Old St. Nick, that jolly old elf, is an omnipresent figure this time of year. We know him best as Santa Claus. He goes by several other nicknames. Maybe he was a golfer. Because one of the real charms of golf is the number of players who have sobriquets. No other sport enjoys this more. Who doesn’t love the game for the Golden Bear, the Great White Shark, and Sasquatch?
Of course, those are three winners of the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide. The Golden Bear, just about everyone knows, is Jack Nicklaus, the Tournament Founder and Host, who won his own event twice, in 1977 and ’84. The Shark is Greg Norman, another two-time Memorial winner, in 1990 and ’95.
But who is Sasquatch? Believe it or not, that’s Steve Stricker, the 2011 Memorial winner. Fellow players started calling the affable Wisconsin native by that nickname a few years ago when he cut back on his playing schedule. He also was known as Stricks, but those rare sightings at tournaments prompted his new nickname.
How did nicknames become so popular in golf? Many golf writers are responsible for many of them. Players also have had a hand in the process. However it happens, it’s a cool part of the sport.
Go back to the beginning of the 20th century when one of the greats, Harry Vardon, also was known as The Stylist or Greyhound. Later there were other cool nicknames. Gene Sarazen was The Squire, Tommy Armour the Silver Scot, Walter Hagen was The Haig or Sir Walter, Byron Nelson was Lord Byron, and Mildred Didrikson Zaharias went by, simply, Babe.
Ben Hogan was so good that he had three aliases: Bantam Ben, The Hawk and, from the Scots, Wee Ice Mon.
The Golden Bear is among the animals of the golf jungle. There’s also Lion (John Daly, also known as “Wild Thing”), Gorriligus (Robert Garrigus, because of his long arms and long drives), and Bulldog (Corey Pavin). From the waterways, including Shark, we have El Pato (the Duck, Angel Cabrera), Goose (Retief Goosen), Walrus (Craig Stadler), Penguin (Tim Clark), and Turtle (Colt Knost). It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway that these names are often inspired by physical appearance or prominent attributes.
Among other past Memorial winners there’s a bevy of great second names. Ernie Els is the Big Easy. Fred Couples still hits drives that evoke his alias: Boom Boom. The stocky K.J. Choi is known as Tank. Paul Azinger wrote an autobiography that included in its title his nickname, Zinger. Ray Floyd earned the name Mr. Stare for the look in his eyes when he got in contention and was in the zone of focus. The gap in his front teeth had more than one golf reporter referring to Tom Watson as Huck Finn, the Mark Twain character.
Of course, we can’t forget a certain five-time winner of the Memorial. Eldrick Tont Woods was called Urkel by his college teammates for his nerdy appearance when he wore glasses. But everyone knows him simply as Tiger.