Chris Pope was 10 years old when his dad took him to the 1963 U.S. Open at The Country Club. Even though it was not a particularly memorable week for defending champion Jack Nicklaus, who missed the cut, the Golden Bear’s early exit provided an opportunity for a memento that Pope cherishes.
“Late on Friday, my dad is dragging me over to say hello to Francis Ouimet, who was there that week,” recalls Pope. “I look over to my right, and there’s Jack Nicklaus signing autographs. He was the young gun. I said ‘Dad, that guy is going to be really good. I’d like to get his autograph.’”
Only one thing: Pope didn’t have paper or a pen. His dad started scrambling in his suit pockets – yes, people used to dress more formally when attending golf events – for something that young Chris could use for an autograph. The result provided fodder for a story that Pope clearly loves retelling.
“Finally my dad pulls out his checkbook, rips out a check, hands it to me and tells me, ‘You can use the back of this,’” recalls Pope. “So I run over to Jack and hand him the back of the check, and he turns it over and signs in the payee line and says to me with a smile, ‘Quick, go have your dad sign this and bring it right back to me.’”
It says something that Nicklaus, who must have been disappointed at missing the cut the year after winning the U.S. Open, took the time to not only sign autographs but enjoy a joke with a young kid.
There’s a postscript to the story. Shortly after getting the autograph, Pope’s father lost the check. Pope was bitterly disappointed to lose his prized autograph, but there is a happy ending. Years later, his wife heard the story and loved it so much that she worked with a contact in the golf industry to get in touch with Nicklaus’ representatives and send him a replacement check to sign. He signed once more in the “Pay to the order of” line, and Pope’s wife presented a framed version to him for his 40th birthday.
This year, Pope is back at a U.S. Open at The Country Club. He volunteered as a hole marshal, stationed on No. 18. Fittingly, Father’s Day provides an opportunity to remember the time that the game’s greatest major champion signed a check that is worth more than money.