Jack Nicklaus’ Press Conference Was the One We All Should Have Watched
By Stephanie Wei under General

The golfing world dropped everything to watch an open, down-to-earth Tiger Woods field the media’s questions while he smiled and called on his “friends” by their nicknames. Thought Tiger Woods put on an impressive performance on Monday? Well, he did. But the real show didn’t happen until Jack Nicklaus took the stage early Tuesday evening.

Thanks to the well-organized Augusta crew, I caught Nicklaus’ press conference via the live-steam on the official Masters homepage. And boy, I’m glad I tuned in. For more than an hour, the six-time Masters champion fielded questions and engaged the audience in a captivating conversation. At his age, he can’t be bothered to mince words, offering candid answers in a brash yet endearing manner. In other words, he’s too old to give a damn what others think anymore.

Right off the bat, Nicklaus showed he hasn’t lost his competitive spirit — the one that helped him win 18 major championships. The Green Jacket moderator introduced him and reeled off his many incredible achievements. But Nicklaus, who has competed in 45 Masters Tournaments, interrupted when he learned that he was tied for fourth all-time.

A bewildered Nicklaus asked, “Fourth? Has to be Arnold and Gary. Who would be the fourth.” “Raymond [Floyd]?,” the Green Jacket replied cautiously. Nicklaus, who was still floored, said, “Raymond’s played more than I have? Who is the other one then? Just curious. I never heard that stat before.”

For a moment, Nicklaus seemed ready to announce he planned come out of retirement. Because darnit, he needs to hold that record, too. Then to everyone’s relief, he chuckled. (Green Jacket starts breathing again.) Laughter quickly filled the room.

On Thursday morning Nicklaus will join Arnold Palmer, who in recent years has served as the honorary starter, to hit the opening tee shots. “I’m old enough now, I can do that, guys,” Nicklaus said. “We’ll have fun and we’ll both belt it out there about 150.”

Holding a friendly repartee, Nicklaus discussed the game’s past, present and future, his golfing triumphs, his grandchildren, and of course, Tiger.

Asked if he believed Tiger’s remarks that winning major championships is now less important to him, Nicklaus shook his head and scoffed, “No, come on, give me a break.” “Why do you think he’s here?,” he asked. “I mean, I don’t think he’s here for his health or anything. He’s here to play golf. I mean, that’s what he is. He’s a very good golfer. It’s the first major of the year.”

Maybe it’s step 14 of Tiger’s rehab program?

No, Nicklaus never doubted Tiger would play The Masters. Most of us didn’t either until he fooled us when he said in his February 19 statement, he would return to golf sometime in 2010. (Shame on us.) If anyone can fathom a glimpse what Tiger is thinking — at least when it comes to being a golfer and competitor — it’s Nicklaus.

While Nicklaus dodged Tiger questions unrelated to golf, he said a lot without saying much. I mean, he seems consistently honest and straightforward regardless of whether he chooses to comment. When asked if Tiger needed to apologize to his fellow players and if he disrespected the game on the course, Nicklaus simply said, “I’ll stay away from that.” Yet, he didn’t come across as defensive or exasperated. Because he gets it — he understands it’s their job to ask these maddening questions.

When the timer hit the half-hour mark, Green Jacket moderator thanked Nicklaus for his time. “No, I have a few more minutes,” he said. “Let’s try something else. If anybody has got anything other than Tiger questions, let’s finish a couple of those.”

Thirty-something more minutes and another 16 questions (including two on Tiger) passed until the press conference came to a conclusion — Jack Nicklaus sure gives a damn good press conference.

(The video is available here. It’s a must-watch. In fact, copies should be made and given to all tour players.)