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Off the course, Jack Nicklaus still at top of his game

By Ron Green Jr.
Ron Green Jr.
Ron Green Jr., a former Observer staff writer, will write golf columns occasionally for the newspaper.

DUBLIN, Ohio Jack Nicklaus joked more than once Wednesday morning about how poorly he plays golf these days, as if that matters to anyone but him – and you get the sense it doesn’t really bother him. Nicklaus remains the game’s greatest champion, his 18 major championships the standard that still drives Tiger Woods, who will attempt to end a five-year winless spell in majors next month at the U.S. Open at Merion (Pa.).

At Muirfield Village Golf Club this week, the gorgeous course that may define Nicklaus’ legacy as a designer, Nicklaus is in his usual role at the Memorial Tournament, wearing his tournament gray blazer while handling his duties as host.

On Wednesday, he inducted Raymond Floyd into the tournament’s ring of honor, hosted an afternoon clinic on the practice range, made sure the club’s newly expanded and updated clubhouse was functioning properly and spent an hour with the media talking about the past, the present and the future of golf.

Nicklaus remembers many things in remarkable detail. “The first time I was aware of a golf tournament being played on a professional and national level was 1953 and I remember I was in the Scioto (Country Club) pro shop and (Ben) Hogan won the Masters. ... I was 13 years old,” Nicklaus said when asked if he had any recollection as a 10-year-old of Hogan’s 1950 U.S. Open win at Merion.

Other things, he doesn’t recall much at all, like his 1971 U.S. Open playoff loss to Lee Trevino at Merion.

“I lost,” Nicklaus said. “I had two bad bunker shots that put me behind and I lost. Outside of catching a rubber snake (that Trevino threw on the first tee before the playoff began), I don’t remember much else.”

Nicklaus recalls funny things.

•  “I thought ‘Follow The Sun’ (a movie about Ben Hogan) may be one of the worst movies you’ll ever want to look at. I watched it 20 times,” Nicklaus said. “I’d watch it again if it was on.”

He also recalls how tall he used to be.

“In my 20s … I was just shy of 6 foot,” he said. “I’m about 5-8 now. I shrunk 4 inches.”

During his annual interview session at the Memorial, Nicklaus touched on a variety of subjects including:

• The Sergio Garcia-Tiger Woods spat: “It’s stupid. ... Do guys have an issue with one another? They usually resolve it themselves. You guys want to resolve it in newspapers today. Nobody needs that.”

• The suggestion some players will hit driver only three times at 6,996-yard Merion: “If they’re only going to use it two or three times, you’re not going to win a golf tournament.”

• Differences in dealing with the media today as opposed to in his prime: “There’s a lot of mountains made out of molehills. It’s a different day. Everybody is there and everything is public. I don’t blame the guys for sometimes being a little quiet.”

• His comment earlier this year that he had never had a conversation with Tiger Woods that lasted more than a couple of minutes: “I was asked the question of how much does Tiger talk to me about his record and I said we haven’t had more than a minute or two conversation about that ever …

“The article comes out Tiger doesn’t talk to Jack and they’ve never had more than a minute or two conversation. Well, I’ve talked to Tiger a lot, but not about that subject. That was the question I was asked.”

Swing thoughts

• Rory McIlroy said Wednesday he’s surprised to be winless this year but feels his game is moving in the right direction.

What’s been wrong this year?

“My misses this year have just been too wide,” McIlroy said. “It seems the misses have been big and they’ve cost me.”

McIlroy spent two days working with putting coach Dave Stockton at Muirfield Village.

• Woods said Garcia has not apologized to him in person for the remarks he made last week. Would he talk to Sergio before their paths cross at the U.S. Open in two weeks?

“That’s already done with,” Woods said. “It’s time to move on.”

• The Charlotte City Amateur championship later this summer has another strong list of host courses. The first round will be played at Cedarwood Country Club, the second round at Carolina Golf Club and the finale at Myers Park Country Club.

The event will be played Aug. 9-11 with qualifiers set July 9 and July 22. For registration information, visit www.charlottecityam.com.

• Designer Kris Spence is at work on Rock Hill Country Club. With the help of aerial photos from 1948, Spence is restoring the front nine to its original A.W. Tillinghast design and he’s renovating the back nine.

Work on the greens and bunkers is scheduled to be completed in June with the course set to reopen in August.

Ron Green Jr. is senior writer for Global Golf Post ( www.globalgolfpost.com) and a contributor to the Charlotte Observer. He can be reached at rongreenjr@gmail.com.
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