Jack Nicklaus's Touching Story: The Boy Who Inspired the Play Yellow Foundation

"Play Yellow was started by a young man who is a son of Barbara’s minister when she grew up."- Nicklaus said.

by Sead Dedovic
Jack Nicklaus's Touching Story: The Boy Who Inspired the Play Yellow Foundation
© Aaron M. Sprecher/Getty Images Sport

The Play Yellow Foundation, formed by Jack Nicklaus, the legendary golfer, and his wife Barbara, sparked numerous positive reactions four years ago when the initiative was launched. The goal of Play Yellow is to raise money for those in need through golf, which involves selling yellow ribbons that players wear at the Jack Nicklaus Memorial Tournament. 

In a media interview, Jack Nicklaus revealed how this idea came about and what inspired him and his wife. It all happened in the 1960s when Nicklaus met a boy named Craig Smith, who was suffering from bone cancer. The heartbreaking situation became the reason why Nicklaus decided to start such a foundation.

"Play Yellow was started by a young man who is a son of Barbara’s minister when she grew up. And he contracted Ewing Sarcoma [a rare form of bone cancer] when he was like nine or 10 years old, and his mother asked Barbara if I would call him. So I called him and talked to him and developed a relationship. And I talked to him quite frequently."- Nicklaus said, as quoted by Golf Monthly.

At one point, the little boy decided to call Nicklaus after winning the tournament and tell him what made him win.

"One day I called him after a tournament I had won and Craig said to me, he says, 'Jack, do you know why you won today?' And I says, 'Why is that, Craig?' He says, 'I wore my lucky yellow shirt.' So that’s where it started. I won that tournament, we didn’t really say much about it. He passed away at the age of 13, 1971."- he continued.

Jack Nicklaus with the trophy after his victory in the British Open (1966)
Jack Nicklaus with the trophy after his victory in the British Open (1966)© Central Press/Getty Images

The yellow shirt obviously brought luck to Nicklaus, who recalled several moments that were particularly emotional. Nicklaus remembered the moment before the 1986 Masters when he decided to wear the yellow shirt he found in his suitcase. After winning the tournament, Jack knew he had to share his story with the whole world. The boy was a huge inspiration and motivation for him. It's an example that sometimes even traumatic experiences such as the death of someone can be a motivation to make the world a better place tomorrow.

"I wore yellow quite often then on Sunday for him, and I was rummaging through my suitcase [before The Masters] in 1986 and I found this yellow shirt. And I said, 'What do you think, Barbara?' And she says, 'Craig would love it. Go for it.' So I wore a yellow shirt on Sunday in ’86, and then I won and ended up having to tell the story."

Jack Nicklaus takes part in the 1963 Open Championship
Jack Nicklaus takes part in the 1963 Open Championship© Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

This boy really was an inspiration for Nicklaus, motivating him to become a better person and to see the world from a different angle. It wasn't just about golf anymore; it was about realizing what truly matters in life. Craig's battle with cancer made Nicklaus realize that life is fragile and that there's more to it than just winning tournaments. It's about the connections we make and the positive impact we have on others.

Jack Nicklaus reveals how much they earned since the start of the campaign

Wearing that yellow shirt became a symbol for Nicklaus, reminding him of Craig's bravery and resilience. It was a constant reminder to live with purpose and to make a difference in the world. By sharing his story, Nicklaus hoped to inspire others to embrace empathy and kindness, just like Craig had inspired him.

Nicklaus explained that the program they started had raised over 130 million in about three and a half years. He mentioned that he wasn't sure of the exact current level of funds raised, but believed it to be over 130 million. He mentioned that they were likely in the fourth year of their campaign. 

Nicklaus expressed satisfaction with the progress made so far and emphasized their commitment to continuing fundraising efforts. This legendary golfer reflected on the importance of the initiative, seeing it as a legacy that would last, particularly symbolized by the impact of one young boy's story.

Many might find inspiration in Nicklaus's path and feel compelled to initiate similar efforts to aid those in need or those facing health challenges.

What sets Nicklaus apart isn't just the amount of money raised, but the impact created through constant dedication. By launching charitable projects, people can find purpose and satisfaction while genuinely helping their communities and beyond.

Nicklaus has shown many times in his career that a great man is ready to help everyone. Such moves only confirm what was said earlier; Besides being a great golfer, Nickalus is also a great man ready to help everyone.

Jack Nicklaus