My Day with Jack NicklausOK, it was five minutes.
I must say, in no uncertain terms, interviewing Jack Nicklaus about the Nicklaus Golf Equipment Company last week was an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Adam Barr and I traveled to Cape Charles, Virginia near Norfolk to hook up with Mr. Nicklaus at the grand opening of the Nicklaus Signature Course at Bay Creek Resort and Club. The master-planned community, developed by Dick Foster, boasts a Palmer designed course opened a couple of years ago, and now, the new Nicklaus course. The two golf courses crisscross one another on a wonderful piece of property set against the back-drop of the Chesapeake Bay.
Adam was there to interview Jack in connection with an upcoming episode of Whats in the Bag? I would handle the business reporter interview for an upcoming report on Golf Central.
Against a glorious blue sky in the breezy late-morning, a crowd of some 1,300 people eagerly awaited the arrival of golfs greatest champion. On cue and almost on time, a white and green corporate helicopter circled over the property before descending below the tree line and delivering its passengers: Dick Foster and his wife as well as Jack Nicklaus. Moments later a multi-passenger golf cart carrying the Fosters and Mr. Nicklaus arrived at the media area where questions from various media were asked respectfully and answered with aplomb.
Never before had I hoped more that a dignitary and his entourage would be late. You see, I havent yet mentioned that our cameraman, with only minutes left before we are supposed to interview Mr. Nicklaus, had not yet arrived. His plane was diverted from Charlotte, NC to Columbus, SC the night before. He was able to get a flight the next morning ' interview day ' that would put him in Norfolk with just enough time to drive to the resort. That was the theory, at any rate. Yet, there we were, with about ten minutes to go before the general press-conference ended, and still no cameraman. It was nervous going.
Just as the press conference started to wind down I felt a tap on my shoulderthe cameraman. A wave of relief, but with no time to spare, we darted over to our pre-arranged spot and set up for the upcoming interviews. They were to follow a brief clinic being given by Mr. Nicklaus to the crowd of excited attendees.
Jack was on form and in good spirits. He delighted old and young alike with fun stories mixed in with solid golf shots as he presented his clinic. Working through his bag from wedge to driver as is his custom, he demonstrated a form of call-shot golf the likes of which I had not previously had the pleasure of seeing. We all got the sense that if he could find 30 more yards off the tee hed still be a factor in majors today.
The clinic finished to great applause and a show of genuine affection from the crowd. Then, Mr. Nicklaus headed our way. Good, you say. On time and good to gothings moving along in order now. Well, yes. But folks, Ive got to be honest with you, I was getting nervous. This was something akin to going to the top of the mountain for me. I share with you unabashedly my respect and admiration for Mr. Nicklaus. Being an objective journalist is one thing, and its important. But, hey, come on. This is Jack Nicklaus. And, its my first time with him. Adam has had several experiences with Jack so he was relatively relaxed. I acted relaxed, but inside, my stomach was doing cartwheels.
Adam made the introductions and explained what we were going to do. There was no nonsense, no laughs, no wasted time. There was a schedule to keep and we didnt intend to be the ones that threw it off track.
I instantly recognized the same thing in Mr. Nicklaus eyes and demeanor that I had noticed when I first interviewed Tom Watson; intensity. A take command intensity and presence that can leave one feeling slightly out of breath. Polite, yes. Accommodating, you bet. But, serious and in chargeno doubt about it.
Adam went first. He was flawless as usualno flubs. Adam is good, friends, really good. Now, Mr. Nicklaus has never been accused of being short on words or opinions when asked a question. For an interviewer, this makes the job relatively easy. Just dont screw up the question and get out of the way so Jack can be Jack. Adam and Jack went for five minutes and it was over.
My turn. Holy smokes. Shoulder to shoulder with the greatest golfer who has ever lived. Standing next to a man I have watched on television for decades doing things with a golf ball that we all know can only be described as heroic, legendary, divine. Standing next to a man, that, when I was a kid, in the dusk hours of a hot summer day on my local golf course, I would pretend to besinking a putt to win a major. Yeah, objective, thats it.
As our cameraman was setting the final framing and focus, the neatest thing happened. Mr. Nicklaus tapped my elbow, almost imperceptibly, and looked right at me. I mean right at me as if I was the only person alive. He simply said, Beautiful day isnt it. Beautiful day, beautiful place. There was a twinkle in his light blue eyes when he said it. And I had no question in my mind as to what he was actually saying; relax, everythings going to be just fine. And with that all my butterflies went away.
Here is what resulted.
Mr. Nicklaus, youre championship record speaks for itself. Youre also one of the most enduring entrepreneurs in the game of golf. Are you happy with the 06 line-up for Nicklaus golf equipment this year?
Well, you know, Ill tell you. I go back to a few years ago. And we struggled a little bit at Nicklaus Golf with what our equipment identity was. And I struggled with it because wed have clubs and Id always have to go manufacture something else to play with. And over the last five or six years ' since we hired Clay Long back ' and Clay has been working with us, weve been able to come with a line of golf clubs where I now have fourteen Nicklaus golf clubs in my bag every time I ever appear out on a golf course. Which Im very proud of. Because I think you need a complete line of equipment.
Nelson Doubleday was my partner for years at Nicklaus Golf and I bought the other half of the company back this year. So I own all of Nicklaus Golf this year and its the first time Ive really been able to set a direction with it. And were working now on developing a long-term plan, developing what we are really going to do. Are we going to remain a boutique company, which is basically what we are right now? We are small company, between 30 and 35 million dollars in sales, and, we dont advertise. Its word of mouth. People usually get our clubs in their hands and they dont leave their hands once they try them. The hardest part is how do you get somebody to put a club in their hands? Were able to deliver a club to the market at a price that is probably about half of what somebody else is ' its the exact same thing, but, we dont have to pay 75 or a 100 million dollars in marketing which most of the large companies are spending. And, its hard to compete because people walk in to the shop and they want to ask for those clubs that they hear being advertised. But, our clubs work. Im proud of them. We have a good variety of clubs. I play an iron very much like Ive played all along. We have a hard time giving it away because its not the modern day club. Its the old club, but, its what I played and I think we should have what I play in the line. And weve kept that in there for a long time. And then we have another couple of lines of good players clubs, average players clubs, and player improvement clubsa good blend through there. We have a variety of wedges, we have a variety of putters, we have a variety of things that we think gives us a pretty good cross section of the market without having too many varieties that really overburdens a small company like us.
Well, Mr. Nicklaus, I had a chance to talk to Clay Long, your chief designer, about the new Airmax 460 DPT driver. Lets hear what he has to say.
We initiated the new Airmax design in 2002. And this is the third iteration of that driver now at 460 cc and with some wonderful improvements in performance. The new 460 cc Airmax DPT driver is, we believe, the finest performing driver that weve made to date. DPT stands for Dual Point Technology which is essentially aligning the center of gravity of the head up with the most flexible point on the face, or, the hottest point on the face. We call this the maximum face flexibility point. By aligning these two points together, when you contact the ball there you get the maximum energy transfer and maximum ball speed and we think the finest performance you can get in a driver.
And, Clay, what can you tell us about the Nicklaus Dual Slot wedges?
The Dual Slot wedge line has a little feature on the sole of the wedge by the heel to relieve the heel so that when you open the blade to hit a sand shot or a flop shot you can get the heel started under the ball quicker than you can with a conventional sole. You see a lot of soles, particularly on the tour, where the heels are just ground offsmoothed offand weve tapered that to some degree and then weve relieved it even more with a couple of little slots. So, when you open the club up, you get that benefit. When you hit it with a square face, just a normal pitch shot, the slots dont come in to play and dont affect the bottom of the golf club. We think it adds another dimension to the playability of a wedge.
And then, back to Mr. Nicklaus, I said
Jack, youve put the Airmax 460 DPT in your bag. Are you happy with it?
Yeah. I think its a good driver. I cant really tell a whole lot of difference between it and last years golf club which was the 440. But, I think it probably gets the ball up a little quicker and probably gives it a little flatter flight for me and a little higher launch angle which is really the place I think you get more distance. But, I think everybody has to find out for themselves what really works for them. The 460 is obviously the largest you can go now and I think thats large enough. It has a big sweet-spot and the dual face that we use is something we came out with three or four years ago. We have a little softer initial face, a little thinner, so it gets you a little bit more trampoline affect. But, the back face behind it wont let you exceed the COR limit. Where the good player hits it, he can only go so far. But, the average golfer gets a little bit more help with a slower club head speed. Its been very successful for us. You know, its kind of funny, I get the women at the club at home and every once in a while will try it and then she sells about ten of them to all her friends because she says, I hit it farther than Ive ever hit it in my life. Ive got to have all my friends try this club. You know, thats a nice thing. But, thats the way we advertisethats the way we do itby word of mouth. Were not big enough to start a media campaign.
As always, we appreciate your time Mr. Nicklaus. Lets head back to the Golf Central desk.
So, there it wasfinished. Done. No flubs. Smiles all around, hand shakes, on schedulea success. I was glad it was over and sad it was over all at the same time. But, it wasnt over.
Adam, never one to be shy, says, You know, Mr. Nicklaus, Casey is too modest to admit it, but, last November he aced number 12 at Muirfield Village. Jacks eyes lit up like a new day had just dawned. A big smile came across his face and he said, You did? Whenlast November? We were re-doing the back tees last November. You must have hit from the front tee. What was that, a nine iron?
Well, yes Mr. Nicklaus, I said, It was a nine-iron.
Jack didnt let up. With the same attitude one of your golf buddies would ask you to explain a shot, he said, Come on, give me the details. How did the shot come off? Did you see it go in?
I replied honestly that I didnt see the shot go in. Adam saw the ball go in the hole. I hit the bloody thing thin and was too busy picking my tee up to actually see it go in the hole. Stooped over to collect my tee I heard Adam exclaim, It went in! It went in the hole!
To that Mr. Nicklaus said, Casey, if theyre on line, even if it didnt feel good, watch em. Always watch them till they stop.
Another shake of the hand, a wink and a smile and off he went to christen his new signature course with an 18-hole exhibition. And Jack Nicklaus just got ten feet taller in my book.
Email your thoughts to Casey Bierer