Roy Ranslow waited Tuesday at the American Lake Veterans Golf Course to see one of the greatest golfers ever to swing a club.
Jack Nicklaus, the Golden Bear himself, was visiting the Lakewood course to help chart its future. He’s donating the services of his design team to expand the course from nine to 18 holes. He’s also honorary co-chairman of the committee trying to raise $3 million for the project.
But Ranslow was there for his own reasons. The 79-year-old Lacey resident wanted to remind Nicklaus about the 1967 U.S. Open at Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey. Ranslow, a soldier working for a private security company at the time, was assigned to stick to Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
On Tuesday, Ranslow held a magazine with a picture of Nicklaus at the 18th hole of the tournament more than 40 years ago. Nicklaus won the ’67 Open on his way to 18 career major championships, a record still unsurpassed .
In the crowd, barely visible, was Nicklaus’ young security guard.
“He was kind of a dedicated golfer, and he was quiet,” recalled Ranslow, who retired from the Army in 1981 as a sergeant major. “He didn’t say much, and you didn’t say much to him.”
The people gathered Tuesday at the golf course near American Lake Hospital didn’t get a chance to say much to Nicklaus, either.
The 70-year-old spent most of the day with a team of designers, touring the grounds of a course that bills itself as the only one in the country designed for disabled veterans.
Nicklaus arrived around 8:30 a.m. and toured the front nine. He then visited the site of the proposed back nine - an area now covered with trees and tall grass.
It was the first time Nicklaus had visited. Officials said he and his team had preliminary designs before their arrival, but some of those changed after the visit. No details were made public.
Meanwhile, the buzz back at the driving range and the course's Rehabilitation and Learning Center for veterans was the presence of golf royalty.
Before he toured the course, Nicklaus chatted with veterans, signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans.
Linda Lamonica, operations manager at the course, donned a "Nicklaus yellow" cap that he autographed. "He's genuine, " she said. "He was very generous with his time" A day earlier, Nicklaus flashed a silky swing, charm and a smile as he raised money while leading a clinic and later appearing at an evening reception at the Tacoma Golf & Country Club.
Standing at a freshly groomed tee in front of more than 150 people, he launched balls that whistled hundreds of yards.
He stressed how no two golfers' swings are alike. He cracked one-liners and ribbed friend Ken Still of Fircrest, who played with him on the 1969 Ryder Cup.
Nicklaus' company has opened 346 courses in 34 countries and 39 states. But when talking with reporters about his Lakewood project and its effect on soldiers, Nicklaus looked down toward the grass to search for words.
"This is one out of love," he said.
Nicklaus hit balls with three local veterans who have been injured and now golf regularly at the veterans course.
Lt. Col. Danny Dudek, commander of the Warrior Transition Battalion at joint Base Lewis-Mc-Chord, was hoping just to make solid contact. The 41-year-old from Roy is paralyzed from the waist down, the result of a bomb blast three years ago in Iraq.
With Nicklaus and the rest of the crowd watching Monday, Dudek launched his first shot more than 100 yards straight down the fairway, prompting the crowd to erupt.
"I would have been happy just hitting it three to five feet," he joked.
Someone retrieved the ball and had Nicklaus sign it for Dudek.
During his tour of the grounds Tuesday, Nicklaus returned to the learning center after almost three hours. He stopped to sign balls and hats, as well as pose for pictures, despite someone from his entourage trying to get him to leave.
Nicklaus was scheduled to fly to Korea, but his fans were star-struck and made a quick escape difficult.
"Hey Jack, did you get any sun out there?" someone asked.
"No, but I got a lot of dust' he answered.
Before jumping into a large SUV, Nicklaus addressed his fans. "We'll see ya'll soon again, OK"