April 7, 2022
Augusta, Georgia, USA
THE MODERATOR: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is indeed my great honor and pleasure to introduce and welcome back three extraordinary gentlemen who were the best of friends and the fiercest of competitors.
Let's welcome back Jack Nicklaus. Jack obviously has 18 majors, six green jackets, and you were the eighth person to be selected to be an Honorary Starter back in 2010.
Mr. Gary Player, nine majors, three green jackets, you're the ninth person selected in 2012.
Lee Elder was the 10th selected in 2021, and we're so overjoyed to have Tom Watson with us. You are now the 11th Honorary Starter effective this year.
The Honorary Starter system started in 1963 with Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod, and Fred McLeod in 1976 at the age of 94 hit the tee shot. Pretty dadgum impressive.
Today it's all about celebrating golf and celebrating the incredible amount of joy these three gentlemen have brought to us for so many years, the excitement they have brought, but also for their profound impact on the game of golf.
Gentlemen, thank you all so very much for being with us. We'll now open it up for questions, please.
Q. How does it feel?
GARY PLAYER: Direct the question to one of us, please.
Q. For each of you, how does it feel to be out there today?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I personally just felt lucky to be out there, period. I think these two know what I'm talking about.
TOM WATSON: I felt honored to be out there. When Chairman Ridley called my office and said, We'd like to speak with Tom at 10:00 in the morning on Monday morning, I was kind of expecting maybe that he might ask me to be an Honorary Starter, but I was overjoyed and actually humbled because the way I look at these old goats right here, I can't carry their shoes. I don't kind of belong in the same realm as these two players here.
But I was very honored to be selected, and as I said today, I've seen many opening tee shots during the Masters over my years, from Fred McLeod and Jock Hutchison, when I was an amateur in 1970, to Arnie's last event when he sat down and sat on the chair there. I've seen several in the middle with Sam Snead and Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen.
It's just part of the heritage of the tournament that I personally very much like, and to be a part of it, as I said, I'm very humbled to be a part of it.
GARY PLAYER: I get quite choked when I get on that tee in the morning. I'm not embarrassed to say that. The enthusiasm is one of the great essences of life, and the enthusiasm there, you can't compare it to anywhere. The people are just running -- they're not supposed to run, but they're coming in the gate this morning dying to run.
I vividly remember getting up in the morning to watch Jock Hutchison and Freddy McLeod hit off, and it was like yesterday. The saddest day that I ever had being on this tee was when Arnold Palmer's chair was there with his jacket on because Jack and I traveled extensively throughout the world with him, and we were, I think if I may say, fierce competitors, but we had great respect and love for each other, which doesn't exist a lot in sports today, unfortunately.
I think the word that comes to mind for me is also to be on the tee with a superstar like Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, and the word that comes to me, it's very simple, is gratitude, to be here at 86 years of age, on my 65th occasion, and still be teeing off. We can't take things for granted, which there is a great sense of entitlement that exists on the planet today, and we're not entitled to a damn thing.
Q. Mr. Watson, you talked about it a little bit, but I wondered if you could expand upon when you get that call, do you answer immediately? Do you have to think about it? Do you ask --
TOM WATSON: I didn't have to think about it, no. But I'm not making light of the fact that I was very humbled about it, and I didn't feel I was in the same category as these two. I've always said that.
People had asked me, "When are you going to be the Honorary Starter at Augusta?" for the last several years, and I said, "Well, I don't belong there." Honestly.
Chairman Ridley called me. He asked me fairly quickly in the conversation, he said, Tom, we really would appreciate it if you would accept our invitation to be an Honorary Starter with Jack and Gary, and I told him exactly how I just told him, I feel very humbled, I don't deserve to be there. And he said, No, we'd really like you to do this.
I said, I'm more than happy to do it.
Then he followed up very quickly and he said, Tom, you can do it for as long as you'd like, which I -- wow. That meant a great deal to me. The good Lord willing the creek don't rise.
Q. Gentlemen, this is for all three of you. Sounds like the Champions Dinner was a nice affair. Mr. Nicklaus, you tweeted you thought it was one of the better ones you'd ever been to. If you don't mind, what you're comfortable sharing from the dinner and the food and all that good stuff.
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I'll start if you want me to. I guess it's directed at me.
I thought that we probably had the best dinner that we've ever had, and not so much from the standpoint of food, but the food was sensational. I think the food was probably the best we ever had, too. But it wasn't from that standpoint, it was the standpoint that it got us talking. Tom actually got me talking. Tom said, Jack, why don't you review a little bit of how you felt coming up that last nine in '86?
Well, I took --
TOM WATSON: 15 minutes later, shot by shot -- actually he said, Do you want me to go shot by shot? I said, Hell yes, I want you to go shot by shot.
JACK NICKLAUS: Shot by shot, yard by yard.
TOM WATSON: I was looking around the table, the guys at the table were just -- they wanted to hear -- because everybody at that table had been in that position before, winning the tournament, and you could understand they wanted to hear the inside, what Jack was thinking inside as he played the last nine holes.
JACK NICKLAUS: That part was neat, but then Hideki, he gave about a three-minute speech in English. Doesn't speak very much English, and he did not look at a note. He had figured out what he wanted to say. I'm sure he had some help getting it on paper and then memorized it or whatever. But he was terrific.
Gary responded in Japanese, and I thought that was terrific. I have no idea what Gary said, but that's all right.
But anyway, it was a very, very good dinner. I think we had 32, 31 players and the chairman there, 32 people at the dinner. I don't know how many were eligible to be there --
TOM WATSON: I think Jackie Burke was the only one not there.
JACK NICKLAUS: Jackie Burke, the only one we were missing? That's pretty sensational. And Jackie is what, 98? 99 now? It's very excusable.
But anyway, it was very good.
TOM WATSON: I have to say just as a corollary that after Hideki finished his speech, I could tell -- I was watching him before sitting in the middle between Ben Crenshaw and Chairman Ridley, and he was sitting there with his eyes like this and his hands were moving, and I could tell he was very nervous. He made the speech. He didn't miss a beat. He didn't miss a word.
After the speech was over, he goes, "Whew," like that. Simultaneously everybody got up to give him a standing ovation, a standing O, because we really appreciated the effort that he put in to go through minutes in English when he had a hard time doing it.
GARY PLAYER: For me, I remember when I was the first international player to win this great tournament, and I sat next to Ben Hogan, who I always thought had the greatest golf swing of any human being that ever lived, and I was obviously very nervous sitting amongst all these world champions. That's why -- I'd been to Japan almost 30 times. I wanted to try and make Hideki feel at home as much -- because I can remember how I felt, and he must have felt even more awkward because he doesn't speak English very well.
But I was absolutely in awe, as everybody was, that he stood up and he just gave this incredible speech. As Tom said, everybody stood up and just gave him a standing ovation and made him feel welcome.
If you think back, it was 1961 that I won the tournament, and the only international player -- I don't like to use the word foreign because we're all part of this planet, and now there's 16 international players, and what has been our dream, all three of us, and Arnold's dream, was to make this game a truly international game, which it is today, which is really wonderful.
When you think even in China it's played today, even though President Xi is not a man who's a great fan of golf, but they're going to have a champion one of these years. It's just so good for international relations.
Q. I know how competitive you all still are. And it was misty this morning, so the rain was covering my glasses, I couldn't tell who hit it the farthest.
TOM WATSON: Oh, come on.
Q. Who hit it the farthest?
JACK NICKLAUS: We all hit it.
TOM WATSON: That was the key.
JACK NICKLAUS: I was definitely the shortest. I think Tom -- Gary was close to Tom. Gary and Tom were pretty close probably.
TOM WATSON: Oh, I got him by 50.
GARY PLAYER: He's a Texan you know.
JACK NICKLAUS: We all hit it, and I think it was a very nice ceremony. For me coming up, it was kind of -- not very often you see a lot of people that you know. I ran into my oldest grandson, which I didn't expect to be here. But what really surprised me is I walked up and this fellow over the side yelling, "Jack, Jack." I took a double take. He was the best man in my wedding. I haven't seen him for years. I thought that was pretty -- 62 years ago.
GARY PLAYER: You know, Jack, who I saw as he asked to come into the clubhouse to see me, sent a note, was Steve Cauthen, who won the Triple Crown, which is probably more publicity than golf gets. And he won the Triple Crown, and there he was, this jockey, and he came and said hello.
The people you see at this tournament is remarkable.
TOM WATSON: He had a horse to sell you.
GARY PLAYER: Even the horsemen, you know it's not a game, it's a disease.
Q. Mr. Player, just about your remarks about international players, I just wanted to get your thoughts on Cameron Smith's game. He won THE PLAYERS Championship last month, the world No. 6. Do you think he can win the Masters, and what do you like about his overall game?
GARY PLAYER: You know, I went to Australia at least 30 times, and I loved Australia very much, miss it dearly. Australia produced so many good players. Funny enough, we were having a little bet on who'd win the tournament down there, and I picked Cameron.
This guy can really putt. There's so much said about long hitting. Long hitting is an asset, but it's not a necessity. What wins golf tournaments is the mind and putting, and this guy, he's cocky, he's confident, which you've got to be, and he's one hang of a putter. It's not going to surprise me, he's not going to come in here and be overawed, as many players will be. He'll be in there with a good chance to win, and that would be very nice to see.
I'd love to see how he's accepted with that long hair in the clubhouse. They might tell him to have a haircut.
Q. Mr. Player, can you see a mullet hanging over the green jacket?
GARY PLAYER: No, no, whatever a man wants to do. That's freedom, you know, to have his hair as he wants to. I'm just pulling his leg. If he's happy doing it -- he said his girlfriend is very happy, and you've got to please them, you know.
But it was a wonderful win. Australia, as I say, without being repetitive, has been quite a golfing nation.
Q. Tom, you've obviously been around these two and you've known them for a long time. I wonder if you'd be kind enough to outline the defining characteristic of each of them for us.
TOM WATSON: I had a chance when I played -- I played as an amateur in 1970, and I came here on Friday and I played five practice rounds, and I show up at the tee in the Par 3 Contest, and who do they put me with? Put me with Gary Player. That was the first time I had met Gary.
Over the years, Gary -- grit is what Gary Player is all about. Grit. That's how I define Gary Player. There's never a shot that he ever plays loosely. That's what makes a true champion. You just don't play them loosely.
As far as Jack is concerned, I think his mind was the best mind that I ever came around playing, that I was introduced to and watched in the game of golf. The way he -- I vicariously followed him a whole round of golf when he won the Heritage Golf Classic at Hilton Head, but I played a lot of practice rounds with him, major championships, especially the British Open, the Open Championship. But I always was keenly aware of how he was playing the golf course.
I've said this many times, I think Jack was the best player to take the element of risk out of every shot he played. Understanding the risk, but playing the perfect risk-reward shot, the shots that he played on the golf course. That's how I define the two.
Q. Tiger said something interesting in here a couple of days ago. He said that the day he doesn't believe he can win here will be the day he doesn't show up anymore. Every golfer comes to the point when they have to switch out of "I'm only here to win" and then they make the decision whether they're going to come back or not. Just wonder if you could recall how you thought through that process and about whether it requires a big switch of the mind to come back when you actually have come to terms with the fact that you're probably not going to win the thing anymore.
TOM WATSON: It was pretty easy for me. I knew I couldn't compete anymore. I couldn't hit the ball far enough, and it was time to -- I think what you're asking is what was the decision-making process to say no Mas, and that was it. When you can't compete, there's no sense on being on the golf course and taking up a spot for somebody else. That's the way I looked at it.
Q. Tom, we didn't really catch what you said on the tee before you hit your shot. You gave a little speech. I was curious what that was.
TOM WATSON: Do you want me to repeat it? I can't remember what I said.
No, I said I was very honored to be there, that I had been there watching Freddy McLeod and Jock Hutchison and watching Sam and Byron and Gene tee off and watching Gary and Jack and Arnie tee off. I made an effort to go -- not an effort. I wanted to go out and see the opening tee shots because I thought -- to me it's just part of being at the Masters, to be able to see that and have that memory. It's a wonderful memory to me.
Essentially that's what I said.
GARY PLAYER: I think if I may add to that, probably if Tom -- and he hit a great second shot at Turnberry. Golf can be cruel. You couldn't hit a better shot. Historically that would have been the most remarkable thing ever achieved, was really the most unlucky thing I've ever seen in golf.
But in regards to Tiger, he obviously thinks about that, and I tell Peter Alliss on BBC that somebody will win a major at 50 and somebody will be hitting the ball 400 yards, and he told me I was talking rubbish. One day there will be a man of 60 winning a major championship, and if we don't do something about the ball, it'll go 500 yards.
In regards to Tiger, here was a man who was not good, phenomenal. Ben Hogan came back after an accident which probably was more serious -- Tiger's was very serious, but Hogan had a crushed pelvis and other bones that were ruined and came back and won majors. So there's no reason why Tiger shouldn't come back and win majors, as long as he does something which is absolutely imperative, and that's to believe that he can do it.
Have you seen physically how he is? He's a workaholic with his body, and he could come back. Wouldn't surprise me if Tiger came back and won a major.
Q. You had still played here at 74. Were you still believing that you could win it at that point? When you were 74, I think it was your last Masters here.
GARY PLAYER: I retired because, as Tom said, you get to a stage, and there's nothing worse -- I mean, I won't mention players that played that they were shooting 90. Really embarrassing. There's nothing worse than seeing a punch-drunk boxer and athletes try and make comebacks. It just doesn't exist, to an extent, anyway. And I realized, as Tom did. I was still scoring pretty well, and I just said, No, that's it. I can't win anymore. I think that's what we think about, we want to win. Only your wife and your dog remember your second.
JACK NICKLAUS: As far as I'm concerned, I didn't really get it -- you said Tiger didn't think he could win?
Q. He said when he didn't believe he could win anymore that's when he would stop showing up.
JACK NICKLAUS: Okay, so he believes he can win right now.
Well, my golf game was sort of different. My golf game was sort of like 1980 was when I played pretty well, and then I had sort of a -- I still loved to play the game, but I didn't work at it as hard, and then I got lightning in a bottle in 1986. I kept playing because I enjoyed it. I felt like I might find another lightning in the bottle. I almost found it again at age 58. I won sort of on one leg. I finished sixth, and I remember standing in the 15th fairway, I said, well, if I finish the same way as I did in '86, I'm going to win. And if I had, it would have been -- Mark O'Meara would have had to make his putt rather than just make it to win.
I still felt like anytime that I teed it up, I really had a chance. After the last couple years, the last couple years I played, I certainly doubted that I would probably have a chance, but I finished here -- I guess 2005 was the last year I played, and I finished on Friday on the 9th hole, and I didn't enjoy finishing on the 9th hole, and I missed the cut. I think I shot -- I missed about a five-footer at 9. I think I shot 76-77 or -- 153, something like that.
You're not going to win tournaments shooting 153. But if you're shooting 153, if I had finished -- when I retired in 2005 at St. Andrews, I still felt like I could be competitive, and I missed the cut by one shot.
But competitive is different than feeling like you can win. I mean, Tiger will -- Tiger I'm sure will be very competitive this week. I don't know whether he can win or not. He hasn't played any competition for a long time. When you haven't played any competition for a long time, you have a tendency to not be as sharp, and sharp mentally, although I never would -- I guess I never would ever fault Tiger for his mental acumen because I think Tiger mentally is fantastic.
He used to look up at the leaderboard and he'd say, okay -- a lot of the same things I did. I went up and looked, I saw Smith, Jones, whatever it might be, and I said, well, all I've got to do is finish the tournament and I'm going to win, or if he ended up seeing Watson or Mickelson or somebody that was a good player that competed against him, then he knew he had to finish the tournament.
But he always knew that, what he had to do. I always knew what I had to do and always felt like what I could do.
But I always felt like I still had the attitude at 58 that I could win, and standing in the middle of 15 fairway, I think that made me feel good and competitive and put a good feeling in my heart that I could still play the silly game.
You know, when you can do that, then it really becomes fun. That's what the game is -- that's a game. That's what we all play is for is the fun of it, to enjoy it, to have a great feeling about it and to compete. It's something we did all our life, and when you lose the ability to compete, you really lose so much of what you've done.
I think that exactly was your question.
I felt well into my career that I could still compete, so I was very blessed with that.
Q. Gary, you've just come off the honorary tee start, which is really one of the great traditions in golf, and 10 days ago you actually started the same tradition back in my country, in India, when you had a traditional honorary tee start for the inaugural tournament at the Delhi Golf Club. So one, what does an honorary tee start mean for the game, and two, do you follow younger international stars like from my country in India and say China, and what would an event do for any of them in their country?
GARY PLAYER: First of all, I was really charmed. I love India, the intelligence, the technology, the manners, the so humble -- the women dress so nicely. I'm so used to seeing women with damn dresses up their bum, and you don't see anything like that in India. It was really, really enjoyable.
And the golf course they've got in Delhi, and golf is really moving in India, and with the massive population you have, with the right coaching, which is essential, they can produce many champions. Lahiri finished second in the TPC, a remarkable effort. If he can do that, he can win here.
For me, every time I see somebody from a different country come here and win, having traveled more miles than any human being that's ever lived, it gives me a great thrill. And to see the programs you have in India and the opening ceremony there was very exciting. Obviously not to the extent of Augusta, but it was -- in its place, it was really enjoyable, and to see people really falling in love with the game, and in China, too, and around the world everywhere.
You think of a small country like South Africa, we've had 23 major champions. I mean, that's a miracle. So if a small country like South Africa can do it, it can be done in all the countries, particularly countries with large populations.
Did I answer your question?
Q. Yeah, just about what does an honorary start mean.
GARY PLAYER: Well, you're honored. You're honored to be in that position to be able to do it and to try to be able to contribute to the society, to contribute to that country, to try and get young people interested. That's why, when I played, I played in the pro-am. I requested to play in the pro-am. I wanted to meet some of the young pros and see how they play. And I played with the one young man, he was outstanding. They were all very good. They all play very well. The youth of today have got a wonderful opportunity.
I was on the practice tee this morning with Peter Cowen, and he came up and he said, When I was a young man, my 7-iron -- well, my 5-iron was 30 degrees loft. Now a 7-iron is 30 degrees loft. When you got a driver when we were younger, they came and said, here's your wooden driver, and your driver, that's what you used, it didn't matter whether it was flat or open or shut. Now they fly a man in, tries shafts for you right there, alters the lie, alters the loft, et cetera, et cetera.
Technology is moving so fast, and that applies to Indian golf and to China's golf and other countries that haven't won majors, and they will win majors in the future. As long as we can have good teaching, because never in the history of golf have there been at least 10 major champions that can't play golf anymore. Never happened in our time.
You've got to be very careful the teacher you go to. We saw that with Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods, if he never had lessons -- in my humble opinion, if he never had lessons, he would have won 20 majors minimum, but after winning the U.S. Open by 15 shots, he's having a lesson the next week and he doesn't win a major -- not to denigrate the man who taught him, but he changed his whole swing. Why? When he's winning every week almost and one out of every four tournament, he goes and changes his swing and he doesn't win a major for 11 years.
So the young people today, my advice is whichever country we're talking about when you have lessons go to somebody who's been in the arena that knows what the hell he's talking about.
JACK NICKLAUS: You were talking about the young Indian players. Anirban Lahiri is a member at the Bear's Club, and I see Anirban quite often. What a nice young man. Handles himself beautifully, polite, good player. Nothing against Cameron Smith, but when they were coming down the stretch, because I knew Anirban well, I was really rooting because I thought he would really help the game of golf in his country.
He played well. What, did he lose by one? I asked him, I said, You've got a couple million dollars to soothe your wounds. He said, Yeah, but I'd have rather had the 3 million.
But anyway, I think your international players -- we want to continue to -- Gary and I did that, and Tom and when Arnold was playing, we played all over the world. Talk about going and playing in Australia, Gary won the Australian Open seven times. I won it six times. Did you win it? But Tom didn't go every year. We went every year.
It was trying to play golf in different places all over the world. Gary has played far more places than I have, and he continues to do so. He's a global ambassador to the game and probably the best we've ever had, no question about that.
We all feel the same way. Golf is a global game, and we want it to continue to grow globally.
Q. Kind of what you all were talking about as far as when to hang it up and when you felt you couldn't be competitive anymore here, when you see guys like Freddy and Bernhard coming out here and the way they've played over recent years and made cuts and pushed, for all of you, what is that like to see folks like that at 62, 63, 64 making those cuts and pushing here at Augusta, as well?
TOM WATSON: I think it's remarkable what Bernhard Langer has done. He had -- a couple years ago he was pretty close to the lead going into the last round.
I have to say this about Bernhard. Bernhard works harder at the game, practices harder at the game. He has a caddie that works harder than any other caddie preparing. They both prepare the best. I remember Jack saying that I won a lot of tournaments because I out-prepared everybody.
You don't have to play the best. That's one of the things when I learned -- I came on the Tour, I thought, I have to play perfect golf to ever have a chance to maybe even make a cut or certainly to win a tournament. I had to play my best. No. You have to play smart. That's why I was talking about how -- I watched and learned from the players in practice rounds and how they were playing the golf course.
Bernhard is that type of person. Prepares very, very -- he prepares the best. I admire that.
Q. My question is more focused also on international golf, especially in Japan we have three players from Japan this year here. All of them played Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and came here, including our defending champion. What's your views on the development of golf in Japan right now, and what do you think contributes to the success of the Japanese golfers right now, and also who do you think could be the next Masters champion from Asia?
GARY PLAYER: Well, first of all, having been to Japan over 30 times and watched golf come along, and you had Jumbo Ozaki. No one in the world could go to Japan and beat Jumbo Ozaki. But he wasn't a (indiscernible) player. (Indiscernible) being international, as you know. When he left Japan, he couldn't play very well.
Aoki finished second to Jack, if I'm not mistaken, at Baltusrol, had a great chance to win, wonderful golfer. But it was only a matter of time before Japan, being so enthusiastic -- and enthusiasm is one of the greatest essences of life, and you oozed with enthusiasm in Japan to get a champion. And I've always said I wish we could get a champion from Japan, and now we've got one.
And I said to Hideki, Please, now that you might even be president, please make sure when I come there I don't have to get a visa. He had a good laugh. Now we've got a young man who's an amateur in this tournament, a Japanese amateur. This guy can really, really play.
What actually happens is through example, nobody had ever won this tournament as an international player. When I did it, these guys said if Gary can do it, this little sawn-off runt, then we can do it, and these guys have come along and adhered to that and accomplished that.
Now that you've had Hideki win, you can have a lot of young people in Japan thinking they can do it. You had Ishikawa, who was one of the best juniors I've ever seen in my life, but his father was teaching him, and that was the end of the story. And today he's nonexistent, so to speak. He might come back.
So as long as you can have good teaching, good programs like we have in South Africa -- we have extraordinary programs in South Africa, and that's why we've done so well. Japan is going to rise with the sun.
Q. Obviously, when you're a kid, you're not aspiring to be an Honorary Starter, so do you see now this as pretty much a culmination of your career?
TOM WATSON: Well, life is a process. When I look back at my career, I had about a seven-year run where I really played well, but it's a process. Up until that time I had trouble finishing golf tournaments, then I learned how to finish golf tournaments, then I struggled with my game, then I reinvented my game basically, changed my golf swing.
Then I had the opportunity to win at an older age at Turnberry in 2009. Played the PGA TOUR Champions -- I still call it the Senior Tour. But it was a process.
Again, when people were asking me what will you become an Honorary Starter, I said, I don't think I deserve that. I mean, it's just -- I guess it's a culmination of kind of the process.
I had a pretty good career. Not like these guys, but I had a pretty good career. Just kind of the culmination of it.
Again, I'm very honored to be here. I enjoy this tournament, especially now it has progressed very quickly in the last 10 years.
I remember when Billy Payne came to the Champions Dinner the first year as the chairman of the tournament, and he said, Gentlemen, I intend to make this tournament the best sporting event in the world. Not the best tournament in the world, but the best sport he event in the world. By God, I think he's pretty close to having that.
The Masters Tournament is looked upon in the world of sport as kind of the go-to sporting event. You can say American football, the Super Bowl, you can say the World Cup in what they call proper football, to the World Cup in rugby to -- this is kind of the pinnacle, the pinnacle of sport that people, when they think about sport, they think about the Masters. And damn, it's hard to get a ticket here.
Q. Just curious, out of respect for all of you, what is the last underage score on the course for each of you guys? The scores under your age. When was the last time you shot under your age on the golf course?
JACK NICKLAUS: This course or any course?
Q. Any course.
JACK NICKLAUS: I'm going to answer that for Gary Player. Gary Player last Wednesday or Thursday, Gary? Wednesday, came in off the golf course, and I saw him and he was all mad. He said, I had about a six-footer at the last hole and I choked. I said, Well, what did you do? He says, Well, if I had made that putt, I would have shot 18-under my age. 18-under your age.
Q. That's 72, right?
JACK NICKLAUS: No, no, 68. 69 is not bad at age 86, is it?
Q. That's incredible.
JACK NICKLAUS: And he doesn't play the front tees like I do. I mean, he goes and plays --
Q. That doesn't matter.
JACK NICKLAUS: Oh, yes, it does. It makes a lot of difference. This young man can still really play. Last time I shot below my age? I don't remember the last time I shot, to be very honest.
GARY PLAYER: If I may boast for a minute, I've beaten my age over 2,000 times in a row. In a row.
Q. 2,000 times in a row?
GARY PLAYER: Over 2,000 times in a row.
JACK NICKLAUS: You've got the record. We're not challenging you.
Q. I remember Tom's British Open score. That's surely under your age.
TOM WATSON: I didn't shoot under my age then. I was 59 years old.
Now here's a record that probably won't ever be beat. Sam Snead shot his age every year from 59 on. Gary, have you shot your age from 59 on?
GARY PLAYER: I'd have to think about that. That's a bit complicated. Sam Snead was the greatest natural athlete that golf ever had.
TOM WATSON: I agree.
JACK NICKLAUS: I shot my age the first time when I was 64.
TOM WATSON: Me to.
GARY PLAYER: Me to. Isn't that interesting, all three of us did it at 64.
TOM WATSON: I shot 63 when I was 64 at the Toshiba Classic.
It's a cute story because Neil Oxman was my caddie, and I started off the round and I got off to not a very good start, and then I started running the tables. This was at the Toshiba out in California.
I got on a run there, and I got to the seventh hole, and I made a birdie there, and now I have to par in to shoot my age, 64. I walk off the green and I say, Hey, Ox, if I par in, I'm going to shoot 64. He said, Shut up! You never talk about it. It was like a pitcher throwing a no-hitter. You sit him at the end of the bench and you never talk to him.
I got up on the tee, we were waiting on the next hole, it was a par-3. I said, Really, Ox, you're that concerned? He said, You don't talk about it. I made a good par on the next hole and then I birdied the last hole to shoot 63.
GARY PLAYER: That is so true.
TOM WATSON: Never talk about it.
GARY PLAYER: Tom, it's so true because I was 6-under par with five holes to go. I could play the next holes in 2-over and beat my age by 18. Nobody has ever beaten their age by 18. I started to choke because I started talking about it. He was so right.
Q. Based on what's happened with him over the past two months, if Phil Mickelson reached out for advice, what would you tell him?
GARY PLAYER: I have a special thought on Phil Mickelson. I think we live in a time now when we are such a judgmental society, a litigious society, a critical society, where people get crucified. The greatest PR man on the golf Tour in the last five or X amount of years has been Phil Mickelson. He has been the ideal man for a sponsor, for professional golf, for the public, the way he's handled the public, with dignity and with love.
And he makes a mistake, which every one of you in this room have made a damn mistake. We all have. And he said he's sorry. But even the Lord God will forgive you of your inequities if you ask for forgiveness. And he made a mistake, and for everybody to be -- I've heard him. I said, Hold your head up high. You've made a mistake. Everybody makes a mistake.
And he should go on with his life. I think it's pitiful -- I actually made a statement on television. I said, If there's nobody that hasn't made a mistake, I'd like to invite anybody in the world to have lunch with me at Augusta, and if you haven't made a mistake, I'll have lunch with you, but I'll have lunch on my own. It's amazing. From the epitome of perfection, he's down there being crucified. It's not right. That's my opinion.
He said terrible things, but we all make mistakes.
Q. Who would you like to win the Masters, and who do you think will win the Masters? Those could be one and the same.
TOM WATSON: My dark horse is Sam Burns. I don't think you'd call him a dark horse because he's really been playing well. He's under the radar. He's won some. I like his golf swing. I'm just going to go out on a limb.
JACK NICKLAUS: I think any of the three of us would like to win, but we're not going to be likely. (Laughter.)
I don't really have anybody that I would like to have win. I have a lot of fellas that I think are due to win, Rory being one, Patrick Cantlay would be another one, Justin Thomas would be another one.
TOM WATSON: Koepka?
JACK NICKLAUS: I don't have any problem with any of them winning. They're all -- one thing I like today about the young crew, they're all pretty good -- they're all good kids, and they all seem to get it. Every time we've had a charity event or whatever, they've all participated. They understand what the Tour is all about.
When we were playing, charity was a very small part of the Tour. As the Tour has grown, charity has become a very major part of the Tour. I'm sure you all know that golf gives away more money to charity than all other major sports combined every year.
So when you have a sport that's doing that, all of a sudden the leaders of that sport have got to buy in to that philosophy and be part of it, and as a result when they buy into that kind of a philosophy, they all kind -- they all get to -- as Gary said, he spent a lot of time with these different young players. They start to spend time with people and understand a little bit more about what life is all about.
It's not all about just winning a golf tournament. It's about what you give back and how you make this a better place than when you got here.
That's what I actually -- so from my standpoint, I'm happy for any one of these young guys to win. Or even one of the older guys, I don't care. I think anybody who is eligible to play in the Masters Tournament has got to be an awfully good player, and they're all out there to compete to try to win. I don't want to have a favorite. I would just like to see them all play well, and the one that plays the best wins. That's sort of the way I like to look at it.
GARY PLAYER: I'd like to see Rory McIlroy win because I think he is basically the most talented player I've seen in ages, and to have another Grand Slam winner I think would be just a big shot in the arm for golf around the world. It would encourage more people to play golf. They'd read about this profusely.
I think Smith would be a great thing. He's the kind of guy that would just boost the game.
JACK NICKLAUS: Who?
GARY PLAYER: Smith, from Australia, Cameron Smith. Then I'd like to see a young man like this Garrick Higgo from South Africa who I've tried to help who's a very thorough gentleman.
But I think Jack answered it appropriately. Any one of them, we'd be thrilled to see any one of them win.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you so very much for being with us. Speaking as a golf fan, it is a pure joy to hear you all reflect on your stories, and we appreciate so much you being here. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports