He spoke Wednesday about giving up a game he once dominated, winning 73 PGA Tour events and 18 major titles.
'I'm about done playing golf,' the 64-year-old Nicklaus said at the Nationwide Tour's BMW Charity Pro-Am at The Cliffs. He's competing here with his four sons: Jackie, Gary, Steve and Michael.
'I haven't made up my mind whether I'm going to play anymore this year after the Memorial tournament' in June, Nicklaus said.
At the Masters this month, the six-time champion said it was likely that he would not play at Augusta National in 2005. And that was before he shot consecutive 75s to miss the cut.
Nicklaus has struggled with arthritis, injuries and a faltering game the past few seasons.
'I know I can't compete at the level I used to compete,' Nicklaus said. 'If I go out and finish in the top 10, and that's a great week, then I know it's time to hang up your spikes.'
Gary Player, 68, empathized with Nicklaus.
'It's hard spending all your time playing golf, like you did when you were a young man,' said Player, here with his son Marc.
A year ago, the Golden Bear was the only Nicklaus around for the Nationwide event's final two rounds. He won the pro-am competition with son Steve and briefly scared the younger pros when he got to within five shots of the lead after 36 holes. Nicklaus left with a smile on his face, happy he was close to again playing successful, competitive golf.
Time and his own high standards have made it hard to maintain that momentum, Nicklaus said.
People continually ask him not to quit. 'But I tell them, 'Well, you're not in my body,'' Nicklaus said.
A full day swinging clubs is more of a physical toll than ever before. 'It takes me a while before it wants to work,' he said. 'If I'm not playing golf, it doesn't hurt too much. If I am playing golf, that's when it really hurts.'
Nicklaus was on hand to present the Nationwide's 2003 player of the year award -- named in his honor -- to Zach Johnson, who claimed his first PGA Tour win this year at the BellSouth Classic.
Looking at the sculpture of a younger Nicklaus, he quipped: 'I was that thin once?'
Johnson said Nicklaus was an idol to so many young players.
'He was the man I looked up to in this game,' Johnson said.
Nicklaus started strongly on the Champions Tour this year, finishing sixth at the Mastercard Classic with rounds of 68, 66 and 67. But he's only played two other Champion events, none since March.
'If you're not capable of winning, then you're just cluttering up the field. That's the way I look at it,' Nicklaus said. 'Then again, maybe my standards are a little higher.'
His competitive fire still burns strongly. He recalled talking with Player after the 2002 Masters, when the South African was pleased with a 78 at a beefed up Augusta National.
'You're Gary Player,' Nicklaus chided his friend. 'You've won the tournament three times and you're proud to break 80?'
Then again, maybe Nicklaus just wants a break after so long in the spotlight. He returned to The Cliffs to play with his children, one of his life's great joys. Now, Nicklaus says he's just as happy to fish quietly with his wife, Barbara.
'I spent all my weekends the last 40 years in press rooms at golf courses,' Nicklaus said. 'Frankly, I just think it's time to ... do something else.'
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