Strike up the band: Nicklaus dots 'i' at Ohio State

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Jack Nicklaus has won 18 major golf championships during a glittering half-century in the spotlight. He got one of his biggest thrills Saturday by impersonating a sousaphone player and helping to spell his home state.

"They spelled it right and I got my footwork right," Nicklaus said on the sideline after dotting the 'i' in the Ohio State marching band's signature maneuver, Script Ohio, at halftime of the game between Minnesota and top-ranked Ohio State.

Nicklaus, a former Ohio State golfer originally from suburban Upper Arlington, was dressed in a scarlet Ohio State jacket with gray lining, and wore a black baseball cap with a red 'O' on it -- exactly like the one worn by longtime family friend and former Buckeyes coach, the late Woody Hayes.

"I had to have my Woody hat," Nicklaus said. "I was a big fan of Woody's. I was here when Woody dotted the 'i'."

Nicklaus became only the fifth non-band member -- it's usually a sousaphone player -- to be accorded the honor. The others are former Ohio State president Novice Fawcett, comedian Bob Hope, longtime university ticket director Bob Ries and Hayes.

Hayes dotted the 'i' a few years before he died in 1988 and called it one of the highlights of his public life.

Dozens of Nicklaus family members and friends were nearby, cheering and clapping, as Nicklaus played his role in the halftime show.

"That was pretty neat. I'm a pretty emotional guy, and Ohio State means a lot to me," Nicklaus said.

It was the second Ohio State home game he has attended this season. He said he hopes it isn't his last.

"We'll be back for Michigan -- and hopefully Arizona," he said, referring to the Bowl Championship Series national championship game Jan. 8, 2007, in Glendale, Ariz.

Nicklaus was led onto the field by a band member. The band major then motioned with his baton toward the spot a few yards above the 'i' in the spelled-out formation, and Nicklaus stepped into the spot.

He waved to the crowd and tipped his cap while a crowd of 105,443 at Ohio Stadium gave him a thunderous standing ovation that lasted for almost a minute.

Nicklaus, 66, is an avid Ohio State football fan. He said on his Web site this week that he only missed one home game between the ages of 6 and 20.

In his last year as an amateur, as a 21-year-old student at Ohio State, he won his second U.S. Amateur, was a member of the winning Walker Cup squad, captured the Big Ten Conference and NCAA individual championships, won the Western Amateur Open and came in fourth at the U.S. Open.

It was just the beginning of a career that would include six victories in the Masters, five at the PGA Championship, four in the U.S. Open and three at the British Open.

Nicklaus has lived most of his adult life in Florida, but he returns each year to host the Memorial Tournament in suburban Dublin. He remains close to friends from his college years and follows the Buckeyes whenever he gets a chance.

The plaque on the clubhouse wall at the Ohio State University golf courses reads: "Collegiate home of Jack Nicklaus, The greatest golfer ever to play the game."

"Ohio State has meant so much to my life," Nicklaus said.