April 9, 2003
BILLY MORRIS: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We're delighted to have Jack Nicklaus with us. Jack has completed 42 Masters Tournaments. And in 1986 he became a six-times Masters champion and the oldest player to win the event at age 46. His other victories were in 1963, 1965, 1966 and 1972 and 1975. He successfully defended his title in 1966. He's won four U.S. Opens, five PGAs, three British Opens, a total of 71 PGA tour titles.
Ladies and gentlemen, we're delighted to have Jack with us. Jack, do you want to just say something or would you like to start with questions.
JACK NICKLAUS: Oh, doesn't make much difference. I'm just nice to be back playing in the Masters again, after a year's absence. And basically I wasn't real sure that I had a golf game. I'm still not too sure. My main concern was that I could hit the ball far enough. I came down three different occasions and played the golf course in the last month. And I hit the ball plenty far enough to play the golf course. Of course it wasn't the conditions we have got today. And the golf course is very long right now. It's going to be very difficult for anybody who does not hit it gorilla style. It's a pretty long golf course. But it is what it is and I'm delighted to be here.
Q. Jack, you and Nick Faldo are the only two that knows what it's like to be in Tiger's shoes this week going for a three-peat. From your experiences, what's going through his mind and how is he going to handle going for three?
JACK NICKLAUS: I never would have even thought about winning it three times in a row. That didn't make any difference one way or the other. Once you win it the first -- the hardest time to win is the first time. It's easier to win it the second time and certainly has to be a little easier the third time. I just happened to play like a dog the third time I was here. I shot 79 in the second round and missed the cut. So I missed the cut and I didn't give myself any opportunity. But I think he's always played very very well when he's on a golf course that he knows and a golf course that he plays well. It would not surprise me in the least to see Tiger win it again.
Q. Nick was quoted as saying that he hopes Tiger does not win the third in a row because he would like to have that distinction. Do you have any sentiments that way?
JACK NICKLAUS: I always feel like records are made to be broken. And if you -- if a man is good enough to win it three times in a row, more power to him. Congratulations.
Q. Arnie talked about this a little bit, and back when you were dominating the golf world there seemed to be a lot tougher competition mentally. People would come up and take a tournament away from you. Do you think players gave in less than opponents seem to be giving in to Tiger?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, there's been a lot talked about that and a lot been written. And it's all sort of suppose this and suppose that, I suppose.
(Laughter.) So to speak. Yeah. I felt like when I played most of my golf I had guys like Arnold and Gary or Watson, Trevino, who all won a half a dozen or more Majors. And if I was going to -- if I slipped, they all knew how to win. Now that may not be -- but there weren't as many good players as there are today. And today it seems as though Tiger's the only one who's had enough experience at winning -- Ernie's getting closer -- at being able to win multiple events and being able to stay there.
It seems as though you might think that maybe there aren't as many good players today, I think there's probably more good players today. But I don't think there are probably more seasoned veteran players today that have won and have had the experience of knowing how to finish it coming down the stretch. And of course you have to do that to even get in that position. And with a number of players you have to beat today, it's harder to do that.
Tiger stands out above the field. There's no question about that. And I think Ernie is not that far behind. And I don't know what's behind that. But I think it's difficult to compare any era. We're playing different equipment, we're playing different golf courses, from the standpoint of what length we play. It's a different era. And I certainly wouldn't want to criticize the players of today because I think there's a ton of very very good players today. But they haven't had the experience of winning to be able to challenge Tiger. And that's really what it boils down to.
Q. Backing up to your assessment of the depth of field today, where do you think Tiger's streak of consecutive cuts ranks versus, say, you're next at 105, I think he's at 101 coming in this week?
JACK NICKLAUS: Is he?
Q. Yeah. I think that's where the numbers are and how many no-cut events, do you recall playing in over that stretch?
JACK NICKLAUS: I don't think there were very many. You played the Tournament of Champions and you played -- I think that's probably it. I couldn't think of any other ones. I don't know of any others where there were no cuts. They have a Tournament of Champions.
JACK NICKLAUS: Yeah, it's the Mercedes. Yeah. But I think they play the same number to that. I think that it was probably -- I don't know. Where it was tougher? Probably a toss-up in many ways, I suppose. I mean any time you make 100 cuts you've done pretty well. So how do you compare that? We both did pretty well.
Q. When I talked to you a few weeks ago you said you were going to come up here and hopefully look for a golf game between then and now. What have you found?
JACK NICKLAUS: About a half a one.
(Laughter.) I've got to find the other half tomorrow. I've played a couple of tournaments this year trying to learn the game again. If I go back and look at the last time that I really had a golf swing and a golf game that I felt like I could rely upon with my old muscle memory of what I grew up with, oh it was probably back in the mid '90s. I was in my mid 50s. I mean what I did here in '98, I had to finish what? Sixth in this tournament on one leg. I didn't have any use of my left leg at that time. It was numb the whole time and I just figured out how to play around it.
And since that time obviously I had my hip done. I had back problems that I think resulted largely because of my hip operation of readjusting my back. And for the first time this year, it's the first time, the last three months is the last time I felt good where I could go ahead and swing at a golf ball in several years, without having a whole lot of problems trying to swing at it. And I've got to go relearn how to play the game of golf.
Now, am I going to spend the time at age 63 to go out and try to relearn to play the game of golf? Probably not. Am I going to try? Probably. Now if you can decipher what I just said, please tell me. Because I mean what I suppose I mean by that is that would I like to go out and learn how to play again? Would I like to go out and play? Absolutely. I love to play the game of golf. It's what I've done all my life. It's what I've done -- the best thing I've done all my life. And would I like to do it again? Absolutely.
Of course, do I think that's realistic? Probably not. Do I think that I probably have the desire to spend the time and effort that it takes to do that? Probably not. But I'll try to convince myself that I do while I'm trying to prepare for it and I tried to do that this spring, trying to convince myself that I can get a golf game. Obviously I played not very well at Doral or Bay Hill.
I played early a couple senior tournaments, but that's senior -- excuse me, Champions Tour. We can't call it Senior Tour anymore. I played a few decent rounds of golf. I certainly have a lot of length back because of my freedom. Golf equipment didn't hurt anything. Last year I played here and I couldn't get anywhere around the golf course. With the new golf ball, I can get around the golf course. But I would love to have a golf game. I don't think I'm there yet, obviously.
I worked at it pretty hard, as hard as I can without putting myself in a position where I can't play the next day. I can't work out as hard as I used to anyway. And I'm trying to have some fun. I'm trying to enjoy the game. Enjoyment to me is playing well, practicing and getting some satisfaction out of it.
My long irons and fairway woods have not been very good. I can't get back to where I used to be able to get back to. I hit with a flip and hit them left and if I can get that out of my swing, I think I have been driving the ball fairly well and putting it reasonably well and my short game's fair, which is always fair at best, anyway. And my middle to short irons have been pretty good. So that's where I sit.
BILLY MORRIS: I'm going to correct you on one thing Jack. The best thing you did all your life was not playing golf. The best thing you did all your life was marrying Barbara.
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I think I was pretty lucky with that, but I'm talking about from the golf side. Barbara and the kids are the best thing that ever happened to me.
Q. Do you have any theories on why the leaderboard of champions of the Masters may be more marquee than some of the other Majors?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well --
Q. Is it something with the golf course?
JACK NICKLAUS: I never really had that much of a theory except that this golf course seems to bring out the best in the best players. It's a golf course that tests hitting the golf ball in the air, it tests hitting it softly. It tests length, it tests accuracy, it tests a lot of things; a lot more accuracy now than it used to be.
Whereas the U.S. Open basically tests accuracy, the British Open tests patience. PGA is just a totally different animal because it's usually in August and it's usually -- you have a hard and fast golf course. Usually it's a soft golf course there. So they sort of fall into one kind of category of a type of player.
Augusta, through the years, seems to have many different types of -- I mean one year you might play this course as fast as can be, and the next year you play it it might be like it is right now. And you just don't know. And you have to be able to change and adjust, and more often I think the better players have a chance to do that.
Q. Does size of field matter?
JACK NICKLAUS: I don't really think so. You can have 100 players or 400 players, the same guys are going to win.
Q. Do you consider Ernie as the biggest challenge to Tiger this week? And also with him coming back off an injury trying to get his game to where it was at the start of the year, for you personally what is the hardest thing about regaining your touch after an injury?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I'll let you know if I ever get it back.
(Laughter.) But I think that after you had an injury and you come back and you're healthy, it's just gaining confidence in yourself. And if Ernie, in the first five holes tomorrow, does gain his confidence back, he'll be fine. Or he may have trouble and then he'll be struggling to get it. I think that the start of this tournament is a very important thing for him.
Q. Do you have a position or feelings on women membership at Augusta?
JACK NICKLAUS: I've said all I'm going to say on it.
Q. I was just going to ask if Barbara agrees with your position, too?
JACK NICKLAUS: Does she? You can ask my wife.
Q. Do you see a day when you and Arnie and maybe Gary Player will be honorary starters together, like the trio years ago, and also do you still get emotional when you see -- (Laughter.)
JACK NICKLAUS: Does that answer your question? Let's worry about that when the time comes.
Q. Do you still get emotional when you see your plaque out there? I know you were pretty emotional the day they put it out there.
JACK NICKLAUS: I get emotional about different things, sure. I think everybody likes to be honored and everybody likes to be recognized. And when people go out of their way to really sort of say thank you and nice going and stuff like that, I get very sentimental about that. I get sentimental when I talk about my family, my parents, and so on. So a lot of those kind of things I get very sentimental about.
Q. Do you have a certain goal as far as what you think you can shoot this week or where you would like to finish?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I would like to finish first, obviously.
(Laughter.) Where else would you like to finish? But realistically, do I think I can win the tournament? Probably not, no. Do I think that if I played real well now, I don't know how it would be under these conditions, if the golf course were like it was the last couple weeks I felt if I played well, I could think I could finish in the top 10 of the golf tournament if I really played well. Do I think that's probably a realistic goal? You've got to have some goal. I certainly wouldn't -- I never enjoyed finishing 20th. So I may as well have a goal of trying to finish as close as I can to the top, if I can't get to the top. Whether I can get there or not, heck, who knows.
Q. Will you discuss your role in helping Hootie change the age policy on past champions?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I think Arnold was really the key to that, frankly. I think I'm sure you talked to Arnold about it. I think Arnold was the first one that had said something or wrote a letter to Hootie and he -- we were at Bay Hill and I think that was -- Arnold probably -- I don't know what he told you, but I assume that he told you that he sent the letter down to me and he said, What do you think? Should I send it? And I said, Arnold, I think it's a terrific letter.
We both felt very empty since that period of time. And you've noticed for me, those of you who know me pretty well, you know that I'm never without an answer when you ask me a question. And I never answered that question. That's one thing I've avoided. And I think that a lot of people said Jack speaks volumes by not saying anything, which is what I felt about it. But it wasn't my decision, it wasn't anything else, I just told him how I felt. And I'm sure Arnold told him how he felt.
And Hootie came to me here on a Saturday, a week ago Saturday, I guess it was, or two weeks ago, whatever it was, when I was here and he said that Jack -- he says, I got a proposal to make to you and Arnold. Is it possible that you two could come up and see me and he said, I have something that I think that we can live with and something that I think will make the two of you very happy. And I said sure, we'll be delighted to come up.
So I brought my son Michael up, and his grandson Sam Saunders up and we played golf, met with Hootie, and walked away with a very nice gesture on his part and a change in the feeling of the tournament, and we were very delighted. And I'm sure all the Masters champions were delighted and I'm sure the fans were delighted. Because I get more mail and things from people saying that it's just not right. And I think, as usual, my wife is always the smart one on this issue.
She said, Jack, she says, just keep your mouth shut. She doesn't say that to me very often. She should say it a lot more often. But she doesn't say it very often. She says, "You know it's wrong. They will figure out it's wrong." And she says it will get changed. And she was right.
Q. Both Tiger and Ernie Els seem to pencil in a lot of overseas events away from the PGA TOUR each year. At your peak, you and Arnold played a lot of overseas events, especially in Britain and Europe. Do you think players like Phil Mickelson, Davis Love, who don't play as much as they possibly should away from the PGA tour, should, and what benefit would it have to their game?
JACK NICKLAUS: I don't think that it is my opinion or my position to comment on somebody else playing away, not playing or playing. I mean, I have my own position of why I play. I played all parts of the world because I wanted to be what I felt like was a complete player, and I think you need to be a complete player to play -- you've got to play around the world to be a complete player. And you've got to win.
One of the key things I always wanted to do was win at St. Andrews. And I always thought that that was a key place to win. And I won at St. Andrews, won twice there. I felt like I had to play in Asia and I didn't play a lot in Asia but I played some in Asia. I played probably, I don't know, a dozen tournaments there, never did win anything over there. I played in Australia. I won six Australian Opens. I enjoyed that. Very much. I played in Argentina.
Never played in South Africa. I don't think I ever played a tournament there. Yeah, I did. I'm sure I did. I played in a tournament there. And I enjoyed playing those players. I enjoyed going to those places. Frankly, my family went with me to a lot of those places. They enjoyed it. I think you become a better player when you play different places in different conditions.
Q. So would you be the golfer that you were if you hadn't played all those overseas events?
JACK NICKLAUS: Don't know. Probably not. I think it probably made me a better player. I don't think there's any question about that.
Q. Arnold spoke about what it meant to him to be able to play in this tournament. From your perspective, what would the Masters lose or what will it lose when he's played his 50th and when you see how the gallery interacts with him? What will The Masters lose or will it lose when Arnold does not play?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, Arnold has been a special addition to any golf tournament, long beyond the time when he was competitive. Arnold has always had a special following and gathering. The people enjoyed watching him play and I think that still enjoy watching him and just being part of what Arnold does. And I think that's always been a big part of the game, and I think the game will -- frankly, I think the -- I'm not sure who will miss it more, the gallery or Arnold, to be very honest with you. Because Arnold enjoys it. That's what he likes to do.
Q. A few years ago when Tiger was an amateur, you suggested that he would win as many Masters as you and Arnold combined, in 10.
JACK NICKLAUS: I still think that's a very distinct possibility.
Q. I was going to say, what do you think about the forecast now? That may be even low or what?
JACK NICKLAUS: I don't think it's low. But I think that it's -- I made the comment with tongue-in-cheek. But not, not that it was not possible. I mean if I can win six of them and somebody really plays well and goes -- well, I mean there's no reason why they can't win more than that or maybe even could be 10. Who knows. But first of all, what has he won, three? Yeah.
JACK NICKLAUS: He's got to win four first.
Q. I was wondering, Tiger has something to do with it probably, but I was wondering if you feel like the back nine drama has been reduced in recent years by some of the changes on the back nine, on Sunday afternoon?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, it depends on who the drama is for. As far as making the golf course birdieable all the way around? Yeah, I think it probably has reduced that a little bit. I mean you've got half a dozen guys that can still play 7- or 8-iron or 9-iron into most of those holes, or wedge, whatever it might be, but you don't have 40 or 50 guys or 40 guys that can hit wedge into those holes and make lot of birdies. USGA certainly don't have that.
This 18th hole out here, yesterday I hit a driver and had to figure out how to squeeze a 3-wood around the tree and slice it to get it into the front bunker. I mean, you know, I'm not too wild about that. But that's what it is. But there's a lot of guys that -- where Tiger played 3-iron there yesterday. When he plays 3-iron someplace you know you're going to be playing a longer club.
(Laughter.). Or at least I am.
Q. When it was announced that -- when Hootie told you that they were going to reverse the policy, were you surprised? Or did it take you by surprise? What was your reaction?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I didn't think he asked us to come up here to Augusta to meet with him and tell us he was not going to change the policy. I mean, I think Arnold and I both asked him to change the policy back in our letter. And I can't imagine him -- when I came up here I certainly wasn't -- I didn't know what he was going to do, but I certainly didn't expect him to say, "I'm sorry guys, good-bye."
Q. When you wrote the letter did you think, I'm going to do this because I want to state my feelings, but knowing what you know about the club did you think it was a lost cause or did you think that this may have some impact?
JACK NICKLAUS: No, I don't think it was a lost cause. I think that much to what you guys might think, I think Hootie is a very reasonable person. And I think that he has got a very difficult job. And I think that he does it to the best of his ability and not everybody's perfect. And sometimes it's not totally right and sometimes it is. But it's not my position to criticize that one way or the other.
Am I happy with the decision? Absolutely. That doesn't mean that I'm going to continue to play golf for the next 15 years at Augusta National and The Masters. But it is -- it was always my determination when I was given a lifetime exemption that it would be my choice when I wanted to stop playing. And I'm certainly not going to wear my welcome out when I don't think that I can be, at least, think I have a good chance of playing and making the cut and being presentable in the tournament.
Q. You were talking before about Ernie and how important it was to have confidence when you come back from an injury. For you personally do you have confidence just from the fact that five years ago you competed? Does that give you confidence?
JACK NICKLAUS: Do I know that I can play on this golf course? Sure, I know I can play on this golf course. I've always known that. And the golf ball going 20 yards further this year is giving me the ability to at least bring back what was added into the golf course that took the game away from me. Let's put it this way: If I had last year and I was here, if I was healthy last year with the golf balls we had last year, I couldn't play this golf course. The golf ball has made that much difference this year.
Q. When you were Tiger's age had you reached the point yet where you had an openness with the media that some of us saw when we picked you up in your 30s and on, and do you think that Tiger will ever get to the point where he can -- I mean, he's really helpful where he can show his personality to the degree that you and Arnold have.
JACK NICKLAUS: I have never been in a media conference really with Tiger so I don't really know what Tiger does. I always felt like, and I suppose in my early years -- as I said earlier, I said I usually answer a question when you ask me a question. And probably in my early years got myself in trouble because I gave you an answer that was probably not necessarily the politically correct answer, or the answer that I probably should have given and kept my mouth shut. And people, a lot of the press thought that was brash. You know?
And frankly, I don't think I've ever really changed from that standpoint. All I've tried to do is try -- and I think I have a pretty good relationship with most all of the guys that I've known through the years. Because I have answered your questions. And I've tried to be honest with you and I've tried to give you a fair shake. I figure if I give you a fair shake you'll give me one. And if I screw up, fine. Dandy. You know, then I screw up and I should be fair game. But if I'm honest and I give you something that I think is what you want, you wanted to hear that's honest from me, then I don't think somebody is going to rake you over the coals because you're being honest and straightforward. If you're wrong then that's something different, or you're being what you shouldn't be.
And I think that you know that the media today is probably a little tougher than the media when I grew up. I think the media when I grew up was looking for good things to write. I'm not sure that everybody's looking for good things to write today. But that's all right. Life has changed everywhere. The game is different. And you have to make the changes with it. And if you're talking to me about Tiger, are you saying, Tom, that Tiger's guarded?
Q. That's the word. He's helpful but guarded.
JACK NICKLAUS: He's guarded. Well, you know, I suppose in his position you might want to be a little bit. I probably never was. I'm not sure whether Arnold ever was. Certainly Gary wasn't. I don't think.
(Laughter.) But that's what we were and that's an era that we grew up in.
Q. It would just be nice to know him better.
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I don't know. I can't answer that question. That's difficult for me.
Q. Just back to Tiger for a moment. If he is able to win the third green jacket in a row, by Sunday, where would you rank that in history of great accomplishments?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, he seems to have a great one every time he does anything. When he won four Bay Hills, I thought that was pretty good. He won three at the Memorial Tournament but didn't win last year, but he's won three in a row there. He never ceases to amaze me. The kid's still really -- in my opinion he's still a kid. He's only, what, 25 or 26?
JACK NICKLAUS: Is he 27? Oh my gosh. He's getting old.
(Laughter.) But what I've always liked about Tiger, I like his work ethic, I like his focus, and he wants to be the best. I wanted to be the best, too. But he really has pushed everything else aside to do that. And more power to him. Do I think I could have been a better player if I would have pushed everything else aside and focused on it? Yeah, probably could have been. But do I think I would have missed something in life? Probably so. I'm far more happy with my five kids and 16 grandkids to-be than worrying about a golf tournament.
I mean golf is a game. It's a game and it's a good game to me and it was a game. And why I'm sitting here today or any other reason, I wouldn't be sitting here today because of my five kids and 16 grandkids, because there's a lot of people that have that. But I'm sitting here because of a golf game. It's great to me. But it wasn't the only thing in my life. And I don't think it will be the only thing in Tiger's life either. I got married when I was 20 years old. And by his age I had three kids. And I'm -- well wait, yeah, only three. I tried to find out whether there was any more on the way or not.
(Laughter.) But I think you understand what I'm saying. He has the ability to see what his position could be in the game of golf and he is focusing on that situation. And I never really focused on it. I just wanted to be the best I could be. I think he's focusing on how he wants to be the best that there ever was. And if that's -- that's fine. And I wish him -- I said I want to be the first one when he brakes my record. I want to be the first one there o shake his hand. Hopefully I'll live that long. And I'll do that. And that's sort of the way I feel.
Q. Arnie said that he thought in his day the players were more emotional, maybe had less like a going-to-work attitude. One, do you believe that; and two, which one still sticks in your craw that got away?
JACK NICKLAUS: Oh, I don't know. I think the guys today have fun. I don't think that they don't have fun. I don't think that -- and I don't think that we didn't have fun. You say you think we had more fun, is that what you're saying.
Q. No, I think that he thought that maybe losing came harder.
JACK NICKLAUS: Losing came harder when?
Q. Back when you and he were on top of the golf world?
JACK NICKLAUS: Yeah, losing was a pretty good blow back then to me. And I'm sure it was to Arnold too, because we were both competitors and I think that any time you get guys such as Trevino and Watson and Player, Palmer, Nicklaus, when they lose, because they were used to winning. The guys today -- right back to what I was talking to before -- they don't win very often. Because there's so many good players that it's hard to say -- Tiger's the only one, when he walks into a golf tournament, that knows that he should probably win that golf tournament. Back in those days, there were probably half a dozen of us that thought if they walked in there and played well they would win, in spite if I was there or anybody else was there.
And so I suppose that losing to some of the guys today is not nearly as devastating as it was to me then. When I get -- when I lost at the -- I mean, I came back at the British Open in '72 after I won the first two legs of the grand slam, and shot a really good last round at Muirfield, and knowing even though I knew I screwed up coming in a little bit, I mean I still thought that I was going to win the tournament when I finished the golf tournament. I was just -- I was flattened when Trevino chipped the ball in from the back of the green. That was a hard, hard loss for me. And no different than a chip in that Watson had at Pebble Beach. I thought I had come back in that last round and won my fifth U.S. Open. Does that mean I went back and kicked the lockers and hit my wife and did all kind of things? No, of course I didn't. They just happened to do the right thing at the right time and I lost. I never begrudge anybody for that.
Do I think I could have done something different? Probably a little bit, but not a whole lot. But did I like to lose? No, of course I didn't like to lose. That's why I won a lot. I think that Tiger's that way. He doesn't like to lose either. And I think that's why he wins a lot.
Q. What is your schedule for the remaining year? How many tournaments will you be participating in?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I'm hopeful to play -- I haven't made up my mind yet, but I probably am going to play at Austin in a couple of weeks, which they have a new senior tournament in Austin. And then I'm going to play with the boys up in Greenville at the BMW tournament there. And then of course after that is the Memorial Tournament. Then I'll probably play the senior Majors. And that will probably be about it.
I might add something in somewhere. I'll play a couple odd events with -- I like to play some with the boys. I'm going to play at Johnny Miller's event with my son Michael and, of course, the BMW I'm going play with Steve. Peter Jacobson's event isn't on anymore, but that's where I used to play with Gary and we'll have to play something out there. I'll play father/son with Jackie. So those are the kind of things I always try to do one a year if I could with the boys.
BILLY MORRIS: Very good. Jack, thank you so much for being with us and good luck this week.
JACK NICKLAUS: Thanks. Appreciate it.
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