Jack Nicklaus was great during a Honda Classic interview session that lasted nearly an hour Sunday afternoon. Maybe you’ve already read what the Golden Bear said there about Tiger Woods, who since 2008 has been stuck on 14 major championships in pursuit of Jack’s record 18.
“I’ve told Tiger many times,” Nicklaus said, “and I told him again the other night, I said, ‘You know, Tiger, nobody wants their records to be broken but I don’t want you not to have the ability to have that opportunity to do so because of your health.
“ ‘So I wish you well and I hope you get healthy, hope you get to play, hope you get out there as soon as you feel like you can play, and I hope you do well.’ “
Tiger was at the Nicklaus home in North Palm Beach a week ago to enjoy a dinner with principals of the U.S. Ryder Cup team and a group of young players hoping to play their way onto the roster. Jack and Barbara were gracious as always, and that shows again in the words Nicklaus delivered directly to Tiger.
Years ago, when Tiger had just exploded onto the scene, I was shouted down during a speaking engagement at an area men’s club for suggesting that you could never predict or even expect any young superstar to match Nicklaus’ unflagging drive and discipline and determination over the course of a long career. I was talking about lots of things there, with health and burnout among them, but nobody in that room wanted to consider the possibility that Tiger would hit any significant speedbumps on the way to 20 major titles or more.
Every now and then Nicklaus, 76, says something that reminds us of his uncommon focus and adaptability through the decades. At that Sunday conversation with the media at PGA National, he did it again, talking about a spontaneous decision, at the age of 29, to shed a significant amount of weight and to do it quickly.
Remember, he already had seven major titles in the bag at that point. There was nothing wrong with his game. Feeling a little fatigued, however, after returning from the 1969 Ryder Cup matches in England, Jack got serious about making a rapid change and followed through on it with his customary success.
“I always worried about losing weight,” Jack said, “whether it would affect my play, my distance, things that I would do. But I didn’t want to be tired, either. So I came home and went on the Weight Watchers diet. I remember I called Hart Schaffner and Marx the day I started. I asked if they could have a tailor down in three weeks because I was going to lose 20 pounds.
“I said ‘Can you have somebody down because I’ll need all new clothes. Those three weeks I did the Weight Watchers diet and I went and would put my Bermuda shorts on and I would carry four or five clubs and I would go run around the golf course as I played. Sure enough, I lost 15 pounds at the end of the three weeks and I lost the next five the next week.”
From 210 pounds to 200 in a flash, and he did it his way. Didn’t hurt Jack’s game much, either. He won his next tournaments and was runnerup in the third.