Shooting the Breeze with Jack

RSS

Editor's note: Golf Channel reporter Rich Lerner spent some time recently with Jack Nicklaus at The Del Webb Father/Son Challenge at ChampionsGate, Fla. Here is part of their casual conversation.
 
RL: You were always known as an intimidating player. Who was the most intimidating opponent for you to handle?
 
JN: (Lee) Trevino was probably the most intimidating player for the simple reason that he talked all the time. You could never get away from him. As a result you were thinking about him and he wanted you to think about him. That was an intimidating factor to me.
 
Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus' final major was in the 2005 Open Championship at St. Andrews.
RL: How intimidating is Tiger (Woods)?
 
JN: Tiger doesnt even have to play well. He just has to show up and be near the lead. Everybody gets intimidated just by the name Tiger. I dont think anybody does it on purpose. I dont think anyone is trying to intentionally do something. I certainly never did. The only thing I did was try to play the best I could. If that was intimidating then its intimidating. I dont think Tiger tries to do anything. He just does it. Arnold (Palmer) was just loved by the people. Trevino? He just liked to talk. You have to remember that golf is really an individual game. You cant control anything but yourself so you have to go out and control your own emotions and control your own inner self and stay focused on what youre doing.
 
RL: This April will be the 10-year anniversary of Tigers 1997 Masters win. What do you remember about that?
 
JN: I remember he shot 40 for the first nine holes and I guess I was driving to the airport after the last round and heard that he was making birdie after birdie after birdie. And I said, 'Well, I guess my (tournament scoring) records gonna go,' and just went on to the airport.
 
RL: Where do you think hes headed?
 
JN: The way he plays and as good as he is and with his work ethic who knows what his limits are? I think his limits are only what he wants to make them. Hes a good kid. He handles himself well. Hes considerate of the other guys. He doesnt try to intimidate anybody. He just does it with his golf game, with his golf clubs. Thats where he does his talking. And I think thats the way it should be done. Hes as good as Ive ever seen.
 
RL: Ive always wondered about the pose you struck on the 18th tee at Pebble Beach at the 2000 U.S. Open when you sat on the fence.
 
JN: I said, 'Id like to have a picture of me on the 18th tee.' Seriously, thats exactly what I thought: Id like to have a picture of me on the 18th hole! I said, 'Somebody will get a good picture of this. That will be my last hole at the US Open.' And they did. And thats the picture everybody ran. But the funny part about it is I never planned anything in my life that way. But I did. I said, 'I think Ill walk over and sit down and theyll get a good picture of this and I think one leg should be up,' and I choreographed it perfectly and got a nice picture. I just wanted it for me. I didnt really want it for the world, but it was OK!
 
RL: What about your farewell at St. Andrews last year when you stopped to wave on the Swilcan Bridge?
 
JN: I was gonna do that. That was one I couldnt avoid, but that was also a great picture. There was a friend of mine who took this picture down to get it framed. Now, you want to talk about an experience to bring you back down to earth. He went back down and said Id like to get the picture back and the guy said, 'You mean the one with the man in front of the house?' That was the description of the picture: Man in front of house!
 
RL: Not 'Legend at Old Course'?
 
JN: No, 'Man in front of house'!
 
RL: What are your favorite holes in golf?
 
JN: Holes that meant a lot to me. Fifteenth at Augusta; 16th at Augusta; 13th at Augusta; 12th (at Augusta) -- those are all favorite holes of mine because I played them well and they were strategic holes for me. The eighth hole at Pebble -- that whole stretch has always been one of my favorites. I love the 14th hole at Murifield Village, a little short par-4. I think its spectacular. I always loved the 10th at Riviera, a little short par-4. Ive copied the idea of that hole 20 times on golf courses. Its a wonderful strategic, little golf hole. The 18th at Riviera Ive always liked. Its an uphill, blind tee shot just like the eighth hole at Pebble -- a lousy tee shot but a wonderful second. Ive always loved the scene coming up the 18th at Baltusrol. There are certain shots that you like and certain scenes that are part of your career and part of your life, like the 18th and 17th at St. Andrews. I mean the 18th at St. Andrews is a nothing golf hole but what it is, where it is, and all the things that happened there, all that makes it spectacular. I mean the 17th, the shot into the Road Hole is one of the toughest shots there is. I love the little par-3, the 12th hole at Lytham; its one of my favorites. Ive copied the theory of that hole many times. I like the collection bunker there.
 
RL: Whats your view of 17 at Pebble, where you hit flag in the 72 Open?
 
JN: Seventeen at Pebble Beach to me was a hole where you were not necessarily rewarded for what you did. You had to get a little bit lucky. My ball had to hit the pin. It could have gone through the green. That was a wonderful golf shot but I couldve been penalized by it. And to me, I like a hole where you get actually what youve done and not where you can end up with a screwy result. I dont like screwy results.
 
RL: Speaking of screwy results, Carnousties back in the major rotation next summer. It doesnt get any screwier than 1999, does it?
 
(Jack shakes his head and raises his eyes skyward.)
 
JN: I talked to Jean (Van de Velde) about it afterwards and I said, 'Jean why?' and he said, 'Its just a golf tournament,' and I said, 'Jean, its not just a golf tournament; this is your life, this is your career.' And he sort of took a lighthearted approach to it. He picked the wrong club off the tee and got away with it. Now all hes got to do is take a 9-iron and a 9-iron and win by three strokes. You talk about giving away a tournament! That was the worst display of giving away something Ive ever seen. I feel badly for him. He lost his place in history. Or maybe he gained a place in history, I dont know?
 
RL: Who were the greatest characters in the game when you played?
 
JN: (Sam) Snead was a character. He was a piece of work. Trevino was a real piece of work. Gary was a piece of work. I suppose we all are in ways. There wasnt more of a character than Lee Trevino. Lees wonderful. I love Lee. Hes a terrific guy and the older hes gotten, the better hes gotten as a personality and a person. But the things he used to say to people? Ohhhhh! He was the only guy in the world who could get away with it! He was wonderful.
 
RL: Any stories?
 
JN: Nothing you could put on the air.
 
RL: We dont seem to see as many characters today.
 
JN: I think the guys today travel with their business agents, their fitness guy, their mind guru and their teacher. Theyve got their entourage. When we started out on tour I mean, sure, I had a plane, Ive had it since my second year on tour, but we used to go to motels and wives would look after other wives kids while they went and watched their husbands play and the next day theyd switch around. Nowadays, guys pick their courses based on how good the day care center is. I mean this is ridiculous. We took care of our kids. Thats the way it is today. They have everything handed to them and as a result, I dont think you become much of a character.
 
RL: Curious, what do you think of Johnny Miller as an announcer?
 
JN: I sit down with him a lot and talk to him about it. He says, I just say it like I see it, and I say Yeah, but dont be rude; be a little careful of somebodys feelings with what you say. Youre supposed to call it the way you see it, thats your job, thats why you get good ratings, but be careful. And Johnny says, Youre right. I think Johnny does a good job.
 
RL: Youre talking about his harsh analysis of Craig Parrys swing at Doral, where he used the word puke?
 
JN: Thats the kind of stuff Johnny and I have talked about. I say, Johnny, you dont have to say that.
 
RL: How much did you enjoy your travels with Arnold in your early days?
 
JN: Arnold and I had some great times traveling through the years. Arnold was great to me when I was young. Arnold had a plane when I first started and we used to travel a lot to play in exhibitions and we got in his Aero Commander 500 and off wed go and the two of us would bounce around in the sky and off wed go to play an exhibition in 30-mile-an-hour winds and laugh about it and get back in the plane and go to the next place.
 
RL: People might say, 'I thought you were fierce and bitter rivals.'
 
JN: We were! Even when we got out of the airplane and went and played the round of golf wed try to beat each others brains out. Wed get back in the airplane and had a great time. But thats competition. That was the fun of it.
 
Email your thoughts to Rich Lerner