(Reuters) – The congratulatory handshake with Jack Nicklaus that follows a win at the Memorial Tournament he hosts is a coveted prize in golf and the 18-times major champion said on Tuesday he will not let the COVID-19 outbreak get in the way of tradition.
Several former Memorial Tournament winners have said the congratulatory handshake with Nicklaus, whose record haul of 18 major titles is three more than second-placed Tiger Woods on the all-time list, is special and one they would never forget.
Nicklaus, speaking at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio ahead of this week’s Memorial Tournament, said he will be in his familiar spot behind the 18th green on Sunday with his right hand extended to the winner.
“I’m going to shake their hand. I going to walk right out there and shake your hand,” said Nicklaus.
“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, so that’s — 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.”
The Memorial Tournament was originally supposed to be the first event on the circuit’s revamped schedule to have fans present and despite getting state approval in mid-June to do so the PGA Tour decided last week to scrap those plans.
Nicklaus said he would have loved to have had fans present this week to watch a solid field headlined by Woods and the top five golfers in the world but he understood the decision.
“I think that the Tour probably made the right decision as it relates to the Memorial Tournament. Maybe we are a little too early for the galleries. We didn’t have a problem with it,” said Nicklaus.
“In the end, the players — you know, you can’t have a dance without the dancing girls, and so you just — and I can understand where some might be very hesitant.
“We’re probably doing the right thing right now, and we’re
going to have a good tournament either way.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis)