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June 15, 1999
PINEHURST, NORTH CAROLINA
LES UNGER: Well, talking about somebody who doesn't need an introduction. You walked in here like you were pretty spry. 18 holes and the rain, feeling pretty good?
JACK NICKLAUS: Yeah, I feel fine. It's getting wet out, though. I don't think that somebody is not real happy with what somebody has done or something.
LES UNGER: Have you asked Jay in here who's going to be unhappy about the water?
JACK NICKLAUS: No, I don't think it's what you really want for the golf tournament. But the golf course is great. The golf course is set up beautifully. It's in wonderful condition. Hopefully, this thing will get out of here and get a little bit of a breeze to dry it back out and the golf course will play well.
LES UNGER: Any aspirations this week?
JACK NICKLAUS: Aspirations to play, yeah. How well, that's a good question. I don't know, I didn't play particularly well at The Memorial Tournament. I putted pretty well. But I'm not -- I feel a little bit better than I did there, in relation to my golf game. But still not where I want it. Obviously, I think it's still a long way away. But the only way that I can get better is to play. And that's why I'm here.
LES UNGER: I have to tell you, we've been doing interviews all day long, and it's not -- your drawing appeal is still here.
Q. What do you remember about your first one?
JACK NICKLAUS: My first what?
Q. Your first Open, do you remember much about it?
JACK NICKLAUS: My first Open? I was a 17-year-old kid, played in Toledo, and I led the tournament for three holes. I do remember that. I holed a 35-footer on the 1st hole for a birdie, and a 3-wood and 7-iron, in case you didn't remember. 3-wood, 7-iron, and about a 35-footer; parred the next two holes, never to be seen again.
Q. Jack, you've competed in the U.S. Open against so many of the legends of the game, and it really sort of began in '60 when you were paired with Ben Hogan at Cherry Hills. Do you recall learning anything from Hogan that final day? I guess he had 34 consecutive greens that you took into winning four U.S. Opens after that?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I think that both Hogan and myself had a pretty good opportunity to win that golf tournament. We both in many ways gave it away. And every time you lose, you learn something. And I suppose that any time you have an experience like that to play with Hogan when you're a 20-year-old kid, you walk away -- I'm sure I walked away copying his swing the next couple of months. I always did that. I remember playing with Sam. I used to copy Sam Snead, or played Boris; I copied his rhythm. Or played Hogan; I copied it. That's what kids do. And so to be able to have the opportunity to play with the great players in the game and have the opportunity to be able to imagine that you were swinging like they were, you found -- but you catch a lot of things, and a lot of things happen from that. It's a great experience. And I'm sure that a lot of kids turn around and look at this old man, and say, "We're getting experience playing with him." But those kids get in the fairway. I don't even get in the fairway anymore.
Q. 40 years later --
JACK NICKLAUS: More than 40 --
Q. Are you still competitive against Tiger Woods and this new generation? Do you -- you're not one necessarily to marvel the way we do at what you've done. But have you given any time at all to pause and reflect on what's kept you so competitive for so very long?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I enjoy playing golf. I think that's probably it. And my enjoyment comes from competition. I don't get a whole lot of enjoyment out of going out and grabbing three friends and beating it around the golf course for five dollars. I don't get a big kick out of that. Not that I don't enjoy being with my friends and doing that. But the fun in golf is being in competition, and being involved in the middle of it, and I suppose that's why I've kept myself competitive.
Q. Mr. Nicklaus, it seems to the players that came into this room, they've had nothing but positive to say about Pinehurst No. 2. Can you remember in your Open competition, when the players have griped about the length of the rough or the speed of the greens or the way the course was set up by the USGA, it seems very positive this year?
JACK NICKLAUS: That's too bad. You're going to have so many guys that have a chance to win. I used to love listening to them gripe. "The rough is too high"; check him off. "The greens are too fast"; check him off. You just check guys off as they complain, because they complain themselves right out of this championship. You've got that many fellows that are happy with the golf course, there must be something wrong. I enjoy it, too, I think it's a very enjoyable golf course to play. It's extremely difficult around the greens, but it's also -- it gives you an opportunity to play. And even the rough gives you an opportunity to play; it doesn't mean you're going to do anything out of it, but you're going to have an opportunity to play. I think that's all the guys have really -- that's what guys like, is to have an opportunity to play. If they play, they can score. If they can't play, then they're not going to score, because it's certainly difficult.
Q. We've had several Europeans in here today talking about how this may be their chance to finally win one. No one has won one since 1970, Tony Jacklin. What have you seen in the differences between the American and European players? Why do you think they haven't won as many Opens?
JACK NICKLAUS: That would be very difficult to answer. I don't see it. I think that there's -- you have to imagine a lot of shots around the green in the British Open, run up some bumps and so forth, and you have that here. But for the most part, they don't play many seaside golf courses, except for the British Open. The rest of the year, they're not playing much different than we're playing. More severe weather conditions, maybe. But I think it's -- I think that the foreign players had a run at the Masters for a long time, and I guess still have one, but -- and they haven't had at the Open, have they, since Jacklin, there hasn't been an outside U.S. player that's won. And I think that's just -- I don't think it has anything to do -- Ernie Els has won twice.
JACK NICKLAUS: We're limiting it to Europeans, now.
Q. Jack, they seemed to be reluctant to embrace the notion that there was a rivalry. What do you think about the situation you had like that with Arnie? Do you think there's a situation like that that's good for the game or good for the fans?
JACK NICKLAUS: You're saying -- who was --
Q. Duval and Woods don't want to embrace the notion that there's a rivalry.
JACK NICKLAUS: I don't think there probably is yet. I think that you've got to -- and I think they agree with the comment, because they've come and talked to me about it: We've got to win something before we have a rivalry. And they've won one major between them. And I think that they're arguably the two best players in the game today. I don't think there's any question about that. But I think they both feel that they're not playing against each other; they're trying to figure out a way to win a major championship. So if one of two of them can rival the other one, that's fine. But right now, they say; let us win a few tournaments before that happens. And I think they're -- time just needs to take care of that. How did I view it? Arnold and I, when we had our rivalry, we won a few tournaments around that time. And I think we competed against each other, and beat each other's brains out on a few holes and a few tournaments. And that's where that came from. But I think that's where rivalries can come from. Are they good for the game? Yeah, I think they're fun for the game.
Q. Jack, if the combination of conditions leads to some really low, low scores, will they be able to do enough with the greens to get it back into a U.S. Open scoring range?
JACK NICKLAUS: Here?
JACK NICKLAUS: These conditions, you'll score fairly well. Is that what you meant?
JACK NICKLAUS: I think they will, too. But I don't think you're going to have these conditions for four days. I think you may have these conditions for a day or so. I don't know what's going to happen. I felt that they shoot fairly high or fairly low. Here, I didn't feel there would be one in between. I felt the Open record would be broken or the scores would be -- or you'd have a hard time breaking par. And what I meant by that is the conditions. If it rained and the greens got soft and the guys were able to throw the ball at the pin, these guys are long enough, strong enough, if they hit it in the rough and they play it out of the rough, they'd still be able to hit it out of the greens. If the golf course stayed fairly dry, and had any breeze or anything else at all, I think they'd have an awfully hard time trying to stay around par; so I didn't think there would be a middle ground here. And that's sort of been my opinion from day one. Whether I'm right or whether I'm wrong, I don't know. But that's just my thought.
Q. We publish every day.
JACK NICKLAUS: We can change our mind every day, too, can't we?
Q. Jack, I know you were impressed with Tiger when he won your tournament. Could you analyze or assess the various components of his game?
JACK NICKLAUS: Various components of his game?
Q. Putting, where do you think --
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I didn't really watch much of the play out there, but I think that Tiger's length is always a great factor on any golf course. I doubt very seriously whether you consider any hole he plays a par-5. His ability to play it doesn't have to be a par-5. He certainly can reach both of the par-5s here in two. I think he's going to get a lot better than he is right now. I think his iron game is probably -- at times, probably the weakest part of his game. That's not really fair. I'm judging him on The Memorial Tournament, where he really -- he didn't feel like he hit his irons all that well. But his short game was just fantastic. He manufactured shots around the green that were unbelievable. I think he's got a great imagination. I think he's an outstanding putter, probably the stats probably don't show that. But I think -- I don't think putting -- I don't think anything in this game is statistics. I think you take the guys that are the best putters, the best sand players, they're the best when they have to be to win a golf tournament. That's when they're the best. And I think he's very good when he has to be, to win golf tournaments. I think he's a terrific competitor.
Q. Do you see any similarities between this course and Augusta National?
JACK NICKLAUS: The only similarity is probably the two toughest sets of greens that I know. I think these are more difficult than Augusta's, the way they've got it done. I don't think they used to be, but since they took all the edges off, I think this probably made the greens -- these are the smallest-playing large greens, good-sized greens that I've ever seen. There's really not much out there to play to.
Q. Jack, do you envision yourself or any other architect building a course like this in the near future?
JACK NICKLAUS: The only difference in this golf course and the other golf courses is the shaving off of the greens. Basically, the support is internal and greens. I do that quite often. Maybe I don't do it to the severity of what they've done it here. But quite often, when you're doing a golf course for public-access golf, when you want to get the speed of play, I'll do that, because the type of golf course here. As I say, internal support usually means that the golf ball away from the green is not severe slopes, is not -- you don't have a lot of fly-more-in-the-bunker, your bunkers are fairly easy to get out of. Maybe not to the degree you're used to, but they do it. I think if we did that today -- you can get away with that, because Donald Ross is no longer around. Nobody can complain about it. But these greens are severe.
Q. Jack, a lot of people said a lot of nice things about Donald Ross and this course standing up for 80, 90, 100 years. When you're designing the course, do you stop to wonder what will be going on with the course in 80, 90, 100 years?
JACK NICKLAUS: Sometimes, sure. This golf course right here is my favorite golf course, from a design standpoint. I enjoy this as much as any golf course I've ever seen.
JACK NICKLAUS: I just like what he did. I like the internal support. I like the repelling situations, collecting in the middle. Do I think I could get away with that on some of my courses today? I don't think so. I think that they wouldn't understand it. Most people wouldn't do it. And the -- I think that you look at your golf courses and you say: How are they going to weather time? And if you look at most of the golf courses that the Open is played on, the only difference between most of the golf courses the Open are played on and the golf courses today are trees. And I think that's sort of a ridiculous criteria for what's a good golf course, whether the tree is 10 years old or 50 years old. That's what it looks like. If you look at the golf courses that the -- the old-style golf courses that they say are such great golf courses, the only difference is trees. And I can't believe that designers today have not built better golf courses, or certainly as good of golf courses, as the old golf courses.
Q. Jack, your hip surgery has been such a fabulous success. In hindsight, do you now wish you'd done it years ago?
JACK NICKLAUS: No. I couldn't -- I didn't have the mindset, nor did I hurt enough, to do it years ago. And whether it's a success or not, it's a success to some degree. We'll find out what degree as time goes on. Certainly from what I was in December, I'm quite pleased with what I've done. I wasn't sure last July whether I really needed it or wanted it, because I could always exercise myself back to a neutral, nonhurting position, and was fine. If I'm sitting here like this, I feel no different now than I did six months ago. And I just got to the position where I started to do things -- my exercises lasted me -- didn't last an hour. And that's basically why I went ahead and did it. I couldn't hold the position that I wanted to. And I strengthened myself all last fall in trying to be able to get myself to do that, and it didn't work. As it turned out, all the area in my x-rays that we thought for what I had as cartilage left turned out to be bone spurs. The bone spurs filled that area. It looked like a big void, but it was a mass of spurs. And finally Pete Egoscue that was working with me, after Pete saw what was there, he said he couldn't have done more than what he did. He was all in support of it, too. But I wasn't ready to do it. And I think you have to be ready to do something before you do it. I don't think it's any different than, I suppose, if you're talking about somebody who has an addiction to alcohol or drugs or anything else, until you're ready to do it yourself, and for yourself, then you're not going to do it. You're not going to want to do it. My hip was like an addiction. I thought I could do it the other way.
Q. Jack, in talking about looking ahead to the future, can we talk about maybe looking into your crystal ball, going into the next century, where you think the game is going to be 20, 30, 40, maybe at the end of next century? Is it going to be the same game now or a different game?
JACK NICKLAUS: If you look at the game since I've been playing it, the game has changed a whole bunch. Before I played it, not much before I played it, they were playing with wooden shafts and they were playing a small ball. And then they were playing smaller heads, wood heads. I don't know where they're going to go with it next. I think they've made the game much easier for the average golfer; too easy in many ways for the competitive golfer. And where they'll go with it beyond here, I don't know. I certainly think there needs to be a harness on it some place. We're going to -- you're certainly going to run out of places to play, if you keep letting equipment get away from you.
Q. Since you've had the surgery, do you feel, I guess, rejuvenated toward the game of golf?
JACK NICKLAUS: Since I had what?
Q. Since you had the surgery, do you feel rejuvenated for the game of golf and really want to get out on the course and play, and will that help you this week?
JACK NICKLAUS: Oh, yeah, sure it will help me. Last year prior to U.S. Open -- I played nine holes two weeks prior to the U.S. Open and didn't practice at all. I couldn't. But that's pretty much when I made up my mind that I would fulfill my commitments for the next month, which I did, and then I was going to go to work and try to get myself stronger to try to avoid the surgery. And then I played 12 days in a row around The Memorial Tournament, took -- I guess I took two days off, and I played Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. I should take a day off somewhere, but I keep thinking I'm going to work on my game. I'm trying to get better. I don't think I'm anywhere near where I want to be, and I'm probably not doing what I should do -- is probably rest a little more. But I don't expect myself to be ready to play, anyway. So I'm just going to try -- I try to work myself into doing the best I can. Now, whether that's pushing myself beyond where I should push myself, I don't know. But I've always done that in my life, anyway. So if I get tired, so what? So I get tired. All I'm trying to do is I'm trying to learn how to play golf again. And do I enjoy trying to learn to do it? Yeah, it's frustrating at times. I didn't hit a fairway between the 4th hole and the 18th. And you try playing this golf course out of the rough all day long, playing out of the rough to the hood of a Volkswagen all day long. It's hard to stop it, I promise you. But I kept doing it and kept doing it and kept doing it, and I will get better at it. Did I do the surgery to play golf, no. Will I play any more golf than I anticipate playing this year? No. My schedule -- I'll end my schedule this year probably the end of July, first of August. Then I might play a couple of tournaments in the fall, and that's about it. I'm certainly not going to go back and play 25 tournaments because I had hip surgery.
Q. Jack, to go back to the 1960 Open, you said that you and Hogan both in some ways may have given that away. What moment stands out the most for you in that last round?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I led by a shot with six holes to play. I 3-putted the next two greens, parred the 15th, missed a 3-footer for birdie at 16, missed an 8-footer for birdie at 17, and lost by two shots. I'd say that's pretty well giving the tournament away.
Q. What happened on the 3-putt on the 13? I heard some accounts where there was a ball mark --
JACK NICKLAUS: I had a 12-foot putt for birdie. Ran it two feet by the hole. And in those days -- you certainly can fix ball marks, but as a 20-year-old kid, I got a little flustered, and I had a ball mark that had been repaired, and I wasn't sure whether I could repair it again. And I didn't have the presence of mind to ask. And I hit the putt and it bothered me enough to miss the putt. And I 3-putted the next green, about 35 feet. And then 15, I hit it on the back fringe, and chipped it down about three feet and made par. 16, I hit a 1-iron, 9-iron in about 3 foot and missed a short birdie putt. And 17, I pitched it in short. And 18, I hit it up on the right fringe and sped it down. I shot 32-39 the last 18. And I didn't birdie 11, which was a pretty easy par-5, because I had a 4-iron to the fairway to that, and I didn't birdie that. And I did birdie 12. But everybody has an opportunity sometime at that time. But when I looked at the leaderboard, and as I walked off the 12th green, I was the only one at 5-under, and there are four guys at 4-under. Hogan was 4-under.
Q. You said a little earlier that No. 2 was your favorite golf course from a design standpoint, and obviously it's a wonderful accolade, especially coming from you. We've heard you say that before. I wonder why you always seem to qualify it from a design standpoint?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, I happen to like Pebble Beach better as a golf course to play. I think that Pebble Beach is my favorite golf course to go to. I think Augusta is my favorite place to go play golf. I have different ways to define it. That may make more people happy.
Q. Jack, using your crystal ball to look in the future, how long do you think it will be until somebody over 50 wins the Open?
JACK NICKLAUS: Won't be long, I hope (Laughter.)
Q. Seriously, do you think that the better equipment and physical condition is going to continue to take the curve higher?
JACK NICKLAUS: Absolutely it will. Absolutely it will. Equipment gives a great parity to the game. I think it has. I don't think there's any question. I think that there's an awful lot of guys that would have been out of the game a long time ago, including myself, if it hadn't been for the golf ball and the equipment. There's an awful lot of guys who are not of large stature, 25 years ago, that were struggling to keep up with everybody else, and all of a sudden, the golf ball equalized a lot of things for them. And then equipment came along and equalized more things, and they're still playing. Guys that I used to hit the ball -- I'm talking about when I'm in my prime -- guys I used to hit my ball 60, 70 yards by, five years later were ten yards behind me, because of the golf ball. And I've always felt like that was not really how you played the game of golf was by having equipment do your thing. I thought you played it with the stroke and the ability of how you played the game. And the guys today, you look -- you watch Duval and Tiger and some of the other long hitters this week, and you look at the advantage that those guys have by the way -- how far they hit the golf ball and how that is negated by how they're forced to play. They've got so much talent, they can still win by giving everybody all the chances in the world by bringing back action playing 2-irons, 1-irons, 3-woods, 5-irons off the tee all day long. If the ball was brought back, and everybody sat back hitting a driver, and -- think of what an advantage if Tiger had to hit a driver on every hole. You pull the best player out every time. People talk about -- the biggest problem he has in being able to break my record of 18 professional majors is equipment, because it makes it so much more difficult to separate yourself. I think that kid has got so much talent that if you give him the golf course -- you have to have an 8,000-yard golf course to do it. And I don't think we need to do that. I don't want to get on a soapbox on the golf ball again, but I think something has to be done.
Q. Jack, first of all, is Masters '86 your most thrilling moment in golf? I know you've had so many.
JACK NICKLAUS: As far as a win, absolutely.
Q. Will the year 2000 be your last major, apart from you'll continue to play at Augusta?
JACK NICKLAUS: I didn't say anything about continuing to play at Augusta or anything else. I'm going to attempt to play all four majors in the year 2000. And I'm not saying that I won't play beyond that in any of them. I have no idea how long I'll play, but certainly -- I think the USGA has been kind to give me three exemptions until the year 2000, probably more than anybody else. And I'm appreciative of that, and hopefully I can play decent enough in the next two Opens to warrant those exemptions, or justify them. And certainly The Masters, as long as I think I can play halfway decent to where I can enjoy it and compete, then I'll play. That may be until next year. It may not be. I don't have any idea how long it will be after that. More than likely, probably be the last time I go back to the British Open, but I never know. And the PGA, I have no idea. But I'm sure that next year will be my last attempt to try to play all four of them in the same year. That would be as far as I could go with that.
Q. Jack, a two-part question about Pebble Beach. With the U.S. Amateur coming up there, and your experiences, how does that course set up for match play? And secondly, would the Pebble Beach and the U.S. Open benefit from a setup similar to this next year)?
JACK NICKLAUS: I find it set up perfect for match play. I won there. But it's a terrific match-play golf course, from the standpoint that you've got so many holes that you can gamble on and have those kind of situations. And a disaster can come at any time at Pebble Beach; so from a match play standpoint, that's good. Do I think it would benefit from the type of setup as here? I think Pebble Beach is sort of a hybrid between here and some place else. It's not totally sand at Pebble Beach. There is sand, but not totally. I think that Pebble Beach, the last time -- matter of fact, I had a conversation the other day with Tom Meeks about it, about the last time I played Pebble Beach, I don't think they did a very good job with the fairways. They got very straight with the lines on the fairways. I don't think Pebble Beach was meant to have straight lines on the fairways. The golf course moves in and out, just as this golf course moves in and out. And designers of Pebble Beach, like Donald Ross, here, he got the golf course to move with the bunkers and his mounds and so forth. And I think the fairways should move with those. And Pebble Beach would benefit from what I call a "rustic setup" rather than a "traditional setup." And the rustic setup meaning comes in here. It's a little rough here. Maybe high here, shorter here, maybe a little bit more of a natural, rustic feel than a programmed feel. And I thought it got very programmed the last time, and I didn't think that was very becoming to Pebble.
Q. Concerning your hip, do you fully expect -- is it well enough that you fully expect to be near or at the top of the leaderboard?
JACK NICKLAUS: Here?
Q. Is it fully well enough?
JACK NICKLAUS: My hip is fine, but I don't have the endurance or strength yet. I don't have the strength -- I can't repeat a golf swing. I hit one swing, and now I finally got it, and I don't hit it again for ten shots. And then I might hit three or four in a row, and say "I've got it" again. And then it disappears again. I hit some of the worst-looking shots you have ever seen, and I think it's only from strength. Strength and endurance. And I don't feel weak. I feel great. I feel terrific. I would not expect me to be up there, but certainly -- I'm certainly not going to pass up the opportunity to try.
Q. Jack, we've talked a lot about technology, again, and considering the technology debate and playing the U.S. Open here on a golf course, old, architecturally-sound golf course, what kind of -- what could win out this week, given the layout and the way this place is designed, could technology be negated somewhat by having to be a shot-maker and the short-game guru?
JACK NICKLAUS: A little, yeah. Everybody has the same technology, so it doesn't mean that much. But not that this is any great criteria, but I told you before, Dave, that I shot over 80 both rounds in the finals of North/South when I won here 40 years ago. This golf course, the greens were hard as a rock. You got off the greens and it was poorly conditioned, as we call conditioned today. It was just -- it was sort of like a natural thing. You get off in a hole or sand, the ball would bounce in a bunch of different directions, and that's just what this golf course was. That's the way it was. I don't think you get away with that today. They work so hard to get a golf course in good condition and so uniform that you wouldn't get away with that. But I think that they've taken the next best thing to it, and that's shaved the banks and made the golf course the same all around; so every shot is going to do the same thing, and get a -- get a consistent, unfair, repelling bounce off of a bad shot, which is good. But the conditions are so much easier for return than they were years ago. I don't think the technology will have a whole lot to do with it, except that they've reduced the course down, because of technology, it just becomes -- not all of it is there.
Q. You say in the Millennium, it could be your last in Britain, which is going to sadden a lot of us. Why do you feel that major will be your last?
JACK NICKLAUS: I'll be 60 years old, and St. Andrews is probably my favorite place in the game of golf, that and Augusta, and I can't think of a better place to not play than the British Open. Why not? As I said, I might go back, but I doubt it. The British Open is the most difficult of the ones for me to play, simply because of weather. I totally haven't ruled out Carnoustie this year, but I say the chances are 1 in 20 or 30 that I'll go. I still haven't ruled that out. Michael has given me until this week. He's holding a spot for me.
Q. Will one of your sons be caddying for you this Sunday?
JACK NICKLAUS: No.
Q. My question was going to be Sunday is Father's Day, and whether that has any special meaning when you --
JACK NICKLAUS: U.S. Open usually finishes on Father's Day. And I think I probably won it on four Father's Days; so that's nice. The kids all seem to like that. I don't understand -- I guess they're all doing something else this year, either that or they don't want to watch their old man play anymore. Jackie really can't carry a bag anymore, because of his back operation. And, I don't know, Steve is doing something, working, doing something. And Gary is playing. And Michael is working. I think Steve and Michael probably are both finally -- they're actually working pretty hard for a living; so I think to take a week off is hard for them to do. So that left the old man to have to go out and find a caddy and so forth and so on.
Q. Tom Watson is preparing for the Senior Tour. Can you talk about how he will perform there, and reflect on that rivalry between you and he?
JACK NICKLAUS: Well, Tom will do very well on the Senior Tour. And as most of the guys who have kept themselves reasonably competitive on the regular Tour, when they get to the Senior Tour, they blitz the Tour. And I think Tom will be pretty much the same. I think Tom will do very well. Last year, he was the Top 20 in the world from last year. That's pretty good on the Senior Tour.
LES UNGER: Thank you very much, and wish you good luck this week.
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