a fist bump or an elbow bump, but I’m not going to give them COVID-19. I wouldn’t put anybody in that position. I wouldn’t do that, and if I was in any danger of doing that, I wouldn’t shake their hands.

“And incidentally, I like shaking their hand, too. I think that’s a great tradition, but it was as much fun for me as I hope it is for them.”

On Sunday July 19, Nicklaus amended his position on the handshake.

“They asked me if I was going to shake hands on the 18th green with the winner,” he said. “Well, if the winner wants to shake hands, that’s fine. [But] I won’t put him in the position.”
As winner Jon Rahm exited the green and approached Nicklaus, the tournament host asked the champion, “Which way do you want it?” Rahm and Nicklaus bumped fists. Rahm later got a fist bump from Barbara Nicklaus.

Rahm beat Ryan Palmer by three shots after being assessed a two-stroke penalty for his ball slightly moving in heavy rough as he set up for a chip shot on the 16th hole that he sank for a birdie 2, setting off a jubilant celebration. When asked about the incident after he finished, Rahm was stunned to hear there had been a possible infraction but said he would accept any decision.

Despite the penalty, Rahm joined Seve Ballesteros as the only Spaniards to be No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Ballesteros was Rahm’s hero growing up, so Rahm said he was especially happy to join his late countryman as No. 1 at the course where Seve sank the putt to clinch the 1987 Ryder Cup, the first time that Europe won on American soil.

Rahm ended up with a closing 3-over-par 75 for a 72-hole total of 9-under 279 that gave him his fourth PGA Tour victory in as many years. He had as much as an eight-stroke lead on the back nine, and though he faltered some down the stretch, Palmer never got closer than three shots thanks in part to what transpired at the 16th hole.

Palmer’s consolation was he and Canadian Mackenzie Hughes, who tied for sixth, earned spots in the U.S. Open on Sept. 17-20 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. Hughes and Will Gordon tied for third in the Travelers Championship and earned Special Temporary Membership on the PGA Tour, giving them unlimited sponsor exemptions for the remainder of the season. Under Category 16 of the U.S. Golf Association’s criteria, the top two players, not otherwise exempt, in the top 10 and ties of the Memorial, 3M Open, World Golf Championship FedEx St. Jude Invitational, Barracuda Championship and Wyndham Championship earn U.S. Open spots. So, too, will the top three, not otherwise exempt, in the top 10 and ties in the PGA Championship.

The U.S. Open, original scheduled for its customary spot in mid-June, was postponed because of the global coronavirus pandemic and rescheduled for September as part of the PGA Tour’s revised schedule. One of the hallmarks of the U.S. Open, the potential for any player in the world who meets the eligibility criteria to qualify, also was a casualty of the pandemic. When the USGA canceled qualifying, it established an all-exempt formula for this most extraordinary of golf seasons. That’s how the revised exemption categories were established to fill out much of a field typically filled with qualifiers.

Rahm had no such concerns despite the unusual circumstance at No. 16 on Sunday. When addressing his ball from the behind the green, he was later determined to have nudged the ball slightly. Though he holed out for an apparent birdie, the penalty – one stroke for moving the ball and another stroke for not playing it from the original spot under Rule 9.4 “Ball Lifted or Moved by Player” – resulted in a bogey 4.

The incident, reviewed by PGA Tour rules officials who alerted Rahm after his round, capped a bizarre day for the Spaniard. He was 2 under on the ninth hole when storms suspended play for 50 minutes. Upon returning to the course, he made the turn in 34 with an unblemished scorecard. Then came the back nine, where he started bogey-double bogey. After another bogey at the 14th hole, his lead was down to three over playing partner Palmer, with whom Rahm won the 2019 Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

When Rahm holed out for the apparent birdie at No. 16 and Palmer missed a 12-foot birdie putt, Rahm thought his lead was back to four. It was actually only two, but he wouldn’t know that until after he finished. Palmer bogeyed the 17th hole, effectively handing the title to Rahm. Palmer closed with 74 for 282, one better than England’s Matthew Fitzgerald, whose 68 was the only sub-70 score in the final round. For the second week, Jim “Bones” Mackay, the longtime caddie for Phil Mickelson, carried for Fitzgerald as a fill-in.

“The ball did move,” Rahm said of the 16th hole incident. “It’s as simple as that. The rules of golf are clear. Had I seen it, I would have said something. But you have to zoom in the camera to be able to see something, and I have rough; I’m looking at my landing spot. I’m not really thinking of looking at the golf ball.

“As unfortunate as it is to have this happen, it was a great shot. What it goes to show is you never know what’s going to happen. So, I’m glad I grinded those last two up-and-downs. I want everybody to hear it; it did move. It is a penalty. But it did move, so I’ll accept the penalty, and it still doesn’t change the outcome of the tournament. It doesn’t take anything from the day, though. It’s still probably one of the greatest days of my life.”

As great as Jack Nicklaus alerting the world to what he and his wife overcame as an alert to do what is best for all concerned.


Worked as sports writer for The Hartford Courant for 38 years before retiring in 2008. His major beats at the paper were golf, the Hartford Whalers, University of Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball, Yale football, United States and World Figure Skating Championships and ski columnist. He has covered every PGA Tour stop in Connecticut since 1971, along with 30 Masters, 25 U.S. Opens, four PGA Championships, 12 Deutsche Bank Championships, 15 Westchester (N.Y.) Classics and four Ryder Cups. He has won several Golf Writers Association of America writing awards, including a first place for a feature on John Daly, and was elected to the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame in 2009. He also worked for the Connecticut Whale hockey team for two years when they were renamed by former Hartford Whalers managing general partner Howard Baldwin, who had become the marketing director of the Hartford Wolf Pack, the top affiliate of the New York Rangers.

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