Jack Nicklaus held his usual press conference ahead of the Memorial Tournament this morning. While the first half of the Q&A concerned itself primarily with the course’s drainage issues, changes to the 16th hole and something to do with NCAA football (Woody Hayes, anyone?), things began to get interesting when he was asked about the mental implosions that have had a part in deciding three of the last four majors.
Q: Three of the last four majors, the 54-hole leader has imploded in the final round. How did you handle sleeping on a 54-hole lead and did you get better at it as you got older? JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I think — I don’t remember whether I was in the lead or not after 54 holes at Lytham — no, I wasn’t, because I played in front of Charles and Rogers. That was in 1963. But I bogeyed the last two holes to lose that. And certainly if I would go back and look at what I did and how I did it, I learned from it, and I didn’t do that again, play stupidly…
Yeah, you learn — and I think Tom Watson is a perfect example of that. Tom Watson had — early in his career, I think he had — I could be wrong, I think it was two PGAs and one U.S. Open and he blew it coming down the end. He didn’t waste that experience…
Q. Dustin and Nick Watney at the PGA.
JACK NICKLAUS: Watney was last year?
Q. Three-shot lead.
JACK NICKLAUS: And McIlroy at Augusta this year, right? And what was the other one?
Q. Dustin Johnson.
JACK NICKLAUS: Dustin at the U.S. Open at —
Q. Pebble Beach.
JACK NICKLAUS: Dustin at Pebble. Dustin was right there at the PGA last year, too. But if you don’t learn from it, then you’re not paying attention… Okay, I did these and they were wrong, what do I do and how do I do it and what do I concentrate and make myself do and how do I make myself think, then you learn from that. And I’m sure all those guys are very, very good players and they’ll all learn from it.
Sometimes you have to hit them over the head twice, but in Watson’s case you had to hit him over the head three times. But I wouldn’t call — I’d call Watson relatively cerebral [it’s the ‘relatively’ that makes the sentence!]. Tom has always been a pretty smart guy. He figured it out, but he was pretty young when it happened to him, too. But I think it happens to everybody.
Listening to Jack Nicklaus wrestle with a reading of pressure, nerves and the havoc they can wreak on a golf game is a strange experience. He appreciates that social propriety demands a sympathetic treatment of the processes involved, but damn it, he’s got nothing but contempt for the very idea of weakness. Failure without purpose, that isn’t just a pit-stop on the road to a more significant triumph, lies in the hazy penumbra just beyond his understanding.
A three-putt cost him a major, so he didn’t do that again. Easy, right?