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April 9, 2002

Jack Nicklaus


BILL MORRIS: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We are delighted to have Jack Nicklaus with us. Jack, as you know is a six-time winner of the Masters, one of only two players to successfully defend his title at Augusta National. He has won 18 professional major titles. The Jack Nicklaus plaque was dedicated on this golf course in 1998.

Jack, we are delighted to have you with us for this interview, and why don't you just make a few remarks and then we'll have some questions.

JACK NICKLAUS: Well first of all looking forward to playing Thursday. (Laughter.) Change of plans.

I'm delighted to be here, actually. When I called Hootie about ten days ago and told him that I had made the decision not to play, then I said, "Do you want me to do anything"? He said, "Well, I'm sure the press would like to talk to you", and that's why I'm here. Otherwise, I'm sure I would not bother to clutter up your press room.

I suppose that -- I'm sorry I can't play this year. I'd like to play. I'd love to be playing. Obviously I'm working to try to get to my game where I could play or be physically where I could play. I just don't think that I wanted to display what I have got going out here on this golf course. That's basically it. I'll basically take your questions, which is really why I'm here.

Q. After you won, did they jack up the course? What happened to the 17 strokes?

JACK NICKLAUS: I was -- you took my line away. I was going to say it was 17 strokes harder that year.

What happened, in 1965, the greens were real receptive, relatively quick but not overly quick. The fairways were nice and tight and you could do whatever you wanted to with the golf ball. The golf course was fast and short, but even when it played short and fast it played receptive. '66 we came here, had a little bit of winds and I will never forget, I think Gary Player went to Cliff Roberts and he said, "Mr. Roberts", he says, "the fairways are much longer this year we can't spin the ball." He says, "Fairways are set exactly has they were last year" and he says, "they are exactly where we want them." I remember that line. You could not spin the ball, because the fairways were longer. I think that the ability to be able to stop the ball on the greens was lost, the greens were firmer than they were the year before, it's just change of conditions, but I think maybe, I don't know whether they had a bad winter or whatever they had, but the fairways were not the same.

Don't do those things any more. I think they do the golf course the same every year as best they can. But this year I think they tried to keep the scores up and let the fairways stay a little longer and that was the difference.

Q. Did you have rain?

JACK NICKLAUS: I don't think we had much rain. If I can remember, I think it was just fast.

Q. A lot of wind?

JACK NICKLAUS: We had a lot of wind in '66. The wind made a lot of it, but you could not spin the ball on the greens.

Q. In '65 you intimidated the field on Saturday with the 64?

JACK NICKLAUS: I didn't have to play all of the holes, just a few of them. (Laughter.)

But the course, I never had a golf tournament that was so easy. Today, I still say that was the easiest golf tournament I ever played from the standpoint of ease on me because it was just driver, wedge; driver, 9-iron; kind of stuff that Tiger does today. The next year we went and it was a real struggle for everybody, it was really a hard golf course, but I have not seen that done with the fairways for years and years since then.

Q. Just wondering after the changes, walk us through the 18th as a closing hole. It went from being fairly benign previously to having some teeth in it now?

JACK NICKLAUS: Never benign for me. As I got older, it got longer.

I played out here a couple of weeks ago, three weeks ago, whatever it was when I came up and played. It was damp the first day and then rained overnight. So it was wet the next morning, and both days I played 3-wood to 18. I had to hit the ball on the left side of fairway to get to get by the trees on the right because the trees were on the side of the hill. My guess is they will probably not play all of that hole, and sort of experiment with where they go with it. If you take that hole all the way back and -- have a windy day, or have a wet day, you're going to have -- it's long. I think that what they did with the changes on the golf course, in my own opinion, is they moved ahead of the curve, and sort of experiment to find out they will use part of it, but at least they have the ability to go back. 18, all the way back, I think when I was up here in November, we had a little fun with it, playing with Hootie, and we are walking down 15 and he says, "Jack, I want to show you something over here." We went over to the 18th tees and they had a bronze marker on this that said, "downtown". He said, "That came from you." I said, "What do you mean?" I had made it from -- he said, "You said, 'if the golf ball keeps on going the way it is, we can tee off downtown and keep on playing.'"

He basically had that same type of comment here and related that. I thought that was kind of cute, good sense of humor with it. But it felt like downtown. You sit back there and try to hit a golf ball from back there, I thought it was awfully long. They are certainly not going to drive the ball over the bunkers, I don't think anybody has yet, I don't imagine anybody driving it over.

You know it's a different golf hole. It's tough. I didn't think the hole was all that benign before because the bunkers were always in play for me. I only drove it over those bunkers once or twice in all of those years I played. Only in certain conditions. A lot of guys drive it over in recent years.

Q. I have a historical question. When you won back-to-back, did you put your own green jacket on or did someone help you or how did they solve that problem?

JACK NICKLAUS: I don't really remember. I don't remember.

Billy thinks I put my own jacket on. I may have. Did I? Okay. There's your answer. Al is the only one here who can remember that.

Q. The question of power keeps coming up, I guess at this golf course, all golf courses, it's been important, but is it more important now than say 30 years ago or 40 years ago?

JACK NICKLAUS: I don't think -- I think power is always important. Any time anybody hits the ball further than another person and can do things to a golf course that somebody else can't do, and they play well, they are going to be -- they are going to have an advantage. It's just that simple. I think the way this golf course is set up now, power is a very, very big issue on this golf course. But they have also, in the areas where the power hitter hits the golf ball, they are much narrower than they have ever been. I think that they have really done a very good job of that. I think the job of taking the power hitter and forcing them to play the ball into an area is much more -- much more exaggerated than it's ever been on this golf course and I think that's good.

The only thing that probably -- that negates that from the other standpoint is that anybody who is a moderate hitter or short hitter hits it into the face of the hill all day long on this golf course and has probably eliminated a lot of players from the tournament because of that, with a chance to win.

You're not really, I suppose, so worried about the club. I guess not so worried about eliminating a few people from the tournament who probably would not have competed otherwise, but to make it a real challenge for the guys that are good. I don't think they did this for Tiger Woods. Tiger is one of many long hitters, and one of a generation of people that are -- that's coming along. If you look at what's behind these groups coming in, there's a lot of young kids that hit the ball a long way. If they did not do this to the golf course, you end up -- you just succumb to 65 being an average day. 65 should be a special round and that's the way it should be. But it does eliminate part of the field, there's no question about it.

Q. In your day, in terms of length, you were the Tiger Woods of the time; you were very long.

JACK NICKLAUS: That's what they called me in those days, yeah. (Laughter.)

Q. Long Jack Silver, right?

JACK NICKLAUS: No, they called me the Tiger Woods of my time. (Laughter.)

Q. Do you think that -- and you were the greatest putter that has ever played championship golf, certainly under pressure, do you think it was the distance that you had as an advantage, or that you were just such a great putter?

JACK NICKLAUS: No question, I was a good putter. No question about that. But there are a lot of guys who are good putters. Let's just assume that half a dozen of us were all good putters, and on this golf course, in particular, I had more of an advantage than most people because of the ability to eliminate some of the hazards on the golf course from power. Just as Tiger does or Mickelson or Duval or there's a lot of kids today that have the ability. One kid that just left here, Charles Howell, who is not bigger than a minute, but has the ability to hit the ball nine miles, and a really, really nice player. But there are a lot of kids coming up that are really nice players that hit the ball a long way.

But when I was playing, there's not that many guys that had the ability to hit it that far. Today, I think a lot of it is obviously golf ball, but also, the equipment -- they figured out how to make a light golf club and make speed be --

Q. But was it the power that made you are the great champion that you were?

JACK NICKLAUS: I think it certainly was one of the elements, probably more so than a putter. Well, I don't know. I didn't miss many putts when I needed to make them under pressure, and I didn't miss many, I understand that. But anybody who is a champion who is going to win didn't miss many putts under pressure. I suppose my power gave me more opportunities to be in that position under pressure.

Q. You've talked a number of times about the ball, and you came up with the Cayman Ball for courses that don't have a lot of real estate. Do you ever see one ball being used? This is the only sport where you've got a choice of a ball to play.

JACK NICKLAUS: I think that -- I don't think you're going to ever see them having one ball to play. I mean, reaching the first tee, pick three balls and go play, I don't think you are going to find that. But I think if the golf ball continues to do what it's doing, allow that to happen, pretty soon something is going to happen. I think, first of all, I think Augusta probably made the right decision in what they did by redoing the golf course rather than being probably the only tournament in golf and the only place if golf where they probably could have said, "You come play our tournament, you have to play this golf ball." I think Augusta could have done that but I don't think they wanted to get in the middle of that controversy and I don't blame them. I think they probably did the right thing in dodging that.

Do you understand what I mean? I think it's politically the right thing for them to do. They know they could get ahead of the curve the other way and they did it.

I forgot what the question was now. That's why I'm not playing. (Laughter.)

We talked about -- I think ultimately what's going to happen is that sooner or later, there's going to be a set of specs, and I hope it's a USGA and R&A or together doing it, the USGA that are going to be delivered to the ball manufacturers that this is a ball that can be played for tournament golf. I liken it no different than to what happened when the R&A switched from the small ball to the large ball.

The small ball was a blast to play. I loved playing it. It was fun. You could hit it for nine miles and just wave back at everybody else. And it didn't curve very much. It was easy to play. It was fun. But, was it right? You could just make golf courses disappear. That's why they switched. They said, "Okay, we're going to have a tournament ball and have it be the same size as the American ball."

When they did that, they didn't enforce the average golfer to play that because the average golfer still enjoyed playing that and I think the average golfer will still enjoy and probably needs a golf ball that goes a little further to have more fun with it.

Eventually I think they are going to make those specs and say, okay, we are going to make a tournament ball and Titleist and Nike and Precept and Callaway, you all need to make this golf ball, use your own aerodynamics, but it has to fit within this parameter, these parameters. When they do that, the players will play it. And what's going to happen is the kids growing up playing high school golf, college golf are going to want to play that ball because they want to play tournament golf.

So as more people start to play that golf ball just as more and more of the average golf ball play the big ball instead of the small ball because they saw the pros playing it, at events where tournaments are played, eventually the small ball just disappeared, didn't it, because they felt like that's what happened and they wanted to play what the pros were playing.

If you did not do that spec, that's what would happen, I think is the other ball would disappear through attrition and you would get a ball that would make every golf course in this country obsolete. We don't have a dozen courses in this country distance-wise that can handle where the golf ball goes. If we took it back ten percent, we would have thousands. We have hundreds of thousands of wonderful golf courses in this country that just no longer can handle, a golf tournament, without having to go something stupid to them which is basically what we have to do.

Q. Can you talk about what you see down the next year, couple years as far as you're concerned about, both here and your playing schedule?

JACK NICKLAUS: I'm working actually really hard myself. I'm physically trying to get -- sounds sort of stupid but I went skiing last week. How about -- I can play tennis, I can go skiing, I can go those things but I can't play golf. Let's put it this way, I'm not a world-class skier and I'm not a world-class tennis player. If I want to play golf, I can, and I really don't think that's for public consumption. I came out here and shot 76 and 81 two days from the back tees. I can give you the clubs that I played going down the back side. I started on back side the second day and I went 4-wood to 10, 3-wood to 11, drove it around the corner at 13 where I could get home with a 3-wood, 4-wood to 14, 2-wood to 18, went over to No. 1 and played 3-wood to No. 1. Do you think I want to play in the Masters Tournament playing that way?

I was hoping I would get better and play, because I still was trying, but my golf game is not better than that and my physical ability to do that is not any better than that. I just don't have the ability do that right now. Granted, I can hit the ball further if I am healthier and I am still trying to do that.

I sent an MRI to four different doctors and I have got four different places on where they need to operate. I don't need to be an experimental thing on an operating table. I have no desire to do that.

Dr. Bierbaum out here who did my hip, Ben BierBaum from Boston is right here -- show them who you are, and Ben. A doctor in his office recommended that it might not be operated, but he also picked a different place that everybody else picked to, and he suggested exercising out of my problem because he thought I could. Well, I think I can do that, because I think more of the problem is muscular than really it is physical. My back is a mess, I know that, but that's beside the point. But I'm working on it, I'm trying to do it and I think I'm going to get it done. I got it done a long time ago back 15 years ago, and I think I'll get it done now. I don't know whether -- I'll never play world-class golf again. I'd like to play some. I'd like to play some senior golf. I enjoy playing. I like to go out and play with my friends and my kids and my grand kids and enjoy playing golf, like other people enjoy it. That's what I want to do. I know when my age is. I really don't care about whether I'm a world-class golfer again. It's not important to me. I would just like to enjoy playing the game that I love.

Q. What about here?

JACK NICKLAUS: If I can play and I can play decently, I've love to come back here and play. Absolutely. If I can't, I'm not going to go out there with 4-woods and 3-woods on every hole.

Q. Should past champions leave it up to themselves as to whether they participate like you do, or should the club in some subtle form or not, discourage?

JACK NICKLAUS: That's a pretty lean question, isn't it. Put it this way. I think when you have earned an invitation to play in the Masters or any golf tournament, I think it's the player's decision whether you should play or not.

I think that -- let's put it this way. Let's say five years from now, I want to come back and physically I'm fine to play in the Masters, but I know I probably can't break 80. I think I would probably call -- let's assume Hootie would still be the chairman and say, "Mr. Chairman, I would love to come back and play, what would be your opinion of whether you would like to have me be in the field or not?" And if you would like to have me be in the field and I thought I could play and enjoy it I would probably do it. If he said, "No, I think Jack the field is such that I think it would probably be better that you can't compete and we just don't think that that's right for you to do that," I certainly would honor that, too.

What I would do is I would have good guidance and I think each individual tournament might be different. But I think that's -- I think that's the players decision; he's earned that right to do so.

Q. Gary Player told me that 15 years ago he went to Hord Hardin and suggested that the Masters run a concurrent senior Masters event, 36 holes or something with a 50 or 55 age limit. Is there, in your opinion, room for that at this tournament, to have --

JACK NICKLAUS: I don't think that's my question to answer.

Would it be fun? Absolutely, it would be fun. Would it be probably interesting for the folks probably could do it on Tuesday and Wednesday if you wanted to do it. I don't think that's -- you've got the greatest golf tournament in the world, why do you want to clutter it up with a bunch of old guys? (Laughter.)

Q. Talking about that, do you think the length will discourage some of the former champions from competing here in future years?

JACK NICKLAUS: If they have got any sense.

Q. It sounds, from what you're saying, that you really just want to enjoy the game. Have you always enjoyed the game of golf, even when you were not playing well?

JACK NICKLAUS: I've said that I would play golf as long as -- tournament golf -- as long as I could compete and enjoy it, and I think the two sort of go together. If you can't be competitive, particularly if you've been used to go out there with the opportunity to walk out on the first tee to win, and I've never enjoyed finishing up on Sunday at noon. That's never been a thrill of mine, just to make a cut and come and do that.

If I can't compete, I don't really want to play. I don't want to clutter up the field and be out there. Now, I know that probably -- let's just say that I was healthy right now and was -- which is probably your next question -- if I were healthy and thought that I could compete to the level that Jack Nicklaus could at age 62, which I know is not compete enough to win the tournament, but compete, make the cut, finish up like I did four years ago, fifth or sixth or whatever it was, if I could do that, felt like I could do, I would go play, absolutely because that's competitive. I may not be quite competitive enough to win, but I could be competitive enough to scare a lot of people, including myself.

Q. Mickelson two weeks ago said that he never hit a shot that he didn't think he could pull off at least 40 percent of the time. Wondering whether you had a red light/green light threshold, or do you just do it by feel, and does 40 percent seem a little low?

JACK NICKLAUS: I think it depends on the situation. If you are in a position where -- I did that probably in '71. I played a shot into the 15th green that I felt like -- I think I made 8 on that hole that day and I felt like it was a shot and a gamble that I felt probably was not the right gamble, but I felt like if I wanted to win the golf tournament, I had to make that and less than a 50 percent chance of doing it and took a gamble and made an 8 and lost the tournament. Sometimes you make that decision, but I would say that would be a one-time decision in a tournament, not a repetitive decision. In other words, I certainly would not take that chance ten times if it was 40 percent. I might make it once if I thought that was really going to give me a chance to win that golf tournament. And this that was -- do you understand what I'm saying?

I think your odds of that are not very good on repetitive basis. But if I felt like I had an 80 to 90 percent chance of making that shot on a repetitive basis and the gamble was worth it, I would do that on a fairly regular basis.

BILL MORRIS: Thank you very much. We all look forward to having you back here very soon. Good luck.

End of FastScripts....

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