By David Fong
TROY — In 1976, golf legend Jack Nicklaus founded The Memorial, a PGA event near his hometown of Columbus.
For 40 years, Nicklaus has returned year after year to Muirfield Village Golf Club to both play in and host the event.
Former Troy Daily News publisher and co-owner Joel Walker has been there every step of the way, covering every tournament for the TDN since its inception. Recently, Walker was honored as one of only two media members in the nation to have covered every Memorial tournament.
The honor included a surprise opportunity for Walker and his family to meet with Nicklaus.
“It was a total surprise to me; Dave Shedloski had set it up,” Walker said. Shedloski, a Troy High School graduate, is a national golf writer who wrote a book about Nicklaus’ final season on the PGA Tour. “My wife Nancy, my son Michael, my daughter Susan and my grandkids were there.
“There were only two of us who have been to all 40 — myself and a sports director from one of the Columbus TV stations. I played the course in 1975, the year before it became an event, and they didn’t even have a clubhouse — just an old house and a barn.”
Since then — in large part because of Nicklaus’ fame and support — the event has continued to grow every year.
“It’s one of the premier events on the PGA Tour,” Walker said. “After the majors, it’s probably in the top five events on the Tour.”
Walker began covering golf when he was named the Troy Daily News sports editor in 1961 following his graduation from Miami University. He began covering golf on the local level at Miami Shores Golf Course in Troy. He would cover his first Masters in 1970 — he also hasn’t missed one of those tournaments since he began covering them — and has long been a champion for golf in the Troy community.
“The first time I played a round of golf at Miami Shores, all I had with me was a 7-iron and a putter,” Walker said. “I didn’t even bother with a golf bag. I just carried those two clubs in my hand.”
Through the TDN, Walker would help found and sponsor a number of local tournaments. His son Michael, a Troy High School graduate, would go on to play at Ohio University. At one point, he competed against Nicklaus’ son, Gary, who played golf at his father’s alma mater, The Ohio State University.
The elder Walker would rise from sports editor to editor of the Troy Daily News, then become publisher and eventually co-owner. As Walker rose through the ranks of the TDN, Nicklaus — who is the same age as Walker — was establishing himself as the most-decorated golfer in history.
Just as impressive, Walker said, is the class with which Nicklaus rose to the top.
“Jack, in my opinion, is the most accommodating athlete ever — not just in golf, but in all sports,” he said. “The way he interacts with the fans and signs autographs … he’s the best there is.”
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong