A Walk with The Master

By Rich LernerMarch 19, 2004, 5:00 pm
The shoulder and back might be touch and go, but the nerve is still healthy.

'Yeah, I could finish in the top 10,' said Jack Nicklaus. He was not referring to this week's Toshiba Senior Classic. He thinks he can win here in Newport Beach. Jack was talking about the Masters.

It's important to understand the context of the statement. It was not made boastfully. In fact it was said somewhat reluctantly, after I had clumsily headed down a journalistic road that Jack simply hasn't visited in his lifetime. I recalled that six years ago at 58 Jack damn near won at Augusta National, and wondered at what age did he finally concede that winning was no longer realistic.

'I've never thought of it that way,' he told me. And I was instantly reminded exactly what's set him apart for all these years. Forget Trevino and Player and Watson and Miller and Floyd and all the hardened gunslingers whose bullets Jack dodged for all those years. Jack had the toughest foe of all two down on the back side. That's right, he was beating Father Time, who was quoted after the 1998 Masters as saying, 'Who the hell does this guy think he is?!'

Jack explained to me that because of the aches and pains it's been difficult to put in the work that it takes to shoot 65. And that's the frustrating part for Jack. He believes he can still go low, if only his body would allow him the chance.

'If 73's the best that I can do, I'm not interested,' he said.

At this point, Jack's reasonably healthy and therefore cautiously optimisitc, though he stated emphatically that he still hadn't committed to play in the Masters. While it's hard to imagine that he won't want to erase the memory of the 85 he shot there last year -- a score he called 'embarassing' -- he offered no timetable on this year's decision, only saying it would be based on his ability to compete. All indications are that he thinks he can.

In fact, he played Augusta last week.
 
'I can play it now with the ball,' he said. Among the strongest advocates of putting limits on the golf ball, Jack's no fool, either. As long as the rules are what they are, he's going to take advantage. He's using the new Callaway ball, and it's helped.

'I'm hitting the same clubs I always hit,' he explained. 'Two years ago I hit 3- or 4-wood into No. 1 and now I hit 6-iron.'

He hit the par-5 13th in two, found 13 greens in regulation but shot 76, mostly because the hole locations were on slopes.

By the way, our conversation took place as Jack allowed me to walk a couple of holes with him during the pro-am. For a reporter, golf's unique, because in baseball, for example, it's not possible to stand three feet from Pedro Martinez and talk baseball as he's unfurling 94-mile-per-hour gas. Or, better yet, it's not possible to stand three feet from a 60-something Sandy Koufax and talk baseball as he's going through his paces on the mound. It is in golf, and so Jack continued to play and talk. I watched and listened.

His touch still looks good. He crafted a nifty up and in from a downhill lie with the green running away from him at the par-3 17th.

The subject then turned to Tiger. Technology, Jack believes, has helped Tiger's pursuers narrow the gap. 'If everyone went back to the equipment we played,' Jack said, 'he'd be even better.'

As we strode up the 18th, Jack began to tally up the more important numbers these days. He related that his 17th grandchild is on the way, as Gary and his wife, Amy, are expecting in July.

'Boy or girl?' I asked.

'Oh, I don't know,' he said. 'But in this family, odds are it'll be a boy!' Of the five Nicklaus children, four are boys. Of the16 Nicklaus grandchildren, 13 are boys.

Just short of the par-5 last in two, Jack flipped a sand wedge over a bunker to about a foot. He looked back at me, smiled and winked. 'Just put that in the bag,' he said as he walked up to toward the hole.

His caddie, Scott Lubin, an assistant pro at The Bear's Club back in South Florida, laughed.

'This one has grooves,' Lubin quipped. Jack had worn out the grooves on the old 58 degree club after eight years. 'He shaved the new one and grounded it down himself.'

April's approaching. Jack's tinkering, getting ready.
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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.