Tiger, Jack, and the cost of remaining great after 40

By Joe PosnanskiDecember 31, 2015, 12:20 am

Editor's note: This article originally appeared on NBC Sports' SportsWorld site.

As Jack Nicklaus approached 40 years old, he faced a hard decision. He could feel his game getting away from him. Well, it was obvious. Nicklaus had just endured his first winless year as a professional.

Before 1979, Nicklaus had won at least TWICE every single year since he turned pro. Nicklaus finished 45th on the PGA Tour in earnings in 1979. He had finished first or second in earnings every other year during the 1970s.

But the most gruesome turn was at the major championships. At the end of the 1978 season, Nicklaus missed his first major championship cut since the 1960s. Then, in Nicklaus’ last major before turning 40, he finished 65th at the PGA Championship, the lowest post-cut finish of his entire career. Yes, Nicklaus could feel his game getting away from him, and he knew exactly why. His swing had gotten too shallow.

And Nicklaus faced the hard decision: Should he fix it?


Tiger Woods turns 40 Wednesday, five words I never expected to write. Every now and again, athletes come along and they seem invulnerable to age — you just keep waiting and waiting for them to turn back the clock. Mike Tyson was like that. Jerry Rice was like that. Roger Federer is like that. Most of all, there’s Tiger Woods. People just can’t give up on him.

Well, there’s a good reason for that. Nobody ever played golf like him. Nobody ever played any game quite like him. I was there in Louisville fifteen years ago, when Woods was just 25 years old and playing to win his third consecutive major championship.

Of course, he was playing for more than just a third straight major. Everything Woods did in those days felt new; he was Magellan discovering new golfing lands. He had won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15 shots in what most golf historians will still tell you was the greatest performance in the history of the sport. Then, he shot 19 under par at the Open Championship at St. Andrews, turning that holy ground into a putt-putt course.

He was, as Tom Watson said, the longest hitter, the straightest hitter, and the best iron player. Woods had the best short game, the most imagination around the greens, he was the best putter, and he thought his way around the golf course better than anyone. He was, essentially, unbeatable. Nobody — not even Nicklaus — achieved such heights.

In his first round at the PGA Championship in Louisville, he was paired with Jack Nicklaus. It was meant to be a sweet moment, the old master playing with the young one. Nicklaus was 60 years old. Woods was 25.

Nicklaus shot 77. Woods shot 66. But it wasn’t the score that mattered. It was the golf.

“He could have shot 60,” Nicklaus gushed. “He was unlucky.”

Yes, in those days Tiger Woods was indelible. He seemed immune to the inconvenient laws of humanity such as bad days or aging.



As Jack Nicklaus approached 40, he more or less stopped working on his golf game. For one thing, he didn’t have to work at it. His swing was grooved. His mind was sharp. He had a near-photographic memory for golf shots, so wherever he played he had an enormous catalog of recollections to work from.

But, second thing, his life had changed. Golf had just become less important. Winning had become less important. His kids were growing up, playing sports and he wasn’t going to miss their games. And, really, what else was left to prove? He had already won more major championships than anyone. He had already won enough money.

He pared down his schedule. He spent more time building his business. When I asked Nicklaus how often he practiced in those days, he said just one word: “Never.” Nicklaus wasn’t exactly a part-time golfer, but he certainly wasn’t a full-time golfer.

And so, he had to think hard about rebuilding his swing. As every middle-aged golfer can tell you: It is very, very hard to fix a golf swing. Nicklaus wasn’t sure he wanted to work that hard. Nicklaus wasn’t convinced that he could pull off the change. And, perhaps most to the point, Nicklaus did not know if changing would be worth the effort. Nicklaus played golf to win. Fixing the swing would only be worth the time and effort if he could again become the best golfer in the world. And he wasn’t sure.

Nicklaus will tell you that he very seriously considered retiring. Then, he talked with his wife Barbara.

“Jack,” Barbara said. “You love golf. I don’t think you’re ready to give this up yet.”

That made sense to him. He asked his old coach Jack Grout to come live nearby. He decided to try and fix the swing.


In Louisville, in 2000, Tiger Woods entered the final day of the PGA Championship with a one-shot lead over a couple of grinders named Scott Dunlap and Bob May. We reporters went to the golf course to write about a coronation.

Instead, we got a shocker. One those grinders — a 31-year-old Bob May — decided to have the day of his life. May birdied the second hole to take a one-shot lead. He birdied the sixth to make it a two-shot lead. It was confusing and spectacular at the same time.

And so began one of the great and unlikely duels in golf history. May and Woods had been born 17 miles apart in Southern California, and May was the big deal when Woods was growing up. Maybe that gave May confidence. Maybe it all just seemed so improbable that May was able to let go of his doubts.

Whatever the reason, when Woods made back-to-back birdies to tie for the lead, May seemed unperturbed. He countered with three consecutive birdies on the back nine to take the lead back. May led by one going into the 17th hole.

Then Woods did something that seemed unreal: He blasted a 324-yard drive right down the center of the fairway. That doesn’t sound all that impressive now, but you have to remember, this was back when a 300-yard drive blew up the imagination. In 2015, 26 PGA Tour golfers averaged 300-plus yards on their drives, led by Dustin Johnson at a staggering 317.7 yards.

But in 2000, there was only one — John Daly. And he hit almost never hit the ball straight.

So Woods’ 324-yard laser drive seemed like something out of a dream. Then, following that up, Woods hit a towering iron shot that stopped two feet from the cup. He made the birdie putt to tie the match.

On the next hole, Woods needed to sink a curling downhill 7-footer just to force a playoff. He made the birdie. Woods never missed important putts in those days. On the first hole of the playoff, Woods needed a 20-foot birdie to take the lead. No only did Woods make the putt, he walked behind it and pointed at the hole as if to say, “Get in there ball. That’s a good ball.”

That was the birdie that won Woods the 2000 PGA Championship. You see highlights of it all the time now.

“You have to reach deep inside yourself,” Woods said when asked how he did it. He smiled brightly. Woods could do anything he wanted. And it sure seemed like he would be young forever.


Nicklaus did fix his golf swing. It took a lot of grueling practice, and more than once during the process, he turned to his teacher Jack Grout and said, “I’m getting too old for this.” But he worked harder on his swing than he had in 20 years. And it worked, and Nicklaus had one of the great renaissances in golf history.

At 40, Nicklaus won the U.S. Open at Baltusrol, his fourth U.S. Open championship.

“I want to stop the retirement talk right now,” he said. “I’m not going to retire. Perhaps I should. Perhaps I don’t have any sense. If I wanted to go out with all the dramatics, I would say goodbye. But I kind of like this crazy game.”

Later that year, he won his fifth PGA Championship.

At 42 years old, he was on the brink of winning his fifth U.S. Open when that son-of-a-gun Tom Watson chipped in on him.

Finally, at 46 years old, he won his sixth Masters, the 18th major championship of his glorious career. It was that final chapter that pushed Nicklaus’ major championship record to where no one will reach it for a very long time.

If he had retired at 40, he would have finished with 15 major championships — just one more than Tiger Woods has right now.


Tiger Woods turns 40 Wednesday, and he’s ranked 416th in the world, and he does not know when he will pick up a golf club again. His body has betrayed him again and again over the last few years. The countless violent swings have taken their toll.

Nobody, not even Tiger Woods, knows if he will come back, when he will come back or how well he will come back. It’s all in limbo. Woods is in that awkward time when it is too soon to write the requiem for his career, but it is too late to be especially hopeful about the future. He faces daunting odds.

But he is Tiger Woods. And with Woods, it is hard to let go of the brilliant past — it feels so close. It feels like just yesterday that Woods played such sublime golf that everyone else just faded into the background. It’s hard to believe that golf is gone forever.

Woods’ challenge is much greater than Nicklaus’ was. Woods has to get healthy before he can even try to formulate a swing for his age. Then, if that even happens, he has to find the drive to build his game again. Can he find it? He has young children. He has money. He has glory. He has his place in golf history.

“Did you really think about retiring before you turned 40?” I asked Jack Nicklaus.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I knew how hard it would be to come back. I could have retired and been very happy.”

Then he paused for a minute.

“But,” he finally said, “I’m glad I didn’t.”


Getty Images

Davies sweeps senior majors with Sr. LPGA Championship

By Associated PressOctober 17, 2018, 10:45 pm

FRENCH LICK, Ind. -- Laura Davies won the Senior LPGA Championship on Wednesday at chilly and windy French Lick Resort to sweep the two senior major events of the year.

Davies birdied the final hole for a 2-under 70 and a four-stroke victory over Helen Alfredsson and Silvia Cavalleri. The 55-year-old Englishwoman won the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open in July at Chicago Golf Club. In March in Phoenix, she tied for second behind Inbee Park in the LPGA's Founders Cup.

''I wish there were more of them to play,'' Davies said about the two senior majors. ''This was a real treat because I've never put three good rounds together on this course. With the wind today and the challenging layout, I think 2 under par was a really good score.''


Full-field scores from the Senior LPGA Championship


Davies led wire to wire, finishing at 8-under 208 on The Pete Dye Course. She birdied three of the four par 5s in the final round, making an 8-footer on No. 18.

Alfredsson also shot 70, and Cavalleri had a 71. Michele Redman was fourth at 1 under after a 73. Brandie Burton, two strokes behind Davies after a second-round 66, shot 77 to finish fifth at 1 over.

Juli Inkster followed an 80 with a 73 to tie for 12th at 6 over.

Davies earned $90,000 for her 86th worldwide professional victory. She won four regular majors.

Getty Images

For Korean women, golf is a double-edged sword

By Randall MellOctober 17, 2018, 10:30 pm

There is always a story behind the tears.

For In Gee Chun, it’s a story about more than her victory Sunday at the KEB Hana Bank Championship.

It’s about the other side of the Korean passion that runs so deep in women’s golf and that makes female players feel like rock stars.

It’s about the unrelenting pressure that comes with all that popularity.

Chun explained where her tears came from after her victory. She opened up about the emotional struggle she has faced trying to live up to the soaring expectations that come with being a young Korean superstar.

Her coach, Won Park, told GolfChannel.com on Wednesday that there were times over the last year that Chun wanted to “run and hide from golf.” The pressure on her to end a two-year victory drought was mounting in distressing fashion.

Chun, 24, burst onto the world stage when she was 20, winning the U.S. Women’s Open before she was even an LPGA member. When she won the Evian Championship two years later, she joined Korean icon Se Ri Pak as the only players to win major championships as their first two LPGA titles.

Following up on those victories was challenging, with Chun feeling as if nothing short of winning was good enough to satisfy Korean expectations.

After the victory at Evian, Chun recorded six second-place finishes, runner-up finishes that felt like failures with questions growing back home over why she wasn’t closing out.

“There were comments that were quite vicious, that were very hard to take as a person and as a woman,” Chun said. “I really wanted to rise above that and not care about those comments, but I have to say, some of them lingered in my mind, and they really pierced my heart.”

Chun struggled going from the hottest star in South Korea to feeling like a disappointment. She slipped from No. 3 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings to No. 27 going into last week’s KEB Hana Bank Championship. Maybe more significantly, she slipped from being the highest ranked Korean in the world to where she wasn’t even among the top 10 Koreans anymore.

“Some fans and the Korean golf media were hard on her, mostly on social media,” Park wrote GolfChannel.com in an email. “It caused her to start struggling with huge depression and socio phobia. She often wished to run away from golf and hide herself where there was no golf at all.”


Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos


Socio phobia includes the fear of being scrutinized or judged by others, according to the Mayo Clinic’s definition of conditions.

Though critics of South Korea’s dominance have complained about the machine-like nature of some those country’s stars, we’ve seen quite a bit of emotion from South Koreans on big stages this year.

After Sung Hyun Park won the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in July, the world No. 1 with the steely stare uncharacteristically broke into tears.

“This is the first time feeling this kind of emotion,” Park said back then. “It’s been a really tough year for me.”

It was the second of her three victories this season, a year in which she also has missed seven cuts.

“A lot of pressure builds up,” said David Jones, her caddie. “That’s just what happens when you’re that good, and you’re Korean.”

While American players admire the massive popularity Koreans enjoy in their homeland, they see what comes with it.

“Koreans really do elevate their women players, but at the same time, they put a ton of pressure on them,” American Cristie Kerr said. “There’s pressure on them to not only be good, but to be attractive, and to do the right things culturally.”

So Yeon Ryu felt the pressure to perform build as high as she has ever felt with Koreans trying to qualify for the Olympics two years ago. The competition to make the four-woman team was intense, with so many strong Koreans in the running.

“This just makes me crazy,” Ryu said back then. “The biggest thing is the Korean media. If someone is going to make the Olympics, they're a great player. But if somebody cannot make it, they're a really bad player.”

Ryu didn’t make that team, but she went on to share LPGA Rolex Player of the Year honors with Sung Hyun Park last year. She also won her second major championship and ascended to world No. 1.

LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park was under fire going to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She was coming back from injury and there was growing criticism of her. She was hearing clamor to give up her spot to a healthy player, but she went on to win the gold medal.

“I almost cried on air,” said Na Yeon Choi, a nine-time LPGA winner who was doing analysis for Korean TV. “Inbee had so much pressure on her.”

After the Koreans won the UL International Crown two weeks ago, there was as much relief as joy in their ranks. Though viewed as the dominant force in women’s golf, they watched the Spaniards crowned as the “best golfing nation” in the inaugural matches in 2014 and then watched the Americans gain the honor in 2016. There was pressure on the Koreans to win the crown at home.

“There were some top Koreans who didn’t want to play, because there was going to be so much pressure,” Kerr said.

Chun got the nod to join the team this year after Inbee Park announced she was stepping aside, to allow another Korean a chance to represent their country. Chun was the third alternate, with Sei Young Kim and Jin Young Ko saying they were passing to honor previous KLPGA commitments.

Chun went on to become the star of the UL International Crown. She was undefeated, the only player to go 4-0 in the matches.

“In Gee made up her mind to devote herself to the team and played with an extremely high level of passion and focus,” Won Park wrote in an email interview. “She took the International Crown as a war in her heart. She did not play, but she `fought’ against the course, not against the opposing team . . . During all four winning matches, she gradually found her burning passion deep in her heart and wanted to carry it to the LPGA KEB Hana Bank.”

Park explained he has been working with Chun to change her focus, to get her to play for herself, instead of all the outside forces she was feeling pressure to please.

“She was too depressed to listen for a year and a half,” Park wrote.

So that’s where all Chun’s tears came from after she won the KEB Hana Bank.

“All the difficult struggles that I have gone through the past years went before me, and all the faces of the people who kept on believing in me went by, and so I teared up,” Chun said.

Park said Chun’s focus remains a work in progress.

“Although it will take some more time to fully recover from her mental struggle, she at least got her wisdom and confidence back and belief in her own game,” Park wrote. “This is never going to be easy for a 24-year-old young girl, but I believe she will continue to fight through.”

Getty Images

Asia offers chance for players to get early jump on season

By Rex HoggardOctober 17, 2018, 6:00 pm

When the field at this week’s CJ Cup tees off for Round 1 just past dinner time on the East Coast Wednesday most golf fans will still be digesting the dramatic finish to the 2017-18 season, which wrapped up exactly 24 days ago, or reliving a Ryder Cup that didn’t go well for the visiting team.

Put another way, the third event of the new season will slip by largely unnoticed, the victim of a crowded sports calendar and probably a dollop of burnout.

What’ll be lost in this three-event swing through Asia that began last week in Kuala Lumpur at the CIMB Classic is how important these events have become to Tour players, whether they count themselves among the star class or those just trying to keep their jobs.

The Asian swing began in 2009 with the addition of the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, although it would be a few years before the event earned full status on Tour, and expanded in 2010 with the addition of the CIMB Classic. This week’s stop in South Korea was added last season and as the circuit transitions to a condensed schedule and earlier finish next year there are persistent rumors that the Tour plans to expand even more in the Far East with sources saying an event in Japan would be a likely landing spot.

Although these events resonate little in the United States because of the time zone hurdles, for players, the Asian swing has become a key part of the schedule.

Consider that seven of the top 10 performers last year in Asia advanced to the Tour Championship and that success wasn’t mutually exclusive to how these players started their season in Asia.

For players looking to get a jump on the new season, the three Asian stops are low-hanging fruit, with all three featuring limited fields and no cut where players are guaranteed four rounds and FedExCup points.

For a player like Pat Perez, his performances last October virtually made his season, with the veteran winning the CIMB Classic and finishing tied for fifth place at the CJ Cup. All total, Perez, who played all three Asian events last year, earned 627 FedExCup points - more than half (53 percent) of his regular-season total.

Keegan Bradley and Cameron Smith also made the most of the tournaments in Asia, earning 34 and 36 percent, respectively, of their regular-season points in the Far East. On average, the top 10 performers in Asia last year earned 26 percent of their regular-season points in what was essentially a fraction of their total starts.

“It's just a place that I've obviously played well,” Justin Thomas, a three-time winner in Asia, said last week in Kuala Lumpur. “I'm comfortable. I think being a little bit of a longer hitter you have an advantage, but I mean, the fact of the matter is that I've just played well the years I played here.”

Perhaps the biggest winner in Asia last season was Justin Rose, who began a torrid run with his victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions, and earned 28 percent of his regular-season points (550) in the Far East on his way to winning the FedExCup by just 41 points.

But it’s not just the stars who have made the most of the potential pot of Asian gold.

Lucas Glover finished tied for seventh at the CIMB Classic, 15th at the CJ Cup and 50th in China in 2017 to earn 145 of his 324 regular-season points (45 percent). Although that total was well off the pace to earn Glover a spot in the postseason and a full Tour card, it was enough to secure him conditional status in 2018-19.

Similarly, Camilo Villegas tied for 17th in Kuala Lumpur and 36th in South Korea to earn 67 of his 90 points, the difference between finishing 193rd on the regular-season point list and 227th. While it may seem like a trivial amount to the average fan, it allowed Villegas to qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals and a chance to re-earn his Tour card.

With this increasingly nuanced importance have come better fields in Asia (which were largely overlooked the first few years), with six of the top 30 players in the Official World Golf Ranking making the trip last week to Malaysia and this week’s tee sheet in South Korea featuring two of the top 5 in world - No. 3 Brooks Koepka and No. 4 Thomas.

“I finished 11th here last year and 11th in China the next week. If I can try and improve on that, get myself in contention and possibly win, it sets up the whole year. That's why I've come back to play,” Jason Day said this week of his decision to play the Asian swing.

For many golf fans in the United States, the next few weeks will be a far-flung distraction until the Tour arrives on the West Coast early next year, but for the players who are increasingly starting to make the trip east, it’s a crucial opportunity to get a jump on the season.

Getty Images

Watch: Woods uses computer code to make robotic putt

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 3:10 pm

Robots have been plotting their takeover of the golf world for some time.

First it was talking trash to Rory McIlroy, then it was making a hole-in-one at TPC Scottsdale's famous 16th hole ... and now they're making putts for Tiger Woods.

Woods tweeted out a video on Tuesday draining a putt without ever touching the ball:

The 42-year-old teamed up with a computer program to make the putt, and provided onlookers with a vintage Tiger celebration, because computers can't do that ... yet.