A man of the people.
I’ll never forget the day I received Jack Newton privileges.
It was at the great man’s Celebrity Classic tournament in the Hunter Valley. Somehow, some way, I managed to jag the king himself as my playing partner. Even his usual partner in crime, Bob Hawke, camouflaged by the thick plume of smoke coming from his cigar in the cart beside us, must have been wondering what the hell was going on.
But I just ran with it. And so did Jack.
I’d met Jack countless times, but never teed it up with him. Naturally, I wanted to make an impression. This was, after all, a man I had always admired, as a player, commentator and trailblazer for all things junior golf. I couldn’t make a fool of myself, even if that was the aim of the charity tournament.
Things couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. I needed only three shots at the par-5 opening hole at Cypress Lakes Resort. It remains the one and only time I’ve ever led a ‘professional’ golf tournament.
“Well, it’s all downhill from here,” quipped Jack in that croaky tone.
As always, he was right. By the time we reached the second tee the drinks had started flowing, as is tradition at ‘The Jack’. And they kept flowing. It turned out Jack had his own personal waiter for the round, and I had a seat at his table. By the third tee the rum and Cokes were coming thick and fast. Between us, we sank more liquid than putts and told more jokes than Jimeoin could muster at the afterparty.
Jack recalled how the great Seve Ballesteros taught him every swear word in Spanish, and why Karrie Webb is Australia’s greatest-ever golfer and still very much unheralded for her feats.
We’d pause regularly, as random celebrities came up to chew the fat with Jack. They loved him unconditionally, if not for his heart of gold, for his uncanny knack of putting them on a pedestal right before he knocked them down a peg or two. Classic Jack.
Jack always had a way with words. For a bloke who was articulate, as evidenced by his commentary and the many columns he penned for this magazine over the journey, you could never quite take the Cessnock out of the boy.
Jack, tell us how you were feeling the first time you played Augusta National?
“It was running down my legs.”
Jack, what’s stopping you from getting down to single figures?
“Well, if you get in the rough and need to hack it out, you need your right hand. And I haven’t f—ing got one.”
On the desktop of the computer I’m typing this column from sits a video titled “Jack Zoom Call”. It was one of his final-ever interviews. In it, we talked all matter of things – the Masters, the state of Australian golf, his new lifestyle changes to help manage that bastard disease Alzheimer’s, which would eventually take him. In the background throughout floats loving wife Jackie, the wonder woman that kept him in check and made him the man he was. She reminisced about the good times and bad, chiming in when Jack’s memory would escape him. Together they were one, inseparable from the day they met.
“He was a beautiful soul,” Jackie told Australian Golf Digest after his passing. “It didn’t matter if you were the garbage man or the queen, Jack had time for you and would offer help if you needed it. That’s why I fell in love with him.
“The way he managed his accident was so incredibly inspiring. It made his own kids more positive people.”
To be brutally frank, as only Jack was, we could have devoted an entire magazine to tales of our great mate, and it still wouldn’t be enough. But our senior writer, Rohan Clarke, did his best to capture such an influential life so well lived [see page 34].
Tough as nails doesn’t begin to describe the man. A plane propeller, diabetes and Meningococcal disease all tried their darndest to take him down, but Jack just kept on swinging. Now he’s walking heaven’s fairways with ‘Hawkey’ and the gang.
As Jack once said of his secret to survival: “I’m just a simple bloke. Either you want to live, or you don’t. And I wanted to – very badly.”
May his legacy now live on forever.