Pursuit of perfection unites Nicklaus, Woods

By Rex HoggardJune 3, 2015, 7:19 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – By virtue of the duo’s unique place in the competitive cosmos, Jack Nicklaus is Tiger Woods’ only equal.

With apologies to the game’s assorted greats, it was never Sam Snead’s 82 PGA Tour victories or Byron Nelson’s 18 single-season triumphs in 1945 that provided a litmus test for young Tiger.

It was always Jack and those 18 major championships.

They were on the wall of Woods’ childhood home in Cypress, Calif., and have provided a benchmark for a career that was otherwise inimitable. It’s also why it’s only Nicklaus who can provide meaningful insights into Woods’ future.

Whether Woods ever reaches that gold standard of 18 majors is very much in the balance considering that Tiger needed a dozen seasons to collect 14 Grand Slam bottle caps but has failed to add to that total in his last seven.

On Wednesday at the Memorial, however, it was clear the two remain cut from the same mold when Nicklaus – whose annual meet and greet with the media at Muirfield Village is can’t-miss sports journalism – offered a telling glimpse into the mind of a champion.

“I think I underachieved all my life,” the Golden Bear allowed. “That’s why I got better. I think if you feel you’re overachieving or getting more out of what you should get then you stop working.”

For all the slings and arrows Woods has endured in recent years, it is always curious when armchair analysts begin to pick apart his frequent, and often substantial, swing changes.


Memorial Tournament: Articles, videos and photos


It happened when he bolted Butch Harmon, with whom he’d enjoyed an embarrassment of riches, winning eight majors and 26.8 percent of his Tour starts, for Hank Haney in 2004.

The same cries could be heard when he traded Haney, with whom he won six majors, for Sean Foley in 2010, and now the chorus of concern has started to build that Chris Como, who began working with Woods last November as a “swing consultant,” is again the wrong guy.

Why change?

Because that’s what once-in-a-generation types do.

“I always wanted to climb a mountain. I always wanted to get better,” Nicklaus said. “I always felt like I never really achieved what I should have achieved. I still don’t think I achieved what I could have achieved in my career.”

To be historically accurate, Nicklaus never changed swing coaches or embarked on what technical types would consider a major overhaul. In fact, he never even allowed his coach, Jack Grout, onto the practice range with him at Tour events.

“He went to a lot of golf tournaments,” Nicklaus recalled. “[But] Jack Grout was back in the bleachers, and if I wanted something I'd just walk back in the bleachers and say, ‘What do you see, Jack Grout?’ He'd say, ‘Your head position is a little off.’ And that would be about it. And it was a pretty simple thing.”

Things are not that simple for Woods.

Maybe it’s the age we live in, maybe it’s the athlete. Either way, when Woods set out early Wednesday at Muirfield Village for his first tournament since The Players and his last before the U.S. Open Como was with him for every shot.

Como was even with Woods on Monday and Tuesday when he toured Chambers Bay, site of this month’s U.S. Open. Yet, while the times and attention have changed, the challenge remains the same.

It was the same way for Woods when he was with Foley and Haney. It’s the same way for many modern Tour players. The difference is for players of the ilk of Woods and Nicklaus the status quo, no matter how dominant, simply won’t do.

The distance between Woods and Nicklaus seems to have widened in recent years with Tiger now three major starts away from his 40s. For comparison purposes, Nicklaus won just three of his 18 majors in his 40s.

But what hasn’t changed is how Nicklaus and Woods view the game and their place in it. For all his struggles in recent years, Tiger has remained steadfast when it comes to the ultimate objective.

“It's about peaking at the right time, getting everything organized,” said Woods, who has now gone nearly two years without a victory and has dipped to 172nd in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“The main thing is I want to be able to start playing again, being in contention with a chance to win. I'd like to get there more often and give myself more opportunities to win.”

Woods has always been linked to Nicklaus as a historical milestone, but the common theme between the two can’t be found in the history books. Instead, it’s always been in the duo’s relentless pursuit of perfection.

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon. 

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”