Jack Nicklaus once told former tennis pro Mardy Fish he should be pursuing a career in golf; this week he is at 3M Open

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Mardy Fish rose as high as No. 7 in the world during his career as a professional tennis player. He’s pretty darn good at golf too. In fact, no less than Jack Nicklaus ranks him No. 1 among non-professionals golfers he’s played with and served up this high praise.

“We played nine holes and he drove the ball on every single hole in the middle of the fairway, further than I have seen anybody hit it who is not a professional,” Nicklaus said. “He shot 31 for nine holes. I said, ‘Mardy, what are you doing? You have got a talent and you are young enough to take advantage of it. You need to go play golf.’ ”

In 2019, Nicklaus went so far as to recommend to 3M Open tournament director Hollis Cavner that Fish be offered a sponsor’s exemption into the PGA Tour event, but that year Cavner instead chose eventual tournament winner Matthew Wolff and runner-up Collin Morikawa, who had both recently turned pro.

“I figured if Mr. Nicklaus can’t get me in, I may as well not try,” Fish said.

Thanks to the help of former Minnesota Viking Kyle Rudolph, who is also a 3M ambassador, Fish, an Edina native, received the chance this year.

“We wanted to do something different. See how he would compete,” Cavner said. “He will not embarrass himself.”

In late April, playing in the celebrity division of the ClubCorp Classic, a PGA Tour Champions event in Irving, Texas, Fish edged former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo in a sudden-death play at Las Colinas Country Club. Better known for his tennis prowess, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist plays to a plus-2.8 Handicap Index.

“It’s special that it’s here as well,” said Fish, who tees off in the opening round at 9:02 a.m. on Thursday, of his Tour debut. “I’m born just down the road and spent the first five years of my life here and root for the Vikings and the Twins and the Timberwolves. I didn’t go to college. My dad went to the University of Minnesota, so a lot of roots were laid down here a long time ago. I’m just excited that it’s here and where I’m from and where I was born. And I don’t get to come back very often and so this is a special, certainly a special trip.”

It’s believed that Fish, who won six times on the ATP Tour, will be the first person to compete on the ATP Tour and PGA Tour. But he’s not the first to have success in both sports. Former Tour pro Frank Conner is one of only three men to ever play in the U.S. Open of both golf and tennis.

“In tennis, I was really a basket case before matches,” Fish said. “Once they called my name or once I walked down on the court, I felt great.”

Fish won the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship in Lake Tahoe in 2020, shooting a final-round 63 to break Lee Trevino’s course record, and finished sixth in the event two weeks ago. But having left it all out there on the tennis court, Fish said he’s not interested in a new career in sports and doesn’t have any grand illusions of becoming a PGA Tour star.

“Look, I certainly don’t expect to, you know, compete to win the tournament necessarily, but making the cut is something that I’m eyeing big time,” he said. “Look at some of the scores of the past and I don’t know, it seems fairly doable score-wise, but then you’ve got to get out there and actually play.”