Jack Nicklaus probably thought he had seen everything in golf, and then something happened on Wednesday afternoon that brought a tear to his eye.
Jack’s grandson G.T. Nicklaus, who was caddying for the Golden Bear in the Masters Par-3 Contest, stepped up to the tee on the final hole and tried his luck, just for fun. Of course, the ball sailed over a broad lake, landed safely on the green and then trickled and tracked and after the longest while plopped into the cup for a hole-in-one.
Shocking? Sure, but G.T., the 15-year-old son of former PGA Tour player Gary Nicklaus, Jr. and a freshman at Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach, has played before crowds before. In the PNC Father/Son Challenge with his grandfather as a playing partner. In the Florida state high school championship tournament, too, where he shot an 85 as an eight-grader a few years ago.
“You always want the best for your kids and your grandkids,” Nicklaus told ESPN. “But when you’ve got a grandson who comes along and the kid makes a hole-in-one at the biggest venue in the world on day when he is caddying for his grandfather…Wow.
“This is very, very special…One obviously I’ll never forget.”
Back in December, when Jack and G.T. teamed to finish 15th at the PNC Father/Son Challenge in Orlando, Jack said “He likes being in front of people. I always looked at playing golf out in front of people as fun, and I think he has pretty much the same attitude.”
The Masters Par-3 is designed to be entertaining for players and their families, with little kids bopping along in tiny caddy outfits and teenagers, like G.T., sometimes playing a shot or two.
For one of the kids to outdo the pros, however, and get the loudest cheer of the day, is almost too much to ask. G.T.’s ace turned into a bigger story than the fact that Tom Watson, 68, won the nine-hole event with a score of six-under-par 21. He’s the oldest champion in the history of the Par-3 and played in a group with Nicklaus and Gary Player.
Here’s one last quote from Jack last December about G.T., one of his and Barbara’s 22 grandchildren.
“G.T. is a big kid and has the potential to be a very talented player,” Jack said. “He is already a nice player, and his game should only get better as time goes on. So only time will tell whether he will be and wants to be a really good player. For now, I just want him to enjoy this experience, just as I will enjoy it.”
On Thursday morning Nicklaus and Player will tee off at No. 1 as honorary starters for the first round of the Masters. Will G.T. carry his grandfather’s bag? Might be a good idea, for good luck.
[UPDATE- Tiger wrote on his website on Dec. 29 “I would love to play a full schedule in 2018” but did not announce which events he is considering.]
The Tiger Watch is officially on for the Honda Classic.
Palm Beach County’s annual PGA Tour event is 11 weeks off, with four championship rounds scheduled for Feb. 22-25, 2018 at PGA National Golf Club.
That’s plenty of time to figure out how Tiger’s back is doing. Time, too, to read the tea leaves when it comes to his schedule-making.
“We’re going to figure out what’s the best way for me to build my schedule for the major championships,” Woods said on Sunday after finished tied for ninth at his latest comeback event, the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
“What my training cycles are going to be? Play enough, but don’t play too much.”
Let me suggest going easy on the international travel, since back spasms are what ended last year’s comeback attempt at the Dubai Desert Classic in February.
So, hmmm, try this on for size.
Play the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, one of Tiger’s favorites, in late January. Then Pebble Beach in early February, unless it gets colder and nastier than usual, when a withdrawal would be in order. Then it’s the Honda, and then Bay Hill in mid-March and then the Masters in April.
Hey, that was easy. And no, I did not get this suggestion from Ken Kennerly, executive director of the Honda Classic.
It just makes sense after all the back surgeries and injuries to take it slow this time.
Tiger himself talked about building for the majors, and he needs four more of those titles to catch Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18. Why not spread out the events a little, choosing only those that prepare him to win more majors in ways other than just the logging of scores and the making of money?
PGA National’s Champion Course fits the bill. The PGA Championship, a major, was played there in 1987, and the Ryder Cup matches have been there, too. It’s a strong test with an enthusiastic home crowd to match the numbers of many majors. So what do you say? Is it a done deal with the Jupiter Island resident?
Hardly, but one procedural quirk does work in the Honda’s favor.
Some top players skip the Honda because they don’t want to schedule that tournament and the World Golf Championship in Mexico on consecutive weeks. The WGC is a bigger deal and it takes more planning and more time to get there.
This probably does not apply to Tiger, however, since the WGC-Mexico Championship is open to the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings and the top 10 in Fed Ex Cup points. Even with his good finish at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger ranks 668th in the world rankings due to his extended absences. Also, it’s not likely that he will play enough to pile up the Fed Ex points.
Hey, it’s all up to him, but the Honda, won last year by Rickie Fowler, will always be more electric with Tiger.
Last year, if Rickie hadn’t been on top of the scoreboard, the list of contenders would not have been instantly recognizable to the general public, and Kennerly is always working to appeal to non-golf fans, too, with the concerts and fireworks and exhibits that grow each year at the Honda.
Here is Tiger’s career record at the Honda since the tournament moved to PGA National.
2012 – Tied for 2nd with rounds of 71, 68, 69 and 62. Yes, that’s right, a Sunday 62, to move up from 18th place to the runnerup spot behind winner Rory McIlroy.
2013 – Tied for 37th with rounds of 70, 70, 70 and 74.
2014 – Withdrew during the fourth round after posting rounds of 71, 69 and 65. Tiger was tied for 17th through 54 holes, seven shots off the lead, but he left the course with back spasms after playing 13 holes on Sunday.
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Bad backs are commonplace on the PGA Tour but repetition of the golf swing is the usual culprit. Dustin Johnson’s fall on Wednesday afternoon in Augusta is so different that nobody knew what to expect right up until the moment that the world’s No. 1 player walked off the first tee as a last-second withdrawal.
About an hour prior to his 2:03 p.m. tee time, the last of the day, Johnson started warming up on the practice range with the Golf Channel broadcasting every swing live. It was a long drama with a dud of an ending, and great disappointment for DJ and his fans and the tournament.
Jack Nicklaus spoke early Thursday morning about the uncertainty of back injuries and how they get into a player’s mind. Not just the pain, but the anxiety over how the body will react during any particular swing. As it was, Johnson had his caddy teeing balls for him on the practice range so that he wouldn’t have to constantly do the bending.
Nicklaus only withdrew from two tournaments in his PGA Tour career. One was at the Masters, when back spasms caused him to drop out just prior to his second-round tee time in 1983. The other was at the World Series of Golf in Akron in 1981. That time Nicklaus, who was in third place heading into the final round, dropped to his knees on the practice tee and had to be helped off.
“We all have injuries,” Nicklaus said. “You go through them. I don’t know how many times, lifting the suitcase into the trunk, you pull a rib and you’re sore for about two weeks. Let’s just play through it.”
Gary Player said “Hundreds of times in life, in my 64 years as a pro, players arrived with bad injuries and they played.”
Naturally, Player turned it up a notch with his storytelling, jumping up from the interview table to demonstrate how he once hurt himself during a South Africa tournament doing squats. Oh, and by the way, he was while holding a friend on his back at the time.
“Man, he was fat,” Player said of the friend, “or, should I say, I was weak.”
Johnson slipped on some wet wooden stairs Wednesday while heading out of the garage to move a car. He was wearing socks and no shoes.
DJ came to the Masters on a three-tournament win streak.
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Arnold Palmer, a four-time Masters winner, played his last competitive round in the tournament in 2004. Still, he remains a focal point for players and Augusta National members this week, a great star who died in September at 87 while awaiting heart surgery, a great man who embraced the traditions of this unique major with joy and respect.
Here is what Jack Nicklaus said about Arnie on Tuesday afternoon, sharing just a few of the many stories he could tell about his long-time friend and rival.
“I don’t know how many people realize how much Arnold took me under his wing when I was 20, 22 years old,” said Nicklaus, whose first professional victory as an 18-hole playoff win over Palmer at the 1962 U.S. Open.
“In spite of having a gallery that wasn’t so good to me, I may have had to fight Arnold’s gallery but I n ever had to fight him. He was very kind to a young guy starting out. I appreciated it very much.”
Nicklaus said it was Palmer who taught him always to drop a note to tournament officials and sponsors as an expression of thanks, and Jack also spoke of the friendship that his wife Barbara had with Arnie’s first wife Winnie during their many travels together.
“Barbara said that she thought Winnie handled her life, Arnold’s life and their life better than anybody that she had ever seen,” Nicklaus said. “Winnie said, ‘Well, on Tuesday, if I got mad at Arnold, I would be afraid to say anything because I was afraid of ruining his game. And then when Sunday night rolled around and I could say something, I forgot what I was mad at him about.’ “
Masters chairman Billy Payne described Palmer as golf’s “preeminent hero” and announced that all visitors to Thursday’s opening round at the Masters will be handed a commemorative badge to wear in honor of the King.
The badge, with the official Masters logo in the middle, reads “I am a member of ‘Arnie’s Army.’
Palmer was in the Masters field 50 times. The only player with more Masters starts is Gary Player with 52.
When I covered the Masters last April it was tough seeing Arnold Palmer unable to participate at the ceremonial first-tee event on Thursday morning. He made it out for some photos and watched from a chair at Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player got the tournament started.
Arnie still had the full devotion of the crowd, however, just as he did in 2004 when he played his 50th and final Masters. I had the privilege of following him around that Friday on his way to a missed cut, scrambling around outside the ropes with the rest of the Army and sometimes getting close enough to hear The King say something to one of his smiling, waving fans.
It was a great afternoon spent in the company of a great and gracious man. Thought you might enjoy reliving it, too. Here’s the reprint of my column from The Palm Beach Post of April 10, 2004.
ARNIE TAKES ARMY ON FINAL, SENTIMENTAL MARCH
By Dave George, Palm Beach Post columnist
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Some got a pat on the shoulder, others a handshake and just about everybody left Augusta National with a story about how Arnie looked in their direction and winked or smiled or gave the thumbs-up signal, just for them.
Only Bill Eastwood of Greensboro, N.C., took home an actual physical artifact from the historic final round of Arnold Palmer’s 50th consecutive Masters. Eastwood’s prize was a healthy divot of turf and mud that Arnie carved from a spot where no golf ball has any business being. Eastwood put the earthy blob in a potato chip bag for safekeeping, telling those around him in the sitting area well right of the 11th green that “I could have sold this on eBay.”
It was a comment that drew little laughter from the assembled company of Arnie’s Army, any one of whom would gladly have accepted a purple welt, or a purple heart, if only the King’s ball could have caromed off their body and onto the putting surface.
We’re talking about a golfer who hasn’t won the Masters since 1964, back in the days of John and Paul and George and Ringo, a man who hasn’t made the cut at Augusta since 1983, Dan Marino’s rookie season in the NFL.
To be 74 and still dragging a multitude of fans up and down the hills and through the pine thickets and over the portals of yesteryear is a phenomenal accomplishment.
To have them care so much that you’re never going to do it again, that’s a bond much tougher to break than par.
“I guess it’s more difficult for me because I’m sort of a sentimental slob,” said Palmer, who needed quite some time to get that sentence out. The emotion welling up within him during a post-round TV interview often soaked his words in sadness and caused his throat to catch.
Out on the course, though, that was a different matter. The King’s slow procession toward a second consecutive 84 was accomplished, at least half of the time, within arm’s reach of the gallery ropes. Palmer clearly wanted it that way. He needed the energy of his fans to make it up some of those long and unyielding Augusta National inclines.
They called to him all day, with greeting-card sonnets like “Thank you, Arnie,” and “Thanks for the memories,” and “We love you, Arnie.” Every now and then, too, somebody shot him a zinger, as one good friend might to another, and got in return a comeback line delivered in good cheer.
“These hills are a little steeper than they were 50 years ago, huh, Arnie?” came a voice from a snow-topped gentleman trudging outside the ropes on the long slog up No. 8. “Just a tad,” Palmer shot back, holding his index finger and thumb about an inch apart.
Never did he want it to end like this, he’d have to admit, because never did Arnie want it to end at all.
“I looked at the galleries and there were so many people out there I recognized, and some people who would remind me that they had been with me for the whole 50 years,” he said.
“That’s part of the reason, I suppose, that I have played as long as I have. My competitive attitude, though it hasn’t shown up much lately, it’s still there.”
Those of us privileged to walk the final 18 with Arnie saw it Friday, and more than once. Here’s a personal favorite.
Arnie is tired, and looks it, as he walks over to the No. 6 tee and plops on a wooden bench. The round has started badly, with missed greens and short drives and three bogeys in the first five holes. There’s a little time before the par-3 green ahead of them clears so Palmer rolls up his pant legs, pulls down his socks and calls for 16-year-old Sam Saunders, his grandson and handpicked caddy for this special event, to pull the Aspercreme from a zippered pocket in the golf bag.
It’s his shins that are killing him, and that’s where Palmer applies the cream, liberally.
A sign of age, yet the hundreds of people staring at their hero choose not to comment, even in whispers, even among themselves.
Arnold eventually sticks his tee in the ground and prepares to play, but just then, down and to the right of the elevated No. 6 tee, a great roar of appreciation goes up for the arrival of another legend, Jack Nicklaus, at the nearby 16th green. If Arnie had stopped and looked up, he could have watched his old friend and 1960s rival smiling and waving to the crowd.
But Arnie doesn’t stop. He swings right through the sound of thousands cheering the Golden Bear and sends toward the green a shot for the ages. The ball covers the 180 yards in the space of about five accelerated hearbeats and stops 6 feet from the cup.
Palmer gives the crowd a courtly half-bow and answers the hallelujahs with a neon smile.
Then he steps over to the ropes and says to a startled spectator, just loud enough for that one man to hear it and no one else, “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then.”
Lee Trevino would have shouted that line at bullhorn volume and thrown his head back in a howl of laughter. He is one of golf’s great showmen. Palmer, however, isn’t the sort of performer who has to be “on” to entertain.
Friday he never hitched his pants, unless it was to squat down to stick his tee in the ground or pull his ball from the cup. He never drained a long birdie putt, either. There were only seven pars in his round, and a closing bogey on 18. What a final flourish it would have been had that last par putt dropped. I’d say that it looked to be about 5 feet to me but it was tough enough just catching a glimpse of Arnie’s red shirt and Bay Hill visor through the heads and shoulders of the people crowded around that green.
“C’mon, Arnie, c’mon, Arnie,” everyone seemed to whisper as he took the putter back, as if a fifth Masters title were riding on it. This is the Army of today, no different than the very first one right here at Augusta National. It was 1958 and some soldiers on leave from Augusta’s Fort Gordon worked the Masters scoreboards with something less than absolute objectivity. Holding up signs announcing the presence of “Arnie’s Army,” they eventually caused Cliff Roberts and the Masters committee to ban signs at future tournaments.
If Palmer was daydreaming about any of that Friday, he quickly snapped back to attention while crossing through a ditch down in Amen Corner. A 5-foot snake, as black as a water moccasin and thus presumed to be poisonous, was right in front of his feet.
“If I felt a little tired,” said Arnie, “I didn’t then. I came out of there and I was flying.”
Later, walking up No. 14, Palmer’s fiancee, Kit Gawthrop, met him in a crosswalk across the fairway with a few encouraging words and a gentle push in the back toward the end of this epic round. Soon thereafter he was coming up the 18th fairway to the most heartfelt ovation of his life. Arnie realized at that moment his shins weren’t hurting. Not in the least.
Magical, this farewell lap through the magnolias, exactly the sort of thing that Nicklaus deserves one day. Here’s hoping that his talk Friday afternoon of never playing the Masters again was just the fleeting disgust of a pair of 75s talking.
Golf is a game made for giants, and there’s no better place to appreciate them than here among Southern pines that have been here a century, and ghosts that never will leave.
Where ArnoldPalmer finished in his 50 Masters tournaments from 1955-2004First: 4 (1958, 1960, 1962, 1964)
Second: 2 (1961-T, 1965-T)
Third: 1 (1959)
Fourth: 2 (1966-T, 1967)
Seventh: 1 (1957-T)
Ninth: 1 (1963-T)
Tenth: 1 (1955-T)
Other: 13 times
Missed cut: 25 times
Tiger Woods says he will be back on the PGA Tour, or hopes to be back, five weeks from today.
That’s not just restarting the clock on his career. It’s winding it awful fast.
Of course we’ll all be fascinated to watch him play in the Safeway Open in Napa, Calif., Oct. 13-16. That’s the tournament they used to call the Frys.com Open. You know, the tournament won in recent years by guys like Emiliano Grillo and Bae Sang-Moon and Jonas Blixt and Bryce Molder. Didn’t know any of that? Doesn’t matter.
If Tiger is back, any tournament he plays is big news, even in the middle of football season, even when nobody can quite figure out how it is that next year’s PGA Tour schedule actually begins this year.
This is a smart move for Tiger, who doesn’t need to schedule his return for the high-impact environment of a major or any other full-field monster event. That’s what happened in 2009, when he came back from a long knee and leg rehab to win one match at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and what happened again in 2010, when he tied for fourth at the Masters in his first tournament following that messy marital meltdown.
The Safeway event will be more of a soft opening. Phil Mickelson is entered, which provides credibility, but most of the other big stars are taking time off to recuperate from a busy summer that included the bonus of the Rio Olympics.
After that, Tiger says, he hopes to play in a European Tour event in Turkey and his foundation’s own small-field event in the Bahamas, the Hero World Challenge. The whole quick reboot is over by mid-December, which provides time to schedule out all the good stuff in 2017, and we’re hoping that includes the Honda Classic.
“Whether I can play depends on my continued progress and recovery,” Tiger wrote on his website Wednesday. “My hope is to have my game ready to go.”
Ready to win is the next step. Ready to win majors remains a massive leap.
Since Tiger won his last major, the 2008 U.S. Open, the PGA Tour has pretty much rebuilt itself on a new star system. These are players who have gotten comfortable collecting the trophies he used to own, and they’ve gotten used to the idea that it will remain so.
Here are the names of 21 players who have won their first major titles in the period since Tiger won his 14th.
Rory McIlroy (4 majors)
Jordan Spieth (2 majors)
Bubba Watson (2 majors)
Martin Kaymer (2 majors)
Take note that the list does not include veterans like Mickelson and Ernie Els and Angel Cabrera, who won majors before 2008 and have won majors since.
Tiger is coming back from a couple of back surgeries, and he’s coming back to a new world, one not of his making anymore.
Best to keep the expectations low.
Can’t do anything about the TV ratings, though. They’ll be high no matter what he does, which leads to reactions like this one from Jack Nicklaus, whose 18 major titles remain Tiger’s eternal quest.
“It’s great to see you back and in good health,” Jack tweeted in response to Tiger’s scheduling announcement. “You’ve done so much for the game and it’s better with you playing. Good luck!”
So we’ve pretty much covered the Donald Trump angle by now, and the World Golf Championship’s move to Mexico for 2017. Time for a few moments devoted to Doral’s history as a spectacular setting for superstar golf, part beauty, part beast, all drama.
Here’s a list of 10 great moments during the run of the Doral Open as presented through the years by a list of sponsors including Eastern Airlines and Ryder and Ford and Cadillac.
Put them in any order you like or add a few dozen more. While the Honda Classic was bouncing all over South Florida looking for its forever home in Palm Beach Gardens, these are the kind of things you could always find at Doral.
2005 – The Duel at Doral. Phil Mickelson has a two-shot lead going into final round but is edged by Tiger Woods in head-to-head competition before massive crowds. Tiger won Sunday 69-66 but Phil almost chipped in on No. 18 to force a playoff.
1990 – Greg Norman shoots his way into a playoff with a final-round 62 and then chips in for eagle on the first extra hole to beat Paul Azinger, Mark Calcavecchia and Tim Simpson. One of three Doral titles for the Shark.
2004 – Craig Parry wins a playoff with Scott Verplank by holing out from 176 yards with a 7-iron. That’s how Stephen Curry would win tournaments if he were a pro golfer.
1980 – Raymond Floyd chips in from off the green on the second playoff hole to beat Jack Nicklaus. Altogether Floyd won three Doral titles and Nicklaus won two.
1978 – Jack Nicklaus shot a 65 on Sunday to make it exciting. Included in the charge was an eagle on No. 10, which put Tom Weiskopf on notice. Ahead by four when the round began, Weiskopf shot 68 to win by a stroke.
2009 – Phil Mickelson beats Nick Watney by a stroke and it takes rounds of 65, 66, 69 and 69 to do it.
2006 – Tiger Woods opens with a 64 and Camilo Villegas with a 65, putting two popular names on top of the leaderboard right away. The excitement builds all weekend as the two jockey back and forth. Tiger holds on to beat Camilo by one.
1973 – Lee Trevino goes wire to wire to win his only Doral, edging Bruce Crampton and Tom Weiskopf by a stroke.
1988 – Ben Crenshaw shoots a 66 on Sunday to win by one over Mark McCumber and Chip Beck with Raymond Floyd right behind.
1962 – Billy Casper wins the inaugural Doral by one shot over Paul Bondeson. Casper was four shots back with eight holes to play.
That’s just part of the story but clearly there was something for everyone across of couple of generations.
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem talked about returning to Doral some day but that doesn’t seem likely. The message itself was mixed, with Finchem talking about the need to find “the right property.”
Trump owns all the property at Doral, and it doesn’t sound like there’s anything that could make that relationship right again. Meanwhile, if a PGA tour stop ever is played at another Miami course, it won’t be Doral.
AUGUSTA, Ga. – While everybody was watching Friday to see if Tom Watson might have a shot at making the cut in his final Masters, Boca Raton’s own senior star was quietly putting himself into contention to win the tournament.
OK, there’s really not much of a chance that Bernard Langer will take his third green jacket at the age of 58, but try this contrast on for size.
Former Masters champion Ian Woosnam, also 58, announced Friday that he won’t play the tournament again after shooting rounds of 82 and 81 to miss the cut by a mile.
Langer, meanwhile, carefully worked his way around Augusta National in one-over 73. Add that to his opening 72 and the sturdy German has assured himself of making the Masters cut for the third time in the last four years.
When he walked off the course Friday, Langer was tied for 19th place, seven shots behind leader Jordan Spieth, who was playing the front nine. Oh, and he’s tied with World No. 1 Jason Day at the tournament’s halfway point, too.
Is it possible to do more at the age of 58? Only if you’re somebody like Jack Nicklaus, who tied for sixth here in 1998.
Nicklaus was playing very little competitive golf back then, however, while Langer is the reigning star of the Champions Tour. He has 26 victories on the senior circuit, third all-time behind Hale Irwin and Lee Trevino. He won out there with the anchor putter and he’s won already since it was banned.
The guy just always seems to be there. Check out the photos from Jack’s epic comeback Masters win in 1986, for instance. That’s Bernhard slipping the green jacket onto Nicklaus’ shoulders as the previous year’s champion.
Langer’s two Masters wins, as a matter of fact, give him two more than Day and Rory McIroy and Rickie Fowler, and one more, at the moment, than Spieth.
There is much more to say about Langer, but we’ll stop here. Might be better to save some of this stuff for the weekend if he starts quietly climbing up the leaderboard again.
Wrote a big 30th-anniversary special column on Jack Nicklaus’ epic 1986 Masters win for the Post’s Sunday edition but, as always, there’s just too much with this guy to fit it one story.
Did you know, for instance, that the $144,000 check Jack got for winning that tournament was the biggest of his PGA Tour career? Four guys tied for 10th at the Honda Classic this year and got more than that.
Who played with Nicklaus in that amazing final round?
Sandy Lyle, winner of the British Open the previous summer, completed the power twosome. He and Jack started the day four shots back of Greg Norman at 2-under-par 214. Sandy played pretty good, shooting a 71 to finish tied for 11th but nobody remembers he was even in the tournament. That’s because Nicklaus shot 65 to win his sixth green jacket in a rousing comeback, and he did it at the age of 46.
I can only find one other time when Jack won a major by charging home from somewhere other than the final group on the course. That was the 1967 U.S. Open at Baltusrol. Nicklaus started the final round in the next-to-last group with Arnold Palmer, each of them one shot back of 54-hole leader Marty Fleckman.
You can probably guess how that went. Fleckman shot an 80. Jack won the tournament with a 65, just like his Sunday score at the 1986 Masters, to win the seventh of his record 18 major titles. Arnie shot 69 to finish second.
Back to Augusta National in 1986, which is what everyone will be celebrating this week.
If Jack had been forced into a playoff by Norman or Kite or both, it would have been the first time he went sudden-death for a major title. Off they would have headed to the No. 10 tee, with darkness approaching, and no telling how that would have turned out. (Yes, I know that Masters playoffs begin at No. 18 these days but that didn’t change until 2004).
Three times Jack has won a major in a playoff, but always an 18-hole tiebreaker played on the following day. He won the 1962 U.S. Open, his first major, in an 18-hole showdown with Palmer. In 1966 he beat Tommy Jacobs and Gay Brewer to win the Masters. In 1970 he outlasted Doug Sanders 72-73 in a playoff at the British Open.
Last, in an interview at Jack’s corporate headquarters in North Palm Beach last week, I asked him if 46 seems as old to him now as people are making it.
“Forty-six is pretty young,” he said from a vantage point 30 years farther down the road. “The thing was, in those days the golf ball, the equipment, all that stuff was so much different than it is today. I wouldn’t think winning at 46 today would be that big a deal.
“Then, yeah, I think it probably was a big deal then.”
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.”