The Golden Bear talks Tiger and golf at the Memorial
By Bernie D'Amato under Jack Nicklaus

18-time major champion

Jack Nicklaus is the host of the Memorial Tournament, and he spoke today about several topics including Tiger’s health, getting Muirfield Village back in shape after the Presidents Cup last fall, winning the career grand slam, the state of the golf industry, and whether or not he could have hit the ball 400 yards with today’s equipment.

*On speaking with Tiger this morning: “He called me this morning, which is a very, very nice call, wishing me well in the tournament, sorry he couldn’t be here. And he was saying that he felt bad about not being able to be here. He said he’s doing well, progressing well, and he’s looking forward to getting back into the game. He misses it. I just pass that on.”

*Opinion on Tiger’s health: “I think his biggest stumbling block probably is going to be his health, and I think his health is something that he thinks he’s doing very well with. If he’s healthy, I think Tiger’s got 10 plus years to play top‑quality tournament golf.

“And certainly, and I’ve said many times, he’s got a little over 40 tournaments to play the major championships, he’s only got to win five to pass my record. As good a player as he is, I don’t think that should be a big deal.”

“But, then again, he’s gotta do it plus he’s also got to be healthy to be able to do it.  And you’re right, the last part is a factor. I mean, the first time that Tiger ever lost a tournament coming down the stretch was against Y.E. Yang where he was leading and came down. It was the first time somebody challenged him and actually beat him.”

“He will probably have more of those challenges because of the more young players coming along. But that’s part of the game, and I think he expects that.”

*On the tremendous effort of the superintendent and his staff in getting the course back in shape after the President’s Cup last fall: “Paul [Latshaw] and his crew have done a great job bringing the golf course back. I think he had 15 truckloads of sod and had to regrass about ‑‑ with seed about 30 acres of ground, and winter set in immediately so nothing germinated. So everything had to happen this spring.”

*Before the Nicklaus presser, Annika Sorenstam, another living legend, spoke about being the tournament honoree. Sorenstam praised Nicklaus, and the respect and admiration is mutual with Nicklaus saying he got to work with Annika in the lead up to getting golf into the Olympics: “I got to know her, and she’s a heck of a girl and smart girl and one that I gained a lot of respect and admiration for from those visits.”

*Nicklaus pulled out some humor in the presser when he spoke about how his father was once mistaken for the great Bobby Jones: “My dad was 18 when the Ryder Cup was here [Scioto Country Club], and he came to the club ‑‑ and he sort of parted his hair pretty much in the middle, a little bit like Jones. And he was walking up in the parking lot, and somebody said, Oh, Mr. Jones, come on in. And they escorted him in. Thought he was Bob Jones, and they escorted him into the clubhouse.”

“My dad didn’t say anything; he just went right on into the clubhouse.”

*On Adam Scott’s win as the world no. 1 at Colonial: “I think he solidified his position pretty good with that. Pretty impressive win.”

*On winning the career grand slam in 1966 at the Open Championship at Muirfield: “There wasn’t much fanfare from my side or anybody else’s. My fanfare was winning the British Open. And I never even thought much about a career grand slam. We were trying to win it in one year, not trying to win it in a bunch of years.

“But I was very proud of Muirfield, obviously, in ’66. It was a golf course that I really wasn’t supposed to win on. It was a golf course that was very narrow. Rough was about 18 inches high right off the fairway. There was no semi rough at all.”

“We always kidded about that. You go in, if you hit your ball in, and you went in and tried to find it, put the bag down, you’d lose your bag. If you had a short caddie, you’d probably lose him, too.”

“So we just sort of always were laughing about that all week. And I hit 17 drivers all week at Muirfield, and the 17th one almost cost me the tournament, because the 15th hole ‑‑ 14th hole I played with 3‑wood all week and I decided to play driver the last round and I hit it in the bunker and cost me a bogey. And I won by one.”

“But career grand slam, I didn’t really think a whole lot about it then. I look back on it now and there’s not that many guys that have done that. But when you’re 26 years old, you don’t really pay much attention to that kind of stuff.”

*On the state of the golf business (Jack Nicklaus designs a ton of golf courses!): “I think that state of tournament golf is really, really healthy. And, frankly, I’m starting to see signs that regular golf is making a recovery. We’re starting to see golf courses coming back, not so much new ones yet but we’re seeing a lot of the old ones that I started five, six years ago are now being finished.

“Golf courses that just got done and went under, they’re now coming back and we’re redoing those and getting them back to play. So there’s some activity in the United States. Activity around the world has actually been pretty decent.”

“I’ve got a golf course in Japan that sat for seven years, and we’re finishing it now. We’ve got probably ‑‑ not exactly sure the number, probably between 15 and 20 golf courses under construction in China.”

“And we’ve got several ‑‑ not several, but probably three that are working in Russia.  We’ve got not too many other parts of the world, a little bit more in southeast Asia, a little bit in Korea.”

“We’ve never done one in the Middle East, but I think we’ve got a couple that are about to start.  Couple ‑‑ Europe is probably quieter than the United States from a design standpoint. But we are doing a few golf courses there. So you’re starting to see a little bit of that. But I’m starting to see the whole economics of the game of golf starting to increase again.”

“People are starting to play more rounds. They’re spending more money at a lot of the clubs. The clubs are not struggling like they were three, four years ago, so I think we’ve made a turnaround. I think we’re headed in the right direction.”

“We just went through a bad time. The whole United States and the world went through a bad time. And hopefully we’re on the other side of it.”

*When asked about Lee Trevino’s comments about Nicklaus being able to hit it 400 yards with today’s equipment: “Oh, sure. What else do you want me to say? I don’t know what I would hit it. But I’ve shown you this before. But that money clip I’ve carried since 1963. That money clip was from the PGA Championship driving contest in ’63 and it was 341 yards, 17 inches.

“We played the PGA up here the next year at Columbus Country Club and we had the driving contest was on the fourth hole, level hole, was a little bit into the wind, after rain, I hit it 308 that day.”

“Under certain conditions, there’s a lot of guys out here today that could hit the ball 400 yards.  Not a lot. But probably a dozen, if you get the right conditions. If they had the same conditions I had when I won that driving contest at Dallas, they would hit it 400 yards in; and I might have, too.”

“But that was with 42‑and‑three‑quarter‑inch wood driver. It’s a little different than what we use today. But I hit the ball a long way. I don’t know that I would hit it any further than the guys that are long today or as long as the guys, because they’re bigger than I was.”

–Bernie D’Amato (@bdamato711)

(Photo: Getty Images)

Quotes are courtesy of ASAP Sports.