DUBLIN, Ohio (Reuters) - Golfing great Jack Nicklaus was a master of his environment out on the course but he will enter very foreign territory when he drops the puck to start a National Hockey League (NHL) game in Columbus on Friday.
Nicklaus, whose Muirfield Village Golf Club is hosting this week’s Presidents Cup between the U.S. and the Internationals, has been invited to perform puck duty for the Blue Jackets’ season-opener against the Calgary Flames at Nationwide Arena.
“First of all, I’ve never seen a puck dropped. I’ve never heard the phrase until about two weeks ago,” a smiling Nicklaus told reporters at Muirfield Village on Tuesday, sparking widespread laughter in the interview room.
“I don’t know how far you drop it from. I don’t know what you’re supposed to hit and who you’re not supposed to hurt. So I’ll find out on Friday night. I don’t even know who the Blue Jackets are playing. Who do they play?”
Told that the Blue Jackets would be launching their NHL campaign against the Flames, Nicklaus replied: “Calgary? They play Calgary on Friday night and that’s the opening of the season.
“They have asked me to come down and do that and I’m delighted to do so. I need to learn something; I need to broaden my horizons.”
Nicklaus, who has clinched a record 18 major titles, went on to explain that he had previously attended only one NHL game.
“I had season tickets for the (Florida) Panthers for about four or five years, never used them one time,” said the 73-year-old who lives in North Palm Beach, Florida. “My office used them.
“And they were playing for the Stanley Cup and they were playing against the Avalanche and that’s when they were throwing the mice or the rats on the ice.”
The Panthers were swept in four games by the Colorado Avalanche in the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals, ending a season in which their fans threw rubber rats on to the ice to celebrate every goal scored by Florida.
“And Wayne Huizenga, Wayne owned the Panthers at the time, and he asked me if I wanted to come down with (wife) Barbara and we did,” Nicklaus recalled.
“We went down, sat right behind the glass. Of course, every time the puck hit the glass, Barbara was jumping back about 10 feet; or somebody would check into the glass.
“It was a very interesting experience and enjoyable and we had a great time. I had not been to a hockey game since, so we are going to go to a hockey game Friday night.”
Friday’s game between the Blue Jackets and the Flames will take place after day two of the Presidents Cup, which features the opening foursomes matches at Muirfield Village.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue