My Day with Jack Nicklaus
My Day with Jack NicklausOK, it was five minutes.
I must say, in no uncertain terms, interviewing Jack Nicklaus about the Nicklaus Golf Equipment Company last week was an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Adam Barr and I traveled to Cape Charles, Virginia near Norfolk to hook up with Mr. Nicklaus at the grand opening of the Nicklaus Signature Course at Bay Creek Resort and Club. The master-planned community, developed by Dick Foster, boasts a Palmer designed course opened a couple of years ago, and now, the new Nicklaus course. The two golf courses crisscross one another on a wonderful piece of property set against the back-drop of the Chesapeake Bay.
Adam was there to interview Jack in connection with an upcoming episode of Whats in the Bag? I would handle the business reporter interview for an upcoming report on Golf Central.
Against a glorious blue sky in the breezy late-morning, a crowd of some 1,300 people eagerly awaited the arrival of golfs greatest champion. On cue and almost on time, a white and green corporate helicopter circled over the property before descending below the tree line and delivering its passengers: Dick Foster and his wife as well as Jack Nicklaus. Moments later a multi-passenger golf cart carrying the Fosters and Mr. Nicklaus arrived at the media area where questions from various media were asked respectfully and answered with aplomb.
Never before had I hoped more that a dignitary and his entourage would be late. You see, I havent yet mentioned that our cameraman, with only minutes left before we are supposed to interview Mr. Nicklaus, had not yet arrived. His plane was diverted from Charlotte, NC to Columbus, SC the night before. He was able to get a flight the next morning ' interview day ' that would put him in Norfolk with just enough time to drive to the resort. That was the theory, at any rate. Yet, there we were, with about ten minutes to go before the general press-conference ended, and still no cameraman. It was nervous going.
Just as the press conference started to wind down I felt a tap on my shoulderthe cameraman. A wave of relief, but with no time to spare, we darted over to our pre-arranged spot and set up for the upcoming interviews. They were to follow a brief clinic being given by Mr. Nicklaus to the crowd of excited attendees.
Jack was on form and in good spirits. He delighted old and young alike with fun stories mixed in with solid golf shots as he presented his clinic. Working through his bag from wedge to driver as is his custom, he demonstrated a form of call-shot golf the likes of which I had not previously had the pleasure of seeing. We all got the sense that if he could find 30 more yards off the tee hed still be a factor in majors today.
The clinic finished to great applause and a show of genuine affection from the crowd. Then, Mr. Nicklaus headed our way. Good, you say. On time and good to gothings moving along in order now. Well, yes. But folks, Ive got to be honest with you, I was getting nervous. This was something akin to going to the top of the mountain for me. I share with you unabashedly my respect and admiration for Mr. Nicklaus. Being an objective journalist is one thing, and its important. But, hey, come on. This is Jack Nicklaus. And, its my first time with him. Adam has had several experiences with Jack so he was relatively relaxed. I acted relaxed, but inside, my stomach was doing cartwheels.
Adam made the introductions and explained what we were going to do. There was no nonsense, no laughs, no wasted time. There was a schedule to keep and we didnt intend to be the ones that threw it off track.
I instantly recognized the same thing in Mr. Nicklaus eyes and demeanor that I had noticed when I first interviewed Tom Watson; intensity. A take command intensity and presence that can leave one feeling slightly out of breath. Polite, yes. Accommodating, you bet. But, serious and in chargeno doubt about it.
Adam went first. He was flawless as usualno flubs. Adam is good, friends, really good. Now, Mr. Nicklaus has never been accused of being short on words or opinions when asked a question. For an interviewer, this makes the job relatively easy. Just dont screw up the question and get out of the way so Jack can be Jack. Adam and Jack went for five minutes and it was over.
My turn. Holy smokes. Shoulder to shoulder with the greatest golfer who has ever lived. Standing next to a man I have watched on television for decades doing things with a golf ball that we all know can only be described as heroic, legendary, divine. Standing next to a man, that, when I was a kid, in the dusk hours of a hot summer day on my local golf course, I would pretend to besinking a putt to win a major. Yeah, objective, thats it.
As our cameraman was setting the final framing and focus, the neatest thing happened. Mr. Nicklaus tapped my elbow, almost imperceptibly, and looked right at me. I mean right at me as if I was the only person alive. He simply said, Beautiful day isnt it. Beautiful day, beautiful place. There was a twinkle in his light blue eyes when he said it. And I had no question in my mind as to what he was actually saying; relax, everythings going to be just fine. And with that all my butterflies went away.
Here is what resulted.
Mr. Nicklaus, youre championship record speaks for itself. Youre also one of the most enduring entrepreneurs in the game of golf. Are you happy with the 06 line-up for Nicklaus golf equipment this year?
Well, you know, Ill tell you. I go back to a few years ago. And we struggled a little bit at Nicklaus Golf with what our equipment identity was. And I struggled with it because wed have clubs and Id always have to go manufacture something else to play with. And over the last five or six years ' since we hired Clay Long back ' and Clay has been working with us, weve been able to come with a line of golf clubs where I now have fourteen Nicklaus golf clubs in my bag every time I ever appear out on a golf course. Which Im very proud of. Because I think you need a complete line of equipment.
Nelson Doubleday was my partner for years at Nicklaus Golf and I bought the other half of the company back this year. So I own all of Nicklaus Golf this year and its the first time Ive really been able to set a direction with it. And were working now on developing a long-term plan, developing what we are really going to do. Are we going to remain a boutique company, which is basically what we are right now? We are small company, between 30 and 35 million dollars in sales, and, we dont advertise. Its word of mouth. People usually get our clubs in their hands and they dont leave their hands once they try them. The hardest part is how do you get somebody to put a club in their hands? Were able to deliver a club to the market at a price that is probably about half of what somebody else is ' its the exact same thing, but, we dont have to pay 75 or a 100 million dollars in marketing which most of the large companies are spending. And, its hard to compete because people walk in to the shop and they want to ask for those clubs that they hear being advertised. But, our clubs work. Im proud of them. We have a good variety of clubs. I play an iron very much like Ive played all along. We have a hard time giving it away because its not the modern day club. Its the old club, but, its what I played and I think we should have what I play in the line. And weve kept that in there for a long time. And then we have another couple of lines of good players clubs, average players clubs, and player improvement clubsa good blend through there. We have a variety of wedges, we have a variety of putters, we have a variety of things that we think gives us a pretty good cross section of the market without having too many varieties that really overburdens a small company like us.
Well, Mr. Nicklaus, I had a chance to talk to Clay Long, your chief designer, about the new Airmax 460 DPT driver. Lets hear what he has to say.
We initiated the new Airmax design in 2002. And this is the third iteration of that driver now at 460 cc and with some wonderful improvements in performance. The new 460 cc Airmax DPT driver is, we believe, the finest performing driver that weve made to date. DPT stands for Dual Point Technology which is essentially aligning the center of gravity of the head up with the most flexible point on the face, or, the hottest point on the face. We call this the maximum face flexibility point. By aligning these two points together, when you contact the ball there you get the maximum energy transfer and maximum ball speed and we think the finest performance you can get in a driver.
And, Clay, what can you tell us about the Nicklaus Dual Slot wedges?
The Dual Slot wedge line has a little feature on the sole of the wedge by the heel to relieve the heel so that when you open the blade to hit a sand shot or a flop shot you can get the heel started under the ball quicker than you can with a conventional sole. You see a lot of soles, particularly on the tour, where the heels are just ground offsmoothed offand weve tapered that to some degree and then weve relieved it even more with a couple of little slots. So, when you open the club up, you get that benefit. When you hit it with a square face, just a normal pitch shot, the slots dont come in to play and dont affect the bottom of the golf club. We think it adds another dimension to the playability of a wedge.
And then, back to Mr. Nicklaus, I said
Jack, youve put the Airmax 460 DPT in your bag. Are you happy with it?
Yeah. I think its a good driver. I cant really tell a whole lot of difference between it and last years golf club which was the 440. But, I think it probably gets the ball up a little quicker and probably gives it a little flatter flight for me and a little higher launch angle which is really the place I think you get more distance. But, I think everybody has to find out for themselves what really works for them. The 460 is obviously the largest you can go now and I think thats large enough. It has a big sweet-spot and the dual face that we use is something we came out with three or four years ago. We have a little softer initial face, a little thinner, so it gets you a little bit more trampoline affect. But, the back face behind it wont let you exceed the COR limit. Where the good player hits it, he can only go so far. But, the average golfer gets a little bit more help with a slower club head speed. Its been very successful for us. You know, its kind of funny, I get the women at the club at home and every once in a while will try it and then she sells about ten of them to all her friends because she says, I hit it farther than Ive ever hit it in my life. Ive got to have all my friends try this club. You know, thats a nice thing. But, thats the way we advertisethats the way we do itby word of mouth. Were not big enough to start a media campaign.
As always, we appreciate your time Mr. Nicklaus. Lets head back to the Golf Central desk.
So, there it wasfinished. Done. No flubs. Smiles all around, hand shakes, on schedulea success. I was glad it was over and sad it was over all at the same time. But, it wasnt over.
Adam, never one to be shy, says, You know, Mr. Nicklaus, Casey is too modest to admit it, but, last November he aced number 12 at Muirfield Village. Jacks eyes lit up like a new day had just dawned. A big smile came across his face and he said, You did? Whenlast November? We were re-doing the back tees last November. You must have hit from the front tee. What was that, a nine iron?
Well, yes Mr. Nicklaus, I said, It was a nine-iron.
Jack didnt let up. With the same attitude one of your golf buddies would ask you to explain a shot, he said, Come on, give me the details. How did the shot come off? Did you see it go in?
I replied honestly that I didnt see the shot go in. Adam saw the ball go in the hole. I hit the bloody thing thin and was too busy picking my tee up to actually see it go in the hole. Stooped over to collect my tee I heard Adam exclaim, It went in! It went in the hole!
To that Mr. Nicklaus said, Casey, if theyre on line, even if it didnt feel good, watch em. Always watch them till they stop.
Another shake of the hand, a wink and a smile and off he went to christen his new signature course with an 18-hole exhibition. And Jack Nicklaus just got ten feet taller in my book.
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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54
Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.
McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.
Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.
McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.
McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, four shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.
Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.
“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”
Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.
Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.
''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''
First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.
''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''
David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.
The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''
The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros
Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.
Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.
I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.
One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.
So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?
You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?
Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?
I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.
This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.
Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:
Once we give 'em a lesson, we are faced with:— Trackman Maestro (@TrackmanMaestro) January 16, 2018
A. Will they do what we asked them to do
B. Can they do what we asked them to do
C. Will they put in the practice time
D. The fact that golf is a hard game
We face multiple barriers as golf instructors.
On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.
The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:
“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”
Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.
Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.
Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.
Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field
Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.
Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.
In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.
Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.
After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth.
Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.