Nicklaus makes rare appearance plays a benefit
Im done, he said.
He wasnt serious. But someday ' perhaps soon ' Nicklaus will hit his last shot before the eyes of still-adoring galleries. Thats why hundreds of people showed up Monday morning for an event benefiting a South Florida hospital.
They called it the Delray Dunes-Bethedsa Hospital Pro-Am, the 40th and final time the event will be played. The field was a whos-who of golf: Among the pros taking part were Tom Watson, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Mark OMeara and Raymond Floyd.
And Nicklaus, whose playing schedule typically includes only father-son tournaments and Skins games, was the top draw of all.
I think its fantastic, Trevino said. I mean, whens the last time you saw Jack Nicklaus play? And you may never see him again, you understand? Its special.
Tournament host Bob Murphy ' the Champions Tour player and television commentator ' has used the event to raise millions for charity in Palm Beach County. Trevino has given so much money from his appearances back to the hospital that a room there now bears his name, and some pros even call Murphy to see if theyre needed to play alongside 24-handicappers.
Some of those hackers, not surprisingly, started shanking everything when Nicklaus lined up with them on the driving range.
To get a field assembled like this, well, I dont think you will ever see a pro-am like this put together ever again, Murphy said.
When Nicklaus took his first swings of the day to warm up, fans were lined up eight-deep behind him on the range. Never mind that at that very moment, Watson was on the first tee, Trevino was playing the fourth hole and OMeara was on the putting green ' people were there to see the 18-time major winner, still considered by many the greatest to ever play golf.
The 69-year-old Nicklaus found the waves of adoration a bit puzzling.
I dont know what theyre going to see, Nicklaus said before teeing off. Theyre just going to see an old man walk around a golf course and shoot 75, or more.
Nicklaus decided years ago that when he couldnt play the game at the level he wants, hed stop playing.
That time has essentially come.
He played one practice round for Mondays event, a father-son match Sunday at The Bears Club, the course Nicklaus himself designed and a place that many top PGA Tour pros such as Ernie Els and Luke Donald now call home.
Nicklaus played his first nine holes Sunday in 32.
Oh, sure, I enjoy that, Nicklaus said.
Over his final nine holes Sunday, he shot 43.
And then Im back to reality, Nicklaus said.
If he wanted, Nicklaus could still be the biggest draw on the Champions Tour, get warm receptions at every major, be besieged by autograph seekers at every charity tournament around the world.
Instead, he barely even watches golf on television anymore and might play for fun once a month at the most.
With the golf course design market ailing these days, another victim of the global economic downturn, Nicklaus still has a handful of design projects still going but is nowhere near as busy as hes been in recent years.
Ive played a lot of golf, Nicklaus said. I played my golf. Ive played the golf that I can play that was decent golf. I dont get a big charge out of shooting 75. I mean, guys, Im 69 years old. I enjoy doing things like today, but lets leave it at that.
Murphy called Nicklaus to play in the pro-am last year, thinking that the 2008 event would be the last. So Nicklaus agreed.
Then Murphy decided to go one more year, and asked Nicklaus for another favor. Like most pros who get a call from Murphy, Nicklaus didnt hesitate.
Were all pals, and weve all been doing a lot of things for each other for a lot of years, Murphy said. Its pretty fantastic when a Raymond Floyd and a Gary Player call and say they want to be part of it. Thats friendship.
Plans were revealed Monday afternoon for a similar event benefiting the hospital in 2010. The new tournament will be hosted by longtime LPGA stars Beth Daniel (who was in Mondays field) and Meg Mallon.
Imagine the thrill Charles Bohmert, Bob Chapin, Jim Garard and Ed James got when they saw Mondays pairings.
By luck of the draw, with 32 pros in the field, they were the four amateurs getting Nicklaus to lead their team.
My hats off to people like Jack, who take the time off to come down here, said Garard, a 76-year-old retired investor who is one of the largest private donors to the hospital, having given over $1 million of his personal fortune. Look at the crowds around him. Thats all a function of Jack. Thats very special for all of us.
Garard carries a 9 handicap. But with an estimated 1,000 people awaiting Nicklaus on the first tee, Garard was anything but confident. Safe to say, there usually isnt a gallery at Delray Dunes for a $2 Nassau.
Its very unnerving, Garard said, as he sidestepped the hordes of people following Nicklaus off the practice green.
But Garard got it away just fine, and laughed when Nicklaus greeted his team on the tee box by saying, Hope you guys play well, because Im not.
Moments later, Nicklaus split the fairway, hitting it 45 yards longer than anyone else in his group.
For a guy who doesnt play, he can still play.
Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long
Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.
Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.
"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"
The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.
Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.
"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."
Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.
"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.
"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.
"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."
Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA
Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.
Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.
Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.
With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.
Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.
“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”
Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.
Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday:
"It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."
Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return
Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.
Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.
Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.
Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.
“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.
As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar
Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.
With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.
That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.
That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.
And that’s a magic word in golf.
There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.
Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.
The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.
Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.
A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.
The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.
Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.
For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.
The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.
The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.
“It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida. “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’
“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”
And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.
“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”
The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.
Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.
The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.
Parity was the story this year.
Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.
Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.
The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.
The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.
“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”
If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.
Parity was the theme from the year’s start.
There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.
This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.
Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.
Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.
She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.
The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.