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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LPGA awards: Ryu, S.H. Park tie for POY
NAPLES, Fla. – In the end, the CME Group Tour Championship played out a lot like the entire 2017 season did.
Nobody dominated the game’s big season-ending awards, though Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park came close.
Thompson walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. If she had made that last 2-foot putt at the 72nd hole Sunday, she might also have walked away with the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.
Park shared the Rolex Player of the Year Award with So Yeon Ryu. By doing so, Park joined Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year titles in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park also won the LPGA money-winning title.
Here’s a summary of the big prizes:
Rolex Player of the Year
Ryu and Park both ended up with 162 points in the points-based competition. Park started the week five points behind Ryu but made the up the difference with the five points she won for tying for sixth.
It marks the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.
Ryu and Park join Inbee Park as the only South Koreans to win the award. Park won it in 2013.
Thompson won the award with a scoring average of 69.114. Sung Hyun Park finished second at 69.247. Park needed to finish at least nine shots ahead of Thompson at the CME Group Tour Championship to win the trophy.
There were a record 12 players with scoring averages under 70.0 this year, besting the previous record of five, set last year.
CME Globe $1 million prize
Thompson entered the week first in the CME points reset, but it played out as a two-woman race on the final day. Park needed to finish ahead of Thompson in the CME Group Tour Championship to overtake her for the big money haul. Thompson tied for second in the tournament while Park tied for sixth.
By winning the CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn had a shot at the $1 million, but she needed Park to finish the tournament eighth or worse and Thompson to finish ninth or worse.
LPGA money-winning title
Park claimed the title with $2,335,883 in earnings. Ryu was second, with $1,981,593 in earnings.
The tour saw a tour-record 17 players win $1 million or more this season, two more than did so last year.
Ryu came into the week as the only player who could pass Park for the title, but Ryu needed to win to do so.
Rolex world No. 1 ranking
The top ranking was up for grabs at CME, with No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park and No. 3 So Yeon Ryu all within three hundredths of a ranking point. Even No. 4 Lexi Thompson had a chance to grab the top spot if she won, but in the end nobody could overtake Feng. Her reign will extend to a second straight week.
Rolex Rookie of the Year
Park ran away with the award with her U.S. Women’s Open and Canadian Pacific Women’s Open victories among her 11 top-10 finishes. She had the award locked up long before she arrived for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.
Ko ends first winless season with T-16 at CME
NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko carved a hybrid 3-iron to 15 feet and ended the most intensely scrutinized year of her young career with a birdie Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.
“Nice to finish the season on a high note,” Ko said after posting a 3-under-par 69, good for a tie for 16th. “Obviously, not a top-10 finish, but I played really solid. I feel like I finished the season off pretty strong.”
Ko posted two second-place finishes, a third-place finish and a tie for fifth in her last eight starts.
“Ever since Indy [in early September], I played really good and put myself in good positions,” Ko said. “I felt like the confidence factor was definitely higher than during the middle of the year. I had some opportunities, looks for wins.”
Sunday marked the end of Ko’s first winless season since she began playing LPGA events at 15 years old.
Let the record show, she left with a smile, eager to travel to South Korea to spend the next month with family after playing a charity event in Bradenton, Fla., on Monday.
Much was made of Ko beginning the year with sweeping changes, with new equipment (PXG), a new coach (Gary Gilchrist) and a new caddie (Peter Godfrey).
In the final summary, it wasn’t a Ko-like year, not by the crazy high standards she has set.
She saw her run of 85 consecutive weeks at No. 1 end in June. She arrived in Naples holding on to the No. 8 ranking. She ends the year 13th on the LPGA money list with $1,177,450 in earnings. It’s the first time she hasn’t finished among the top three in money in her four full years on tour. She did log 11 top-10 finishes overall, three second-place finishes.
How did she evaluate her season?
“I feel like it was a better year than everyone else thinks, like `Lydia is in a slump,’” Ko said. “I feel like I played solid.
“It's a season that, obviously, I learned a lot from ... the mental aspect of saying, `Hey, get over the bads and kind of move on.’”
Ko said she learned a lot watching Stacy Lewis deal with her run of second-place finishes after winning so much.
“Winning a championship is a huge deal, but, sometimes, it's overrated when you haven't won,” Ko said. “Like, you're still playing well, but just haven't won. I kind of feel like it's been that kind of year.
“I think everybody has little ups and downs.”
For Ariya, Lexi, finish was fabulous, frustrating
NAPLES, Fla. – Lexi Thompson can take a punch.
You have to give her that.
So can Ariya Jutanugarn, who beat Thompson in the gut-wrenching conclusion to the CME Group Tour Championship Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.
They both distinguished themselves overcoming adversity this season.
The problem for Thompson now is that she’ll have to wait two months to show her resolve again. She will go into the long offseason with the memory of missing a 2-foot putt for par that could have won her the championship, her first Rolex Player of the Year Award and her first Rolex world No. 1 ranking.
Thompson took home the CME Globe $1 million jackpot and Vare Trophy for low scoring as nice consolation prizes, but the Sunday finish was a lot like her season.
It was so close to being spectacular.
She was so close to dominating this year.
That last 2-foot putt Sunday would have put Thompson in the clubhouse at 15 under, with a one-shot lead, which would have added so much more pressure to Jutanugarn as she closed out.
Instead of needing to birdie the final two holes to force a playoff, Jutanugarn only needed to birdie one of them to assure extra holes. She went birdie-birdie anyway.
Thompson was on the practice putting green when she heard the day’s last roar, when Jutanugarn rolled in a 15-foot birdie to beat her.
“It wasn’t the way I wanted to end it,” Thompson said of the short miss. “I don’t really know what happened there. It just happens. I guess it’s golf.”
Thompson was asked if the weight of everything at stake affected her.
“No, honestly, I wasn’t thinking about it,” she said. “I putted great the whole day. I guess, maybe, there was just a little bit of adrenaline.
“We all go through situations we don’t like sometimes.”
Thompson endured more than she wanted this year.
She won twice, but there were six second-place finishes, including Sunday’s. There were three losses in playoffs.
There was the heart-wrenching blow at the ANA Inspiration, the season’s first major, when she looked as if she were going to run away with the title before getting blindsided by a four-shot penalty in the final round. There were two shots when a viewer email led to a penalty for mismarking her ball on a green in the third round, and two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard.
Thompson was in tears finishing that Sunday at Mission Hills, but she won a legion of new fans in the way she fought back before losing in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.
There was more heartache later in the spring, when Thompson’s mother, Judy, was diagnosed with uterine cancer, requiring surgery to remove a tumor and then radiation.
For Thompson fans, Sunday’s missed 2-foot putt was a cruel final blow to the year.
This time, there were no tears from Lexi afterward.
“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds . . . it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said. “This won’t either.”
After Thompson bounced back from the ANA loss to win the Kingsmill Invitational in May, she acknowledged how the loss motivated her.
“I'm as determined as any other person out here,” Thompson said. “We all want to win. I have a little bit more drive now.”
She was so close this year to elevating herself as the one true rock star in the women’s game. She will have a long offseason to turn Sunday’s disappointment into yet more fuel to get there.
Thompson will prepare for next year knowing Jutanugarn may be ramping her game back up to dominante, too.
Jutanugarn looked as if she were going to become a rock star after winning five times last year to claim the Rolex Player of the Year Award and then rising to No. 1 with a victory at the Manulife Classic back in May, but it didn’t happen.
Jutanugarn struggled through a summer-long slump.
She failed to make a cut in six of seven starts. It wasn’t as miserable a slump as she endured two years ago, when she missed 10 consecutive cuts, but it was troubling.
“Even though I played so badly the last few months, I learned a lot,” Jutanugarn said. “I’m growing up a lot, and I’m really ready to have some fun next year.”
Her surgically repaired shoulder was bothering her again, but it was more than that.
“This time it was more about becoming No. 1,” said Gary Gilchrist, her coach. “I think all of the responsibilities got to her.”
Gilchrist said he could see a different focus in Jutanugarn this week. He credited Vision 54s Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott for helping her deal with all the pressure that has mounted with her growing status.
“It’s been a long process,” Nilsson said. “She’s felt too much expectation from everybody else, where she loses focus on what she can do.”
Marriott said they asked Jutanugarn to come up with something she wanted to do to make herself proud this week, instead of worrying about what would please everyone else.
“I told my caddie, Les [Luark], that thinking about the No. 1 ranking wasn’t going to help me be a better golfer,” Jutanugarn said. “I wanted people to say, `Oh this girl, she’s really happy.’ That was my goal, to have fun.”
Late Sunday, hoisting the trophy, Jutanugarn looked like she was having a lot of fun.
Thomas vs. Rose could be Ryder Cup highlight
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – For those still digesting the end of 2017 – the European Tour did, after all, just wrap up its season in Dubai on Sunday – consider that the PGA Tour is already nearly one-fifth of the way into a new edition.
The Tour has already crowned eight champions as the game banks into the winter break, and there are some interesting trends that have emerged from the fall.
Dueling Justins: While Justin Thomas picked up where he left off last season, winning the inaugural CJ Cup in October just three weeks after claiming the FedExCup and wrapping up Player of the Year honors; Justin Rose seems poised to challenge for next year’s low Justin honors.
The Englishman hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since August and won back-to-back starts (WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open) before closing his year with a tie for fourth place in Dubai.
Note to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk: Justin v. Justin next September in Paris could be fun.
Youth served. Just in case anyone was thinking the pendulum might be swinging back in the direction of experience over youthful exuberance – 41-year-old Pat Perez did put the veterans on the board this season with his victory at the CIMB Classic – Patrick Cantlay solidified his spot as genuine phenom.
Following an injury-plagued start to his career, Cantlay got back on track this year, needing just a dozen starts to qualify for the Tour Championship. He went next level earlier this month with his playoff victory at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
They say these trends come and go in professional golf, but as the average age of winners continues to trend lower and lower it’s safe to say 25 is the new 35 on Tour.
A feel for it. For all the science that has become such a big part of the game – from TrackMan analysis to ShotLink statistics – it was refreshing to hear that Patton Kizzire’s breakthrough victory at the OHL Classic came down to a hunch.
With the tournament on the line and Rickie Fowler poised just a stroke back, Kizzire’s tee shot at the 72nd hole came to rest in an awkward spot that forced him to stand close to his approach shot to keep his feet out of the sand. His 8-iron approach shot sailed to 25 feet and he two-putted for par.
And how far did he have for that pivotal approach?
“I have no idea,” he laughed.
Fall facelift. Although the moving parts of the 2018-19 schedule appear to be still in flux, how the changes will impact the fall schedule is coming into focus.
The Tour’s goal is to end the season on Labor Day, which means the fall portion of the schedule will begin a month earlier than it does now. While many see that as a chance for the circuit to embrace a true offseason, it’s becoming increasingly clear that won’t be the case.
The more likely scenario is an earlier finish followed by a possible team competition, either the Ryder or Presidents cup, before the Tour kicks off a new season in mid-September, which means events currently played before the Tour Championship will slide to the fall schedule.
“So if you slide it back, somebody has to jump ahead. The mechanics of it,” said Davis Love III, host of the RSM Classic and a member of the Tour’s policy board. “I’m still going to go complain and beg for my day, but I also understand when they say, this is your date, make it work, then we'll make it work.”
While 2019 promises to bring plenty of change to the Tour, know that the wraparound season and fall golf are here to stay.
Product protection. Speaking of the fall schedule and the likely plan to expand the post-Tour Championship landscape, officials should also use the platform to embrace some protections for these events.
Consider that the RSM Classic featured the third-strongest field last week according to the Official World Golf Ranking, behind the season-ending tournament in Dubai on the European Tour and the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour.
The winner in Dubai received 50 World Ranking points, a marquee event that has historically been deeper than that week’s Tour stop, while the Dunlop Phoenix winner, Brooks Koepka, won 32 points. Austin Cook collected 30 points for his victory at Sea Island Resort.
All told, the Japan event had four players in the field from the top 50 in the world, including world No. 4 Hideki Matsuyama; while the highest-ranked player at the RSM Classic was Matt Kuchar at 15th and there were seven players from the top 50 at Sea Island Resort.
Under Tour rules, Koepka, as well as any other Tour members who competed either in Japan or Dubai, had to be granted conflicting-event releases by the circuit.
Although keeping players from participating in tournaments overseas is not an option, it may be time for the circuit to reconsider the conflicting-event policy if the result is a scenario like last week that relegates a Tour event to third on the international dance card.