Let Jack Decide
So where, exactly then, does that leave Jack Nicklaus in golf's titled pantheon?
His date of birth is listed as January 21, 1940. January 21 is a day for the swearing in of U.S. Presidents. Pity the poor Nicklaus biographer who has failed to assert that Nicklaus was inaugurated, not born, the day he came into the golfing world.
If Arnie is The King, to extend the metaphor, Jack is the Chief Executive.
All of which, right now, is part of the problem. Somebody needs to give Jack Nicklaus a Presidential pardon.
I am as guilty as the next person. Too many of us insist that we want Jack to play tournament golf as long as he is able to stand up and swing a club. He has been an idol and an icon for many of us. His departure from inside the ropes would be like losing a trusted friend and benefactor.
This is wrong. It is time to let Jack decide.
Nicklaus senses the obligation. So he battles on wearily at age 65, trying to tell us he wants to stop playing golf on the big stages. He is frustrated by two things: Our inability to hear his pleas; and his inability to produce the kind of golf he was able to conjure almost at will in his 20s, 30s, 40s and, on limited glorious occasions, in his 50s.
This is where Nicklaus and Palmer are different. And few seem to get that part either. Palmer is a warhorse in the truest and best sense of the word. When the golf balls go up in the air in the morning, he wants to be there. He loved playing more than winning. Nicklaus, it is my opinion, loved winning more than playing.
And now that he can't win, the playing can become tedious.
'I played my heart out,' Nicklaus said after missing the cut Friday at his own tournament in Ohio. 'I shot a 75 and a 77. That's not very good.'
We need to let Jack Nicklaus go gently into the good night if that is what he wants. We need to let him back outside the ropes if that is what he wishes.
Yes, of course, Nicklaus has been his own worst enemy at times on this score. He has retired and unretired more times than a prize fighter. He has been conflicted on this subject now for a quarter of a century. And the fickle nature of the game he conquered for so long hasn't helped either.
Golf is sport's ultimate siren song. One cleanly, crisply struck blow with a forged blade beckons us all back to the first tee for more inevitable torture by the certain and all-powerful vagaries of the game. The moment you think you've 'got it' in golf is the precise moment golf has 'got you.'
Can you imagine what it would be like to have been as good at anything as Jack Nicklaus was at golf only to wake up one morning and find out you simply can't call it up on demand like some pay-per-view movie?
We have watched Jack Nicklaus struggle with this. What we have ignored is him looking back at us. What must he see now? Adoring audiences begging him to produce more magic when the rabbit long since moved out of the hat?
It is time for us to start thinking a little more about Jack Nicklaus and a little less about ourselves when it comes to his future. And it is time for Jack Nicklaus to be made sure of the fact that when and if he decides to stop playing golf competitively, it will be OK with us.
Until that time, Hail to the Chief of golf. And until all the scores are added up at the Champions Tour event in which Nicklaus is playing this week, don't count him out.
Just be sure to never forget to count the memories he has provided. For it is only then that we will all fully realize that we owe him a lot more than he owes us.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore
Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.
Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.
There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.
Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.
The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.
Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again
Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.
Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.
It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.
Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.
While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.
McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call
Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.
Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.
The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.
McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.
McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.
Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title
The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.
Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.
Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.
Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.
Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.