Jack Nicklaus has been in the same scary, dark place that Tiger Woods appears to be dealing with at the moment — the chipping yips. Nicklaus, who was a guest on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive on Friday, said he endured similar short-game struggles in 1979, and he was actually putting it around bunkers because he couldn’t chip it.
Now, with Tiger’s leave of absence almost certainly extending into late March at the very least, everyone is wondering how (and even if) Woods’ ailing game will return to competitive form. Nicklaus believes Woods’ issues are mental, rather than physical or technical, per se.
“Tiger is struggling, I don’t think there’s any question about that,” said Nicklaus on Morning Drive. “I think he’s struggling more between his ears than he is any place else. He’s struggled with the driver most of his life really, but he’s always been able to find the golf ball and get it somewhere back around the green… And now he’s having trouble with the short game. That is not a good combination, to drive it poorly and have a bad short game.”
Woods has struggled awfully around the greens in his three most recent starts — the Hero World Challenge last December and then his two appearances in 2015 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he missed the cut, and the Farmers Insurance Open, where he withdrew after 11 holes in the first round.
Last week Woods announced he would be taking a sabbatical from competition because his game was not fit for “tournament golf” and he would not return until it was. On Thursday he made it official that he would skip the Honda Classic, which is held at PGA National, near his home in Jupiter, Florida. Believe it or not, Woods is not eligible for the following week’s WGC-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral because he’s fallen outside of the top 50 in the world rankings and dropped all the way to no. 66.
Nicklaus managed to find his way out of his short-game slump after receiving a tip from former PGA Tour winner Phil Rodgers. The advice propelled Nicklaus to winning the 1980 U.S. Open and PGA Championship. Nicklaus believes Woods needs to find something similar, and when he does, he will return to his winning ways.
“You go through things, and you have to have a positive thing happen to you to turn it around,” said Nicklaus. “I think Tiger will turn it around. He’s too dedicated, he works too hard at it, he’s got too much talent. He’ll figure it out. And personally, I think he needs to figure it out himself. Because a teacher can’t teach what’s inside your head. You’ve got to be able to put that positive thought into your head yourself.”
Questions remain as to when Woods will make his next start. The most sensible guess based on his playing schedule in previous years points to the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill at the end of March. However, that leaves Woods with less than a month to prepare for the first major of the year, the Masters, held April 9-12 — which once again will most likely hamper his quest to capture that elusive 15th major and catch Nicklaus’ all-time record of 18.
Despite all the negatives, Nicklaus still believes Woods will eclipse his unparalleled number of major victories, though his answer revealed signs of skepticism.
“I still do,” said Nicklaus when asked if Woods would surpass his majors record. “Why would I not think that?…
“He’s got a lot of golf in front of him. But it’s going to be up to him, he’s still got to do it. He may, he may not. Obviously chances are harder for him now than five years ago, but I still think he has time on his side.”
Time is running out, though. Woods is now 39 years old and it’s clear his body has slowed him down and his physical ailments have started to catch up with his ability to keep up with the new wave of young talent. Nicklaus was 46 when he snagged his 18th major at the 1986 Masters.
Your turn: Will Tiger break — or even match — Nicklaus’ record? Heck, do you think he’ll win a 15th major?