BETHESDA, Md. -- Jack Nicklaus has turned not only into one of the game's true father figures, but something of a father confessor.
One of the huge storylines after the Masters was how winner Charl Schwartzel used the advice he received from Nicklaus a year earlier to plot his way around Augusta National, eventually winning.
Now comes the news that young Rory McIlroy is using some more bits of wisdom imparted by the Golden Bear to lead this week at the 111st U.S. Open.
Nicklaus said he spoke with McIlroy briefly two weeks ago at the Memorial Tournament, the PGA Tour event that Nicklaus hosts. McIlroy had famously shot 80 in the final round at the Masters a few weeks earlier, blowing a four-stroke overnight lead.
"I hadn’t seen him since the Masters," Nicklaus said. "I just said, ‘I’m sure that you learned from your mistakes and what happened. Don’t worry about that. We all make mistakes. All good players have to make mistakes before they can have successes.
"'Sometimes it’s better to have mistakes, because if you only have success and don’t make mistakes along the way, all of a sudden if you make mistakes, you can’t figure out why you made them.'"
Looks like McIlroy has quickly taken that to heart, storming to a six-shot lead after 36 holes at Congressional, matching the largest halfway lead in over a century of Open competition.
Nicklaus predicted that the 22-year-old would shake off a double-bogey on the 18th, his lone score above par in 36 holes, on Saturday.
"I saw replays of a lot of his round and we actually saw the last three holes," Nicklaus said. "He hit a beautiful second shot at 16 but didn’t make the putt. At 17, he made a really nice birdie. At 18, I know what he was trying to do. He was just trying to hit the ball out to the right; he was not trying to [pull] that ball [toward the lake].
"But sometimes you make a mistake and he made a mistake. He’ll get over that. You can’t be too unhappy with a 65 and 66."
The pair first spoke at length over lunch during the 2010 Honda Classic. Nicklaus has grandkids roughly Rory's age, so the paternal side comes naturally.
"We sat for about an hour and half, and we talked about his game, the things to do, and how to finish golf tournaments," Nicklaus recalled. "We talked about the things I did when I was playing.
"He was worried about that he couldn’t finish and couldn’t win. I said not to worry about it. Instead of shooting 36 or 37 the last nine holes, one day you’ll shoot 32 or 33 and win. It’ll just happen. Keep playing, keep your nose to the grindstone. You don’t have to try to push something to happen.
"One day it will just happen, if you keep working at it and trying. Just believe in yourself, play within yourself, understand yourself, understand what you can do, and do what you can do. That was the basic message."
Not long after, McIlroy shot 62 in the final round to win at Quail Hollow, claiming his first PGA Tour victory.
Nicklaus sounded equal parts confident and hopeful that the Ulsterman will be able to use what happened at Augusta National to his advantage, not to his detriment.
"I would hope he learned from his mistakes," said Nicklaus, who won 18 majors. "Our conversation at the Memorial was very brief, but I remember we did talk about [Tom] Watson and the mistakes he made early in his career and how he came back and learned how to win.
"I did the same thing at the British Open in 1963 at Lytham. I figured out why I did those things, what I tried to do and shouldn’t have done. I have kicked myself for almost 50 years for blowing that tournament. But I knew why I did it.
"So I hope that I learned from it. That was my question to him. You made some mistakes and I hope you figured out why you made those mistakes, why you did something that didn’t follow what you normally do."
As though most fans haven’t already figured this out for themselves from watching the personable Northern Irishman, McIlroy made a fast impression on Nicklaus, too.
"I like his moxie," Nicklaus said. "He’s a nice young man. I like him a lot."
McIlroy tees off at 3:50 p.m. ET on Saturday in the third round, paired with major winner Y.E. Yang, the lone player within eight strokes of McIlroy at 11 under. So the million-dollar question this weekend becomes, will the endgame be different for Wee Mac?
He's certainly been around the hunt often enough -- McIlroy has had the lead at some point in each of the last four majors contested and has led in five of six rounds at the Grand Slam events contested this year. Remarkably, this is only his 10th career start in a major as a professional.
"Pressure is what you live for," Nicklaus said. "You want to have pressure on you. You don’t want to come down to the last hole needing to make par to finish 20th. You want to come down to the last hole with pressure on you to win.
"Everyone is going to put pressure on you. That’s going to happen in life. If you are going to be successful, you’re going to have pressure. So you just have to learn to live with that, deal with that, and to handle it yourself. And we all handle it differently."