Opinion: Jack Nicklaus gets Masters under way, stays mum on Trump

AUGUSTA, Georgia – Two weeks ago, Jack Nicklaus shocked many in the sports world with a full-throated public endorsement of Donald Trump, calling the controversial president “more diverse than any president I have seen,” and warning about “a socialist America” if Trump was not re-elected.

But Thursday morning, after getting the 2020 Masters off to a soggy start with his ceremonial tee shot at dawn, Nicklaus said he was done talking about politics.

“I think I’ve said enough about that,” he said. “I don’t think this is the place for politics.”

Nicklaus was responding to a question I asked in a Thursday morning news conference with fellow honorary starter Gary Player. Two weeks ago, I reached out to Nicklaus through his manager, Scott Tolley, before writing a column about his endorsement of a president who has consistently and reprehensibly denigrated women and people of color, including Vice President-elect Kamala Harris; who has been accused of sexually assaulting or sexually harassing at least 26 women; who has waged war on Black athletes who speak out about injustice; and who has called white nationalists “very fine people,” among many other awful comments.

Honorary starter Jack Nicklaus follows his ceremonial tee shot on the 1st hole during the first round of The Masters at Augusta National GC. (Photo: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports)

That day, Tolley declined comment and said Nicklaus was unavailable for comment.

So I tried Nicklaus himself Thursday.

“As you know, I wanted to speak with you before I wrote my column about your very public support of President Trump. I’d love to ask this now if I may. You are known as the ultimate gracious sportsman in the game of golf and really throughout sports, certainly with your career, with Ryder Cups, the way you’ve handled victory and defeat and the like. I’m just curious: What is your advice to President Trump on how to accept defeat?”  

Nicklaus gave his succinct answer – “I think I’ve said enough about that. I don’t think this is the place for politics.” – and moved on to the next question.

The topic of accepting defeat graciously is in the news because that is exactly what Trump has not done since Joe Biden became the president-elect Saturday. Trump has refused to concede to Biden while complaining about voter fraud without any evidence. The Trump administration also has denied the Biden team access to the traditional transition funds normally allocated to a new president.

Nicklaus was given the opportunity Thursday morning to publicly send a message to Trump about how to lose with grace and dignity. Unfortunately, he didn't take it.

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