For First Time Nicklaus Not Playing Memorial

By Associated PressMay 27, 2006, 4:00 pm
DUBLIN, Ohio -- For the first time in the Memorial Tournament's 31 years, Jack Nicklaus won't be playing in the event he founded.
Now 66, the winner of 18 major championships hopes to stay in the background during the tournament this week. The only time the Golden Bear will hit the course is in the pro-am.
'It'll be strange to me,' said Nicklaus, the only golfer to have played in each of the first 30 Memorials.
Jack Nicklaus hands last year's winner, Bart Bryant, the Memorial trophy.
As the years raced past since his last hurrah on the regular tour -- that memorable back-nine charge to snag the 1986 Masters -- Nicklaus pared his schedule to include little more than the major championships. Yet he played on at the Memorial, the tournament he created in 1976 to honor the contributions of other golfers.
Along the way he had plenty of memorable moments. Nicklaus won the 1977 tournament -- at the time he called it 'my biggest thrill in golf' -- by shooting a final-round 1-under-par 71 to beat Hubert Green by two strokes.
He won it again in 1984, but it took an incredible finish.
Nicklaus was tied with Andy Bean on the 17th hole when he pushed his drive far to the right, the ball bouncing down the cart path and coming to rest under a picnic table on the wood deck of a house on the course's perimeter.
'I said to myself, 'The only way I've got a chance is to make birdie on the next ball,'' he said at the time. And that's just what he did, hitting a second drive, nailing a 4 iron to 25 feet and then curling in the putt for a bogey.
Now down a shot, Nicklaus pulled even with a par on the 72nd hole, then won it on the third sudden-death playoff hole.
Today a brass plaque still marks the spot where that errant drive on 17 came to rest.
Nicklaus, born and raised just a few miles away in Upper Arlington, remained a contender for another decade at Muirfield Village Golf Club.
Slowly, painfully, he came to see the gallery's warm applause and shouts of 'Way to go, Jack!' as a polite acknowledgment of what he had done instead of what he was doing.
'It's tough for him,' said former British Open champion Ben Curtis, who idolized Nicklaus while growing up a few miles from Dublin. 'He's at the stage of his life where he wants to do other things. He's designing golf courses and things like that. He's still staying competitive. But it's a different aspect. And now he's enjoying life.'
Men who make their living in the crucible of Sunday pressure say they understand what the decision must have been like for Nicklaus.
'I'm sure he felt it was the right time and he's very much at peace with it,' said 2002 Memorial winner Jim Furyk. 'He is a competitive person and I'm sure there's other things in his life that keep that competitive fire going. From what I understand he's a competitor when he fishes. He's always going to have something.'
Tim Herron, who won this year's Colonial, said Nicklaus became a victim of his own success.
'He doesn't play like he used to,' Herron said. 'But it's hard to be competitive if you're No. 1 in the world for 25 years in a row.'
All athletes come to grips with encroaching age. Some never concede. Nicklaus gradually did.
Kenny Perry, who won the Memorial in 1991 and 2003, knows what Nicklaus was going through.
'My dad was the same way. My dad gave me his golf clubs. He said 'If I can't play like I used to play, then what's the point? I don't want to play any more,'' Perry said.
Last year's British Open at St. Andrew's was Nicklaus' final appearance in a major championship. Now he is taking at least a year away from playing in the Memorial.
Notorious as a micromanager, Nicklaus will devote himself to making the Memorial even more of a prime stop on tour. It annually ranks among the most popular stops for the pros.
Still, he admits he doesn't know for certain what his role will be.
'I'll find something. I'll probably get a little bit more involved in the tournament, which I haven't been recently,' Nicklaus said.
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