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May 23, 2001

Jack Nicklaus


JULIUS MASON: Mr. Jack Nicklaus joining us, ladies and gentlemen, at the 62nd PGA Senior Championship. Some opening thoughts.

JACK NICKLAUS: The golf course is good. I like the golf course. It's like it was eleven years ago. I don't remember much about it, remember 17 and 18's about it. But I do, I remember more than that. But I wouldn't have remembered if you asked me to recall it, but that doesn't make any difference. It's still a really nice golf course, it's in nice condition. And that's about it.

JULIUS MASON: Thank you. Questions, folks?

Q. Of everything that you've gained in this sport, and I know the list is endless, where does your relationship with Arnold Palmer rank as far as importance to you or meaning to you?

JACK NICKLAUS: My relationship with Arnold as far as importance? Arnold's a good friend, been a good friend, been a good competitor all our lives and that will probably continue to be so. I think that both of us have enjoyed, enjoyed our rivalry, and I'm sure we will continue to do so.

Q. Numbers say eleven years ago when you were -- last year seniors weren't hitting the ball as long as they are now. And there's some other statistical factors. Is the senior game much different now than it was when you played here eleven years ago?

JACK NICKLAUS: Oh, yeah, probably. All of golf is different. Golf balls go so much farther. It's a different game. Period. Sure. I don't remember the clubs I played eleven years ago, but I certainly, eleven years ago, was hitting the ball a lot longer than I do now. My guess is I'll probably play the same clubs that I played then, or less club.

Q. Because the ball goes farther?

JACK NICKLAUS: Because the ball goes farther, yeah. But I mean, I'm certainly not as strong as I was then; that's for sure.

Q. Could you just describe the feeling coming now, playing golf --


Q. Playing golf now as opposed to maybe eleven years ago. Is it as competitive for you now as it was then?

JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I haven't been playing very well. I think it's obvious by the scores I've been shooting. I haven't been competitive on the Senior Tour, you know, the last couple of years. I've played, you know, a decent tournament in San Jose. I say "decent tournament," that's finishing, what, fourth or something in the tournament? Whatever I finished. And that's not real good. I feel -- I felt like, you know, for the first time in a few years my body actually allows me to do some things that I haven't been able to do, and I'm starting to -- I can go swing at a golf ball. Unfortunately, I'm probably too old to swing at it. And the -- but I look at the years that I missed in there, and I missed two years since I had my hip surgery, two-and-a-half years now, almost two-and-a-half years, and it was just about four or five months ago that I really functionally could do some of the things that I used to be able to do. Now it's relearning the game of golf. As I say, I'm probably too old to relearn it. I went five, six, seven years prior to that compensating for my hip, which means that I changed my golf swing and changed the things that I used to do. And so for me, it's, you know, I've worked very hard this year on my golf game. I've worked probably harder this year than I have any year in a long time simply because I was able to. I haven't got very good results. Does that mean that I'm going to stop trying? No, I'm not going to stop trying. I love to play the game of golf. I enjoy playing golf and I love to play competitive golf. But competitive golf is not shooting 72, 3, 4, 5 kind of stuff. That's just -- that's just not acceptable when you get to a tournament anymore. And so, you know, I need to just keep working at it and keep trying and keep -- I look at my stats. I'm probably about what I've been in driving distance, probably fairly average with that. I don't think I've lost much there. I don't think my iron game has been very good. I find I'm hitting two or three less greens a round than I was. I'm probably 60 percent of the greens versus 75 percent of the greens, which I was most of my life. And I don't putt the ball nearly as well as I used to putt it. I don't find myself making very many putts. I still think I'm a good putter, but I don't seem to make much. That boils down to not being competitive. We came in here eleven years ago, played the Senior Open, I was 50 years old, just off the regular Tour, my hips were, you know, I'm sure they were not good, but I didn't know that at that time. And I could hit the ball pretty good. I was pretty competitive. I played pretty well. Lee beat me here by, what? A couple shots I suppose. We got outdistanced the rest of the field by quite a bit as I recall. I don't remember exactly, but that's what I recall. I never thought much about not being competitive at that time, because I was. Now it's a different story. Not only do you have the problem of relearning how to play, I have to relearn mentally how to play again. And, you know, when you haven't shot decent rounds for a long time, it's hard to get a round going, keep it going, do the things you need to do to do it because you're just not used to -- you don't remember how to do it. It's not nerves. It's nerve. You got to regain your nerve. Nerve is a hard thing to regain. It's being able to stand there, look at that flag, stare it down and knock at it. Sometimes it takes a little bit more nerve to do that than before. Before, it became second nature. So those are the things I'm finding.

Q. Some people have talked that there's too much quantity on the Senior Tour, not enough quality. Ratings have been down, CNBC and some sponsors have also voiced concerns over the ratings. Is the Senior Tour in a bit of trouble in its current existence?

JACK NICKLAUS: Well, if you look at -- go back five or six years and the -- the question in the press room was, you know, the Senior Tour is thriving, everybody knows everybody that's out on the Senior Tour, nobody wants to watch the regular Tour, "what's wrong with the regular Tour?" Is that the question that was being asked about five years ago? Now you've got it, now you're on a cycle where Arnold, Gary, Trevino, myself aren't playing as much golf, aren't winning, and you got -- all of a sudden Tiger has come along and rescued the regular Tour. What's wrong with the Senior Tour? There's nothing wrong with the Senior Tour. You go through cycles. Right now, I think it's -- largely it's out here, it's media-driven. The media's driven the situation to where Tiger is the only thing anybody wants to watch anymore. And, you know, I mean, I think that Arnold and Gary and I went through that at one point. If we didn't play in a golf tournament, there wasn't a golf tournament. If Tiger doesn't play, there doesn't seem to be a tournament. The game of golf is bigger than any one individual, any three individuals, and it will survive us. So will senior golf. Senior golf is probably going through a little bit of a down I suppose. But, you know, there's some pretty darn good players coming on the Senior Tour and some pretty good names over the next four or five years. It will survive that. It will do fine, and go through, you never know, maybe even one of us old guys might play well once in a while and that will help it along. I mean, I don't know how else to answer that question, but that's the only thing I know.

Q. Despite what you've said about the state of your game, do you still come to events like this with a little fire in your eyes and if you got a whiff of it, do you think the old instincts might kick in?

JACK NICKLAUS: I think I might play golf if I can. I've always played well on this type of a golf course. I've never been a great southern golfer, you might say. I've won tournaments in the south, Florida, Bermuda. I've been a much better golfer, northern golfer, that's where I grew up. This is much the type of golf course I grew up on. It's a Tillinghast course, isn't it, and I grew up on a Ross golf course but there's not that much difference. There's a little bit more undulations on the greens, bunkering relatively similar, but neither one of those two golf courses, Scioto or this golf course where I grew up, is really related to what the design was. It's related to what's happened to it over the next 50 or 60 years, which is the vegetation has grown up, the conditions of the turf have become basically poa annua, which all the golf courses have become. They're tree-lined, they're very pretty. Just sort of park land golf courses which are quite nice. I happen to enjoy those. I've always enjoyed them. The old, smallish greens with a lot of slope on them, you know, I like that. And if we design golf courses like that today, they'd hang us from the nearest tree, but we go back and play one, they say, "Gee, isn't this wonderful?" I don't really know how to do that. I mean everybody, they want the big turf nurseries for greens so they can maintain them. And you don't hear anybody squawking at these old golf courses about having the greens small. They figure out how to take care of it and they do. And, you know, I just -- I really look forward to weeks like this where we play these golf courses. I think it was a great move on the PGA's part to move the seniors and move it out of Florida. It was getting no support in Florida whatsoever. It was like, you know, who can we go out and give a ticket to so we can have somebody to see on television. That's about what it was; it wasn't that far off. You have enough tournament golf, people aren't going to do it. Plus the fact they held it past the season. I think it was a good move on the PGA's part. I think it's going to put new life in the PGA seniors and I hope a little bit more life in competitive senior golf. And hopefully me, too. (Smiling.)

Q. Jack, you seem to be one of the most balanced, most competitive athletes of all times. I'm wondering, in light of the 18 Majors, I know you're going to get asked this next week with the Memorial, where did your family fit in to help you to enhance your game when you were winning 18 Majors? What kind of challenges did it pose, having a family? Or did it just add and enhance the Majors?

JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I think that, you know, I think I was a very fortunate guy. I married a gal when I was 20 years old which probably was younger than probably we should have gotten married, I suppose. But in those days, a lot of people got married at that age, you know. And we had kids, and my wife is -- she's a daughter of a high school math teacher who never made more than $6,000 a year in his life. She never wanted for a thing while she grew up. She said she never knew she needed any money to have anything, and Barbara is still basically the same way. So our kids basically have taken her values from that standpoint. My career and my life came first to her, and frankly, to the kids, as they grew up. It was never a burden on me. The kids always came to tournaments when they could. Barbara came to most all the golf tournaments or she balanced her week where she came to part of it. She did a great job. And, you know, she handled me and she handled them, and that allowed me to go ahead and do what I had to do because I didn't have a conflict, a deterrent. I didn't have anything else. I had nothing but support, which is really what you're asking. And I was a very fortunate guy. I look at a lot of guys I started with at the same time who came out of the college or amateur ranks, and were probably as talented as I was, maybe more talented than I was, but they were not married, they didn't have the support that I had, they didn't have -- they didn't have something to play for, someplace to go home. They didn't do that well. They sort of went by the wayside. I always felt like that balance has been, you know, good in my life. I think it was good in Arnold's life, I think it was good in Gary's life. I think probably one of the reasons why we all got along so well was because we all had good families. We all had good balance in our lives. And the, you know, I don't know. And I sort of look at today with the kids that are out there playing a little bit the same way. You know, the next question somebody's going to ask is, you're going to ask this, Tiger's single. And, you know, he basically, right now, his only interest in life is playing golf. What if he was married, had kids, and so forth, would that distract him? You know, I don't know. I really don't know how to answer that. I've been asked it a lot. However, I think that young man is very balanced, very focused, not any different than what I was, and the most important part of his life right now is what he can do and focus on golf. And I'm sure that he'll marry and have a family, and that may be additional support that may even make him better. But I don't have any other way to answer that. I know you didn't ask that question, but I've been asked it a bunch lately.

Q. That's where I was going with it.

JACK NICKLAUS: That was where you were going anyway?

Q. Yeah. Because people seem to say, "Oh, well, he's so focused now. If he gets married, he won't be as focused."

JACK NICKLAUS: It depends on what happens to him. But I think -- I think it will be very difficult for him to keep the focus on his -- on what he's doing and what his life is if he doesn't get married and have a family. Who's he going to play for? I mean, for newspaper clippings? Trophies? I think you have to have a reason to play in life, and, you know, he may be able to get by with that when you're young, but for someplace in life, I think the other part -- the balance you have, those are the things that add to your incentive to do better. You want to share that with somebody. I enjoyed sharing it with my wife and family, and I would think he would probably ultimately like to do that, too. He's a very normal young man. I don't see any reason why he wouldn't.

Q. Since you brought up Tiger, there's been several people that --

JACK NICKLAUS: Since I brought it up? Brought it up about five times in here. (Laughing.) Sorry.

Q. There's been talk about intimidation. People have said you kind of intimidated some of the competition. Do you feel you ever did, and do you sense that Tiger is doing the same thing today?

JACK NICKLAUS: You don't do it intentionally; it just happens. And, sure, of course I intimidated the guys. You know, I mean they'd come tell me I intimidated them. You know, as does Tiger. I mean, you know, it's quite obvious that when he's coming down the stretch and he's got a chance to win the golf tournament, everybody's looking to see what he's doing. They don't even look to see what they're doing. The only person they can control is themselves. And that's sort of -- of course that's obviously a big advantage to him, because he knows what he has to do to win. He's been there before. Much the same as I did; I knew what I had to do to win. I knew if I played this hole and put the ball here and I put the ball here and I made my par, I gave myself a chance for a birdie in some of those last three, four holes. If I did that three or four times, I'm gonna probably make a birdie. If I'm not trying to do something dumb, I don't have to do anything heroic, and they're going to self-destruct anyway, because they're going to be looking at what I'm doing. I think he does much the same thing, and the guys self-destruct. Now he's not going to have that all his life. I've said this many times in the last year or so. I think Tiger's situation is much the way when Arnold came along. When Arnold came along, there was nobody dominating the game of golf, and Arnold had pretty much his own way for about, what, five years? Then Gary came along; I came along; Trevino came along and all of a sudden there was competition. He no longer had it his way, other guys played. He still played well, but other guys played well, too. I think the same thing will happen with Tiger. Tiger's raised the bar; Arnold raised the bar, and that forced us to play better. If the guys want to compete - and somebody's going to want to compete - they're not going to take up the game unless they want to compete, they have to be able to compete. They have to raise their game. Pretty soon there will be a guy who wins a few tournaments. Then pretty soon, that one time they play that tournament and finish the last nine holes and play well, they'll say, "Hey, I can do that." All of a sudden he'll have a competitor. Then there's going to be another one, another one. I think the chances of that happening today are greater than when I was playing because there are more good young players today than when I was playing. There's more opportunity for those kids to develop. And I firmly believe that Tiger's competition will come from some of those guys. I mean, Mickelson and Duval, since they're both wonderful players, Els is a wonderful player, but they haven't quite gotten there yet in their own head. And they will. I mean, if you look at it, I mean a guy's prime in golf, it's usually his early 30s. Mickelson just turned 30. Duval's what, 26 or 27? I'm guessing, somewhere around there. Tiger's 25. I mean, Tiger's gonna get better, too, but these guys are just getting to their prime. There's other guys coming along. Here you've got Sergio coming along, you've got other guys, that they will learn to play. And they will learn to compete against him, and pretty soon that intimidation factor will be less. And when he goes out and shoots 63, they won't all just die halfway home. They'll actually finish their round. They'll say, "Hey, I won." And that will happen. But I'd like to see it come along pretty soon. I think everybody's going to get tired of watching him win every week. (Laughing.)

Q. Did you feel any type of commitment, pressure to live up to your own standards, some inner drive to live up to what you had done, to what you were at that time?

JACK NICKLAUS: Sure, sure. I think you have to. I mean, that's why -- I think that's how you become a winner. If you have -- if you're satisfied -- if you are satisfied with what you're doing, you're on the way down. And I was never satisfied, and I'm still not satisfied with what I do. I know that I'm certainly well over the top of the crest of the hill, but I still try to do the best I can and try to keep improving, never being satisfied with what I'm doing. That's the only way I know to try to improve. Then you work harder at it. I think Tiger falls into that category. I don't think he's satisfied with what he does. I mean, I think you look at some of those reactions to some of the shots he has, I wish they didn't have a mic so close at times, but, you know, he is a young man who is a perfectionist, who really wants to do it right and do it right every single time. We all do. We have pride in what we do. And that's the only way you get better. Is that what you meant?

Q. Is winning a Major any more difficult now because of Tiger than it was for you in your time?

JACK NICKLAUS: I think it was more difficult for me than it is for him.

Q. Why?

JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I had a bunch of guys that knew how to win. I don't think he has anybody yet who really, you know, knows how to win that much. I mean his best players are all fighting for the category of the "Best Player Never to Win a Major." Those are the best players there right now. There's some other guys, Vijay and Ernie have won a couple of Majors, but I think that most people look at them as being just maybe a step behind a couple other guys. But they got to go keep improving, raising the bar and so forth to be able to play against him. I mean, if I wasn't playing well and I fell on my face a little bit, I had a bunch of guys that had won six, seven, eight Majors. Winning breeds winning, I always felt that way. When you know how to win and you get your chance, you know, you go do it. And that's -- a gentleman here asked me a question a minute ago, he said did I think I had a chance if I got my adrenaline flowing. I know how to win. If I had my chance, I think I probably will not - knock on wood here - I don't think I'll blow that chance. I may not win, but I don't think I'll blow the chance of giving myself the opportunity to play that way. And I don't think that, you know, that Arnold or Gary or Trevino or Watson, those guys, they didn't blow the chance when they had the chance. They all stayed right there and finished up the tournament. That's what you asked me?

Q. Yes.

JACK NICKLAUS: Basically. And I think that the guys, and I'm not trying to put down the guys that are not -- that's certainly not my means, my intention whatsoever. I have great respect for all those guys as players. I think they'll learn. They just haven't learned yet. But they will. And it will just all of a sudden happen. I mean, here, a guy that's as good a player wins three or four times a year on the Tour, all of a sudden he wins a Major and says, "I can do this." The next time he gets in contention, "Hey, I can do this again." Pretty soon he's got a competitor, somebody who doesn't just sit there and watch him win.

Q. Why is it so different than winning a Major, winning four Tour events in one year? What has to be in your head that's so different?

JACK NICKLAUS: Nothing to me. I always thought Majors were much easier to win than a regular tournament. But you all make a Major the most significant event. "That's the most pressure. That's the most prestige," it's, "How difficult is it to win a Major?" I mean, how many articles have you all written about how difficult is it to win a Major? I mean, seriously. You know, I always felt the Majors were easiest because -- thanks to you all. Because you eliminated half the people for me. (Laughter.) They read your articles, they say, "Oh, boy, I can't do that." And, you know, I mean you eliminated some of them. They get to the golf course, they looked at it, saw rough like this (indicating high), they say, "Huh, I can't play out of that. I got to drive it this straight, I can't do that. Look how hard and fast that is..." I love to hear people yell and scream. I just started to check them off one by one as they eliminated themselves. So when you got down to the end, there were 10 or 15 guys who had a chance to win instead of 40 guys who had a chance to win every week, because the other 25 eliminated themselves. You have a quizzical look on your face.

Q. Yeah, because I read you didn't count your Majors. That when you won your 10th --?

JACK NICKLAUS: I never paid any attention to it. It was never a big deal. I mean, nobody paid any attention to it back then. I mean, I won at St. Andrew's in 1970 and I walked in the press room, they said, "Oh, Jack, that's ten Majors now. You only got three more to tie Bobby Jones." I said, "Oh." I didn't pay any attention to it. I just went out and played golf. But I always looked at, you know, I grew up playing U.S.G.A. golf. I loved the Junior Championships, I loved the Amateur Championships, I played a lot of them. I always thought the U.S.G.A. did a great job of preparing yourself for a significant event. I always enjoyed playing that significant event. So I always worked, when I got to the Tour, of course I grew up at Scioto where Jones won the Open one year, and everything was geared at playing a major event. So I always geared myself. I thought everybody else did, too. I never realized they played other tournaments. I always thought that's all we played. I'm being facetious, obviously, but that is what I looked at. So I prepared. I mean, people looked at me like I'm some kind of idiot. I used to go in maybe ten days, two weeks in front of an event and play the golf course seven or eight times. They'd say, "Why would you do that?" "Well, I want to win." "Can't you just go and play two practice rounds like everybody else?" I said, "I want to win. You don't understand." They'd say, "But if everybody else did that, they'd be skipping the week before." "So, what's more important, the tournament the week before or the Major?" "Well, I suppose the Major is." "Well, then why wouldn't they do that?" I mean, Gary Player, crazy of Gary, I mean Gary always credits me with his win at Bellerive. He said finally he was getting ready to play a tournament the week before. I said, "Gary, why in the world don't you prepare yourself for a Major?" I said, "Let's go to Bellerive a week ahead of time and practice." I didn't play well enough to win anyway, so it was good for Gary. But anyway, we went out a week ahead of time. He practiced. He got back done with the event. He said, "God it was so much easier, I got all the fears of that facility and that tournament out before the tournament." Most of the guys come in on Tuesday. By the time Friday or Saturday rolls around, they say, "God, if I'd only come in, and really realized what kind of tournament this was, what kind of course, I wouldn't have had these problems. Might have been three or four shots lower." Hey, it's your choice. That's sort of the way I looked at it. That's the way I grew up. That's the way my mind worked. And, frankly, that's what I enjoyed. I loved going -- as I got, oh, I suppose probably about the mid '70s, I used to take my boys with me, one or two of the boys with me, and we'd go play a practice round the week before. They'd let them play. And they could go play with me. I had a ball, I'd go out there and watch Jackie, who might shoot 85 at home or 82 or whatever he would shoot at home, try to break 90 on an open golf course. I'd get a kick out of that, I'd get a big kick out of that. He did, too. It was more fun for me.

Q. Arnold just said in response to a question that the reason he--


Q. I just talked to Arnold Palmer and asked him a question about still being out there, he said it's because of the fans and his interaction with them that he still comes to events like this one. Down the road, would that be enough for you? Would that be enough motivation for you to come?

JACK NICKLAUS: I think Arnold and I are two different guys. Arnold enjoys being in the middle of that. And I think, you know, Arnold answers that question for you, I can't answer it for Arnold. He likes that. I don't think I could do that. I'm probably about done playing tournament golf myself. I'll play a little bit more, but not much. Only because I'm not competitive. I don't think I can play and be out here and just -- I've tried being a ceremonial golfer before, and it just drives me crazy. And I, frankly, if I can't compete and be halfway competitive, then I really don't think I have a desire to be out there. It's nice, you get a nice reception from people and fans and so forth. They watch you play. People say, "Ahh, don't quit. We love seeing you play." Yeah, well they come watch me play, you know, one week a year, and I got to work for a year to be able to have them watch me for four days. I mean, that's a commitment. And I don't want to go out there and embarrass myself. I want to do my very best. I always want to do my very best. I do not enjoy going out and playing poorly. I'm not speaking for Arnold. I think Arnold has to speak for himself. But I just -- I don't know whether at age 71 where I could do that, I would be doing that. If I'm playing well, I will. Certainly, nobody faults him for that. He loves it. And so we're all different people. Whatever turns you on, whatever you like to do, that's what you should do.

Q. So, Jack, could you then not ever imagine yourself being, say, with Gary and Arnie hitting the first ball at the Masters? Does that sort of make your blood curdle?

JACK NICKLAUS: I could probably do that. I could probably do that, 40 years from now. (Laughter.) I don't know. I mean, I'm not going to play -- I may have played my last Masters this year, I may play again next year, I don't know. I'm certainly not going to play very much more. At some point in time, I suppose that I probably will be asked to hit a ceremonial ball off the first tee. Fine, that's all right. But that's not competition. I mean, that's hitting a golf shot and going back in the clubhouse and saying, "What are we having for lunch?" You know...

Q. Or breakfast.

JACK NICKLAUS: Correct? There's no competition in that. I don't believe anybody measured how far Sam or Byron hit it this year, although I'm sure Sam outdrove Byron, by considerable length, distance.

JULIUS MASON: Questions, folks?

JACK NICKLAUS: You've had enough of me, or have I had enough of myself? One or the other.


End of FastScripts....

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