Tiger, Jack, and the cost of remaining great after 40

By Joe PosnanskiDecember 31, 2015, 12:20 am

Editor's note: This article originally appeared on NBC Sports' SportsWorld site.

As Jack Nicklaus approached 40 years old, he faced a hard decision. He could feel his game getting away from him. Well, it was obvious. Nicklaus had just endured his first winless year as a professional.

Before 1979, Nicklaus had won at least TWICE every single year since he turned pro. Nicklaus finished 45th on the PGA Tour in earnings in 1979. He had finished first or second in earnings every other year during the 1970s.

But the most gruesome turn was at the major championships. At the end of the 1978 season, Nicklaus missed his first major championship cut since the 1960s. Then, in Nicklaus’ last major before turning 40, he finished 65th at the PGA Championship, the lowest post-cut finish of his entire career. Yes, Nicklaus could feel his game getting away from him, and he knew exactly why. His swing had gotten too shallow.

And Nicklaus faced the hard decision: Should he fix it?


Tiger Woods turns 40 Wednesday, five words I never expected to write. Every now and again, athletes come along and they seem invulnerable to age — you just keep waiting and waiting for them to turn back the clock. Mike Tyson was like that. Jerry Rice was like that. Roger Federer is like that. Most of all, there’s Tiger Woods. People just can’t give up on him.

Well, there’s a good reason for that. Nobody ever played golf like him. Nobody ever played any game quite like him. I was there in Louisville fifteen years ago, when Woods was just 25 years old and playing to win his third consecutive major championship.

Of course, he was playing for more than just a third straight major. Everything Woods did in those days felt new; he was Magellan discovering new golfing lands. He had won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15 shots in what most golf historians will still tell you was the greatest performance in the history of the sport. Then, he shot 19 under par at the Open Championship at St. Andrews, turning that holy ground into a putt-putt course.

He was, as Tom Watson said, the longest hitter, the straightest hitter, and the best iron player. Woods had the best short game, the most imagination around the greens, he was the best putter, and he thought his way around the golf course better than anyone. He was, essentially, unbeatable. Nobody — not even Nicklaus — achieved such heights.

In his first round at the PGA Championship in Louisville, he was paired with Jack Nicklaus. It was meant to be a sweet moment, the old master playing with the young one. Nicklaus was 60 years old. Woods was 25.

Nicklaus shot 77. Woods shot 66. But it wasn’t the score that mattered. It was the golf.

“He could have shot 60,” Nicklaus gushed. “He was unlucky.”

Yes, in those days Tiger Woods was indelible. He seemed immune to the inconvenient laws of humanity such as bad days or aging.



As Jack Nicklaus approached 40, he more or less stopped working on his golf game. For one thing, he didn’t have to work at it. His swing was grooved. His mind was sharp. He had a near-photographic memory for golf shots, so wherever he played he had an enormous catalog of recollections to work from.

But, second thing, his life had changed. Golf had just become less important. Winning had become less important. His kids were growing up, playing sports and he wasn’t going to miss their games. And, really, what else was left to prove? He had already won more major championships than anyone. He had already won enough money.

He pared down his schedule. He spent more time building his business. When I asked Nicklaus how often he practiced in those days, he said just one word: “Never.” Nicklaus wasn’t exactly a part-time golfer, but he certainly wasn’t a full-time golfer.

And so, he had to think hard about rebuilding his swing. As every middle-aged golfer can tell you: It is very, very hard to fix a golf swing. Nicklaus wasn’t sure he wanted to work that hard. Nicklaus wasn’t convinced that he could pull off the change. And, perhaps most to the point, Nicklaus did not know if changing would be worth the effort. Nicklaus played golf to win. Fixing the swing would only be worth the time and effort if he could again become the best golfer in the world. And he wasn’t sure.

Nicklaus will tell you that he very seriously considered retiring. Then, he talked with his wife Barbara.

“Jack,” Barbara said. “You love golf. I don’t think you’re ready to give this up yet.”

That made sense to him. He asked his old coach Jack Grout to come live nearby. He decided to try and fix the swing.


In Louisville, in 2000, Tiger Woods entered the final day of the PGA Championship with a one-shot lead over a couple of grinders named Scott Dunlap and Bob May. We reporters went to the golf course to write about a coronation.

Instead, we got a shocker. One those grinders — a 31-year-old Bob May — decided to have the day of his life. May birdied the second hole to take a one-shot lead. He birdied the sixth to make it a two-shot lead. It was confusing and spectacular at the same time.

And so began one of the great and unlikely duels in golf history. May and Woods had been born 17 miles apart in Southern California, and May was the big deal when Woods was growing up. Maybe that gave May confidence. Maybe it all just seemed so improbable that May was able to let go of his doubts.

Whatever the reason, when Woods made back-to-back birdies to tie for the lead, May seemed unperturbed. He countered with three consecutive birdies on the back nine to take the lead back. May led by one going into the 17th hole.

Then Woods did something that seemed unreal: He blasted a 324-yard drive right down the center of the fairway. That doesn’t sound all that impressive now, but you have to remember, this was back when a 300-yard drive blew up the imagination. In 2015, 26 PGA Tour golfers averaged 300-plus yards on their drives, led by Dustin Johnson at a staggering 317.7 yards.

But in 2000, there was only one — John Daly. And he hit almost never hit the ball straight.

So Woods’ 324-yard laser drive seemed like something out of a dream. Then, following that up, Woods hit a towering iron shot that stopped two feet from the cup. He made the birdie putt to tie the match.

On the next hole, Woods needed to sink a curling downhill 7-footer just to force a playoff. He made the birdie. Woods never missed important putts in those days. On the first hole of the playoff, Woods needed a 20-foot birdie to take the lead. No only did Woods make the putt, he walked behind it and pointed at the hole as if to say, “Get in there ball. That’s a good ball.”

That was the birdie that won Woods the 2000 PGA Championship. You see highlights of it all the time now.

“You have to reach deep inside yourself,” Woods said when asked how he did it. He smiled brightly. Woods could do anything he wanted. And it sure seemed like he would be young forever.


Nicklaus did fix his golf swing. It took a lot of grueling practice, and more than once during the process, he turned to his teacher Jack Grout and said, “I’m getting too old for this.” But he worked harder on his swing than he had in 20 years. And it worked, and Nicklaus had one of the great renaissances in golf history.

At 40, Nicklaus won the U.S. Open at Baltusrol, his fourth U.S. Open championship.

“I want to stop the retirement talk right now,” he said. “I’m not going to retire. Perhaps I should. Perhaps I don’t have any sense. If I wanted to go out with all the dramatics, I would say goodbye. But I kind of like this crazy game.”

Later that year, he won his fifth PGA Championship.

At 42 years old, he was on the brink of winning his fifth U.S. Open when that son-of-a-gun Tom Watson chipped in on him.

Finally, at 46 years old, he won his sixth Masters, the 18th major championship of his glorious career. It was that final chapter that pushed Nicklaus’ major championship record to where no one will reach it for a very long time.

If he had retired at 40, he would have finished with 15 major championships — just one more than Tiger Woods has right now.


Tiger Woods turns 40 Wednesday, and he’s ranked 416th in the world, and he does not know when he will pick up a golf club again. His body has betrayed him again and again over the last few years. The countless violent swings have taken their toll.

Nobody, not even Tiger Woods, knows if he will come back, when he will come back or how well he will come back. It’s all in limbo. Woods is in that awkward time when it is too soon to write the requiem for his career, but it is too late to be especially hopeful about the future. He faces daunting odds.

But he is Tiger Woods. And with Woods, it is hard to let go of the brilliant past — it feels so close. It feels like just yesterday that Woods played such sublime golf that everyone else just faded into the background. It’s hard to believe that golf is gone forever.

Woods’ challenge is much greater than Nicklaus’ was. Woods has to get healthy before he can even try to formulate a swing for his age. Then, if that even happens, he has to find the drive to build his game again. Can he find it? He has young children. He has money. He has glory. He has his place in golf history.

“Did you really think about retiring before you turned 40?” I asked Jack Nicklaus.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I knew how hard it would be to come back. I could have retired and been very happy.”

Then he paused for a minute.

“But,” he finally said, “I’m glad I didn’t.”


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Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

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Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.