Sitting in a Jack Nicklaus press conference is always a treat. It reminds me of being a little kid gathering around grandpa, who was sitting in an armchair, by the fireplace at Christmastime, telling stories about your great-uncle Bob or cousin Lou. Well, that’s kind of like attending a presser with Jack, but asking for his opinions on Rory and Rickie (and Tiger) and hearing him riff about winning his first U.S. Open in 1962.
One of the best parts is Jack enjoys talking to the media these days and sharing his ideas and thoughts. The experience (so-to-speak) of being there can’t be replicated by simply reading the transcript (which usually resembles a short novel). Here are some of the highlights…
*On Bubba’s incredible shot in the playoff at the Masters: “I’m trying to visualize how much he hooked the ball at 10 at Augusta. I don’t know how much he hooked it, but he obviously hooked it a lot. But what amazed me was when the ball came down on the green with a hook as hard as he hit it, it backed up. It backed up the hill, and I said, How do you make a golf ball do that? That was kind of interesting I thought.”
*On “Bubba Golf”: “To put it mildly, a rather unique golf swing, and to his credit, which is to me what the game is all about, is learning who you are and what you are and what you do. You know, people criticize Furyk for his golf swing, but Jim knows what he does and how he does it. You look at some other golf swings and you see what you think is a perfect golf swing, but sometimes they don’t know what they’re doing with it. Bubba knows what he’s doing with his golf club. He had to learn that. He had to learn how to do that. I think that’s what’s so unique about it and what’s so good about it.”
*On talking swing with Tiger at this year’s Masters dinner:“I was asking him, Why do you need somebody to watch you all the time? He said, I really don’t. He said, I go to Sean and I get some ideas, but then I really go work on it myself and try to learn what I want to do and how I want to do it, which I think is the right way. I said, If you’re doing that, you’re on the right track, but all I read in the papers is how Sean is making a swing change on you. He said, That’s not what I’m doing. I said, Okay, that’s fine then, because he’s trying to be responsible for himself.”
*On the 50th anniversary of winning his first U.S. Open in 1962: ” I almost won in ’60 at Cherry Hills, and I really look back, it’s one that I gave away. But I was 20 years old. I gave it away because I didn’t know how to win. And then the next year I didn’t really give it away, but I had a good chance to win, and I finished fourth. I felt going into Oakmont that, man, I’m not letting this one get away. Going to Oakmont ‑‑ it sounds funny, may sound ridiculous to all of you, but I didn’t know who Arnold Palmer was for all intents and purposes. I didn’t mean it that way, but what I mean is that all I had to do was worry about myself. I wasn’t worried about Arnold or Gary or whoever might be there. I was interested because I felt like I really had the chance to win those two previous wins, and I had just finished second the week before to Littler at Thunderbird and I was really playing well and I was charged up to play, and that was my sole thought was that this was my week.All of a sudden I found out I was in Arnold Palmer’s backyard, but I found that out a couple weeks later after the tournament was over because I didn’t pay attention to it while I was there. I don’t know if you understand that, but that’s what a 22‑year‑old kid thinks like. Maybe even a 16‑year‑old kid.”
*On his recent first with Arnold Palmer at Oakmont: “Well, neither of us could remember the course…(laughter)…The purpose of the visit to Oakmont was to try to get a couple of shots for a special they’re doing for USGA on the ’62 Open, 50 years since then. And Arnold says, Why do I have to do that? They want me to do the one with Casper in ’67. I lost them both. (Laughter.) I said, You won enough. We’ll get to yours that they won. I said, Did they do one at Cherry Hills, Arnold? Yeah. Okay, I lost there. We were kidding each other about it.”
*On traveling during his early 20s on Tour: “I was 22 with a family. Jackie was about eight months old when I played the Open at Oakmont. But we used to travel. We used to travel. We talked about traveling in the car, back in the day when we didn’t have disposable diapers and we had a diaper pail in the backseat with a port‑a‑crib and off we went. Let me tell you, you’d better keep the windows open. I’ll tell you what, it didn’t smell very good.
“And all the players, we’d all try to figure out and go to the same motel so we could have cookouts, and then the wives would have ‑‑ they’d take turns watching other people’s kids. If one of the guys was in contention, the other wives would take care of their kids and they’d go watch their husband play golf. We did a lot of that kind of stuff in the days when we were playing.
“I think that we were pretty close as a group back in those days even though we were still playing on the golf course with blinders. I think we all went to the golf course with the idea to play the best we could and try to win, but when the round was over, as soon as we shook hands, we said, Where are you having dinner? That’s sort of the way we did it in those days. I don’t know how the guys do it today. I’m not 22 anymore or 25 or 30 or even close, but I don’t know what the guys do today.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of guys that spend time and go have dinner and do things and there are guys that are close friends and so forth and their wives. That’s got to continue to happen, and if it doesn’t I’d be very surprised. Everything is just magnified. The attention is magnified. The press is magnified. The prizes are magnified.
“I don’t know that the pressure or tension is magnified because the guys today can make a living playing golf. We couldn’t make a living playing golf. We had to go play golf tournaments and win golf tournaments so we had the opportunity to make a name to go make a living, and that was a little different position to be in.”
[*Ed. note: One major difference European Tour players point out when they come over to the U.S. is the lack of camaraderie. Among the caddie corps, there’s more of that, but obviously that’s different. I mean, the most asked question every week is “Where are you staying?” or “How much did you get [that hotel] for on Priceline? Oh man, you got it for $55? I’m paying $70.”]
*On slow play — including himself being a slow player — and the solution: “I don’t think there’s a huge problem on the Tour. They have an individual every once in a while. I used to be that individual sometimes. The guys have to learn, I learned how to not be a slow player. It took me a few years, but I learned, as the other guys will, too. The one thing that if you wanted the Tour to move a little bit quicker would be instead of monetary fines, stroke fines, and I think they’re starting to do that now, aren’t they?”
*On the Tour not stroking slow players: “Not yet? They haven’t done it. They say they’re going to do it but they haven’t done it. I’m not out here all the time so I don’t really know what they’re doing. I got a two‑stroke penalty at Portland and I got a two‑stroke penalty at Houston playing with Cary Middlecoff, and he didn’t get a penalty, so then I knew I was really slow. You don’t know Cary Middlecoff, but he was the slowest.”
*On slow play being a different problem in recreational golf: “Now, as it relates to the everyday game, I think the everyday game, they try to imitate what happens on the Tour, and the kids try to copy the players. Well, the players, these guys are not only taking 65 shots, and there’s not a lot of time between their shots. They take their time over their shot, but they play a 7,500‑yard golf course and they play it in four and a half hours and they play it in a threesome that moves along pretty good. It’s not that bad. Should it be faster? Yeah, it could be a little bit faster, but I don’t think that’s a major problem.
“But the major problem is becoming for the average recreational golfer because they can’t ‑‑ today is not a four and a half, four‑hour time to play golf. This is in the computer age, kids want to do things in two and a half, three hours at dead max. No other sport is played in any more than that except a five‑set tennis match maybe might get there, and how much of that do you watch? You watch the fourth and fifth set maybe by the time they get to it.
“The game for the average golfer needs to be faster, take less time, needs to be cheaper, and needs to be easier. Those are contradictory to the Tour. So to solve that problem, I’m not sure how we solve that problem. I know that the USGA is doing a study on the golf ball and play to try to help it, and I think the PGA of America is working on it and I think the Tour will be, too, because I think they’re going to get their statistics from it. And what they do, I don’t know.”
(Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images)