Posted on: February 29, 2012 10:55 am
Edited on: February 29, 2012 11:04 am

Some might call it swing oil, but not Nicklaus

By Steve Elling

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- It started off as a spontaneous treatise to a question indirectly relating to the putting issues of Tiger Woods, but the response took an interesting detour into an area that had not much been explored.

Eighteen-time major champion Jack Nicklaus never experienced debilitating putting slumps over his legendary career, and he's developed an interesting theory as to why it afflicted plenty of other legends, from Ben Hogan to Sam Snead to Arnold Palmer, but never seemed to bother him.

Yet the perceived root cause is, shall we say, a sensitive area.

Couching his words carefully, Nicklaus said Tuesday at the Honda Classic that he believes his putting stroke has remained steady over the years because he didn’t drink during tournament weeks, while other players from the old-guard era used to repeatedly hoist a cold one after rounds.

Or based on the stories circulating from back in that era, more than one, in some instances.

"I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, please, because I am not condemning what happened, but in those days, most of those guys were club pros in the old days, the Hogans and Sneads and so forth," Nicklaus said. "Their life was playing golf maybe 20 weeks a year and the usual thing was to come in after a round, sit down, have a drink and socialize.

"I have always felt that drinking does not do well with nerves. The guys today don’t do that. I don’t think you see that and I never did that. Did I have a drink, sure, I had a drink here and there. But never while I was playing in tournaments. I always felt it was terrible for your nerves and terrible for your touch.

"I don’t think the guys did it because they were nervous, it was just their way of life, a social way of life. Golf was a social sport. Guys today take the game more as athletes, in a different way. I took it pretty much that way.

"I never lost [my stroke], never. Even today, I am just as quiet over a putt as I was when I was playing. I am not saying these guys were [heavy] drinkers. I am just saying it was part of their life, part of their culture. It's not part of the culture now.

"You don’t really hear about the yips anymore, do you? The only guy I remember who had the yips, who I know was not a drinker, was Langer. And he has overcome them."

Interesting theory, and one never before espoused, as far as we know. Nicklaus seemed to sense that some would take it the wrong way.

"Probably a theory I probably shouldn't have said here," he said.

And clearly, none of it applicable to the recent putting plight of Woods, who isn't much of a drinker, socially or otherwise.

Posted on: February 28, 2012 8:55 pm
Edited on: February 28, 2012 8:58 pm

Nicklaus poses heretical idea: Use 12-hole days

By Steve Elling

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- The NFL has the three-hour game almost down to a science. Big-league baseball not so much, but games are usually around that general time mark.

Basketball games in college and the pros log in well under that time figure.

So, how are fans supposed to remain engaged for a round of golf, not the most stimulating sport visually for spectators, if it takes five hours to complete? Or for the actual practitioners, five hours to play?

A possible answer: Cut the number of holes. Or at minimum, redistribute them. In theory, it would certainly help retain eyeballs in an era of increasingly shorter attention spans.

The game's biggest father figure, 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus, said Tuesday at the Honda Classic that he's suggested to PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem that a tournament in the future be cut down to 12-hole days, perhaps played over six days, versus 18 holes over four days.

"I'm trying to talk Tim -- and I talked to him about a year ago and he sort of poohpoohed me -- about the 12-hole golf," Nicklaus said. "He came back to me at the Masters last year and he says, 'You know, we are going to do more with this 12-hole golf. I'm going to do something with it.'

"He hasn't done anything yet, but he has it in his head. He likes it for the First Tee because they have two sixes [six-hole courses] and it makes a lot less time for First Tee. I said, 'Tim, what would be the difference -- we have to legitimize, if you are going to have people play 12-hole golf, you have to play golf in 2 1/2 hours."

Nicklaus has experimented with 12-hole rounds at his home track in Columbus, Ohio.

"Every other sport is played in less than three hours. If we can do that, why can't we play a tournament where we play six 12-hole rounds?" he said. "You just play a round and a half a day. You score it differently is all.  You wake up in the morning and you see where you've shot a 46 and a 23 and you shot 69 for the day as total number of strokes."

Actually, most people track scores relative to par, anyway, so a full 18-hole score at the end of the day has been somewhat marginalized already. In a 12-hole day, a player would be 3-under, and that number could be tracked instead over the 72-hole week.

"It's just how you score it, legitimize it, to get people to think about the game in a different way." Nicklaus said. "I hope he'll do it."

Don't hold your breath. The 18-hole round has been around for centuries, and Finchem is unwilling to do much more than turn his head on issues relating to slow play. But if Nicklaus presses the issue, it can't possibly hurt.

Posted on: February 23, 2012 11:32 am
Edited on: February 23, 2012 1:05 pm

McIlroy loaded for Bear this spring

Rory McIlroy hits a shot in his first round win at the Accenture. (Getty Images)

By Steve Elling

MARANA, Ariz. -- Like Jack Nicklaus' home haunt needs more star power.

With a high-end course in West Palm Beach, Fla., that already includes No. 1 Luke Donald and formerly top-ranked Ernie Els as members, the player anointed as a sure future No. 1 is going to be hanging around, too.

World No. 2 Rory McIlroy, 22, has rented a home in the Jupiter area, through the Players Championship in May, and said he will be spending his time in the States working out of the Bear's Club, the place Nicklaus designed a few years back which serves as his Florida home base.

McIlroy said he will play three straight events starting this week at the Accenture Match play, followed by the Honda Classic and Doral, two events within a few miles of his new South Florida abode. He will take the next three weeks off before playing the Masters.

McIlroy is a member of the PGA Tour this year.

With Els and Donald, that's some serious firepower playing out of the increasingly famous Nicklaus club.

"We could do our own Tavistock [Cup]," Donald cracked earlier this week.

Based on a certain prescribed outcome, McIlroy could unseat Donald as No. 1 with a victory this week. After winning his opening match against George Coetzee, McIlroy faces Anders Hansen of Denmark on Thursday.

Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley and Camilo Villegas also play out of the Bear's Club. Not bad. Not at all. 

For more golf news, rumors and analysis, follow Steve Elling and Eye On Golf on Twitter. 

Posted on: February 22, 2012 10:30 am
Edited on: February 22, 2012 12:25 pm

Match play to remain in 'Zona, but where?

By Steve Elling 

MARANA, Ariz. -- The Dove Mountain course was designed, explicitly, with match play in mind.

So when players basically deemed the host venue for this week's Accenture Match Play Championship as the second-worst course on the PGA Tour, it had to sting.

The venue's contract to host the tournament expires after this week, and depending on your personal view, it might come as mixed news that signs point toward the mega-money event staying put.

"Right now, we're heading in the direction of keeping it here," PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said Wednesday morning.

GolfWorld magazine last month ranked the courses in recent use on the tour and the Jack Nicklaus design finished ahead of one other venue, the critically savaged Liberty National course, which has hosted exactly one tour event.

So, in other words, the Dove Mountain course finished dead last among courses in annual use in tour competition.

The primary beef with players is that the greens are far too severe, as evidenced by the humorous exchange that Rory McIlroy this week recounted after he ran into Nicklaus at a South Florida shopping mall.

"He asked me what I thought of this golf course and I said it was great," McIlroy said, choosing the next few words very carefully.

"He asked me about the greens, and I went, 'they are okaaaay,'" McIlroy said, drawing laughs.

He made the point without underscoring it. The course is also located about 30 minutes from central Tucson at about 3,000 feet of elevation, whcih can cause issues when the weather changes. It snowed and hailed during the match-play finale last year. Fan attendance at the venue, which is tough to walk because of its proximity to the mountains, has been decent at best.

David Pillsbury, the tour's executive vice president of Championship Management, which runs the event, said there would be no announcement about the future fate of the site until after the tournament ends.

"We'll see how it goes, see what the attendance looks like, all that," Pillsbury said.

That said, Pillsbury strongly indicated that despite indications of the contrary, the event won't migrate far -- either in terms of geography or the calendar. The Associated Press, citing two tour sources, said there have been discussions about moving the match-play championship to Harding Park in San Francisco and slotting it in October as part of the revamped fall start to the season. According the the AP, the two sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss negotiations. Both stressed that the option was in the early stages of consideration.

"It'll be in this market and in this time frame," Pillsbury said Wednesday.

For how long?

Posted on: January 26, 2012 4:40 pm
Edited on: January 26, 2012 4:40 pm

Newest remedy to golf slump unveiled at PGA Show

ORLANDO, Fla. – Like mighty knights at the round table, they kicked around the programs, permutations and options, not without some lighter moments.

At one point, the august group of golf dignitaries seated around the room at the PGA Merchandise Show began discussing making the size of the golf hole bigger to make the sport more enjoyable to millions.

U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis noted that it will never happen at the U.S. Open, which his organization runs.

Interjected Jack Nicklaus: “Why not?”

The room broke up in laughter. We think he was kidding, but maybe the joke’s over. AT this point, perhaps the joking should stop.

That seems to be the new message -- hold the giggles.

Hemorrhaging players of all ages, genders and financial strata, the roundtable discussion staged Thursday at the Orlando Convention Center was mostly a session used to unveil a new program called Golf 2.0, the latest in a series of undertakins to staunch the bleeding.

PGA of America organizers promised the possible solutions would be outside the box. At times, they were completely off the reservation, but crucially important to the future of the sport in the States, nonetheless. At this point, why dismiss anything?

“I've seen what's happened over the last few years,” said Nicklaus, one of the game’s true icons and a significant builder of courses in his second career. “We've lost 23 percent of the women in the game since 2006 and we have lost 36 percent of the kids in the game since 2006. That's not a good stat.”

Status quo won’t work.

Often a divisive fiefdom with competing financial interests, the Sport of Golf is big business beyond the professional tours, and its piece of the American pie is increasingly shrinking. Courses continue to close at a staggering clip versus new-venue openings, a five-year-old trend that shows no sign of reversing. Players are packing away their clubs. Kids don’t fill the back end of the pipeline as older players bail.

In a fast-twitch, immediate-gratification world, it's a recipe for extinction.

“It's not a PGA initiative, it's all our initiative,” Nicklaus said. “It's everybody.”

The far-flung fixes include just about everybody, too. Recent programs like Play it Forward and Play Golf America seemingly have helped, but have hardly stopped the most common laments that the game is too hard, way too pricey and takes too long to play. Those three complaints are like the chorus of "Hey Jude" -- repeated over and over until the fadeout.

To put it in military terms, conventional arms are not working. Guerrilla warfare and off-the-wall tactics are the only reasonable step to turning around the tide of red ink that’s swallowing the game in towns all over the country.

Nicklaus recently played in a husband-wife event at his home course in South Florida that lasted 12 holes and had an eight-inch cup. He said everybody loved it. That’s a notion that would have been greeted as heretical just five years ago, when things were sailing along pretty well in the golf biz.

No mas. The Golf 2.0 program is the latest bandage, and it this doesn't work, a tourniquet might be next.

“We learned when we did Play Golf America 10 years ago, that while it came out of the blocks as a great player-development initiative to engage occasional players, the rest of the industry, for various reasons just said, ‘Oh, we think the PGA has the growth-of-the-game ball and we'll let them run with it,’” said Joe Steranka, the chief executive at the PGA of America, an organization of teaching pros around the nation.

“We are saying in this reset of the economy and our lives, when time is just as much a precious commodity as household wages, no segment of the industry is immune from the change and no segment of the industry can stay on the sidelines or outside the ropes and not get involved in Golf 2.0.”

The goals remain the same, said Allen Wronowski, the president of the PGA of America.

“It comes in three pillars and that would be strengthening the core, those that play the game,” he said. “Trying to engage the lapse players -- we talked about the 60 million people who had been exposed to the game and showed some interest in trying to come back to the game. And of course, creating and building new players.”

The latter is where the roundtable gab was most interesting. The PGA of America has reached out to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and is planning to roll out junior golf leagues in various cities.

“These are shorter courses and they have some eight-inch cups,” Steranka said. “It's fun. The kids are going to wear jerseys with the uniforms on them.”

In a pitch that made at least a few eyeballs roll, the group proposed setting up golf holes in city parks and recreation areas, perhaps using artificial turf, so that parents could more inexpensively teach the game to their kids. Of course, most municipalities can barely afford to keep their courses open and in the green, much less take on the expense of erecting holes in general-use public places.

The PGA of America hired a consulting firm to study how to best get more cleats on the ground.

“Looking at alliances such as the Boys & Girls Club, with Top Golf, a high-tech driving range/sports bar concept in a few major markets, the work that we are already doing in junior golf, all of these are designed to lay the seeds for the next 10-20 years,” Steranka said. “To make sure that we get Gen Y and the Millennials that are going to make up customers for that facility.”

Evan McElroy, the national marketing chief for the Boys & Girls Clubs, said the organization has what the game sorely needs – an existing foothold all over the country, and the ear of kids and their parents.

“We are in every kind of community you can think of, cities, towns, Native American lands,” he said. “We are in every U.S. military installation here and abroad.”

Steranka said the perception is that the game is too expensive, yet that the average green fee in the country is $28, a number that will surely cause golfers in urbanized areas to laugh out loud.

As an aside, before greed nearly ruined the game in the States, more courses offered reasonable 9-hole rates, deep summertime discounts for kids under age 18, and allowed players to walk if they so desire. Implementing those bygone relics as options for parents and their aspiring golfing offspring might draw a few more customers as well.

But there’s plenty of blame for this financial mess to go around. Nicklaus even pointed a finger at himself.

"I'm known for [building] difficult golf courses,” he said. “I'm as much of a culprit as anyone."

Posted on: June 18, 2011 12:34 pm
Edited on: June 19, 2011 9:47 am

Wee Mac and Jack a recipe for Open success?

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."

Posted on: June 2, 2011 12:06 pm
Edited on: June 2, 2011 12:06 pm

Nicklaus: Muirfield's 16th not Augusta knockoff

DUBLIN, Ohio -- This time, Jack Nicklaus says he wasn't trying to replicate, pay homage, or tip a cap to a certain venue located in North Georgia.

It just turned out that some see a resemblance between his redesigned 16th hole at Muirfield Village and the par-3 of the same number at Augusta National.

Purely by accident, he said.

"That wasn't the intent, but I can see how people might see some similarities," he said Thursday.

The 16th at Muirfield measures about 200 yards, with a green located along the left side of the green and bunkers on the right. People probably noted the similarity because the 12th at Muirfield very closely resembles the famed 12th at Augusta, which was by design, pardon the pun.

"As a designer, you have to take what the land gives you," Nicklaus said. "That's where it [the pond at the 16th] fit."

Nicklaus noted that the 16th at Muirfield will probably produce more crooked numbers than the 16th at Augusta.

"Honestly, I think the water is a lot more in play here [at Muirfield]," he said.
Posted on: April 8, 2011 1:18 pm
Edited on: April 8, 2011 1:34 pm

Schwartzel gets by with help from friends

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Charl Schwartzel freely admits that he is still a babe in the woods as it relates to Masters experience, and that nobody can dial in the nuances of the famous Augusta National layout in a hurry.

However, it never hurts to have friends.

Schwartzel, ranked 29th in the world, played in his first Masters last year, shortly after he received an impromptu walk-through over lunch from none other than six-time Masters winner Jack Nicklaus.

Schwartzel, 26, was playing in the annual autism fundraiser hosted by Ernie Els in March of 2010 when he was seated next to Nicklaus at lunch. From there, somehow, Nicklaus launched into a play-by-play account of how to tour the most famous course in the world.

"I mean, he took me through every single hole the way he used to play it when he played," Schwartzel said. "You can't get much better advice than that."

So far, so good. Schwartzel shot 69-71, and when he finished Friday, he was tied for seventh.

"We were having lunch, I don't know how it started," Schwartzel said of his crash tutorial from the 18-time major winner. "We started talking about hunting and he took me through the way he played 18 holes at Augusta."

Schwartzel was trying to remember every word and a friend, Johan Rupert, was seated nearby and doing likewise.

"I tried to, but  I was in such awe," Schwartzel said. "Like I say, you can't get better advice than that. So, I've had lots of advice from people, but you have to experience it for yourself, and that will take a couple of years."

He also got a great tip from Els, his South African friend and mentor, in a practice round this week. Playing the 18th, Els hit a chip shot directly at the flag and the ball rolled off the front of the green.

Schwartzel had a putt on a similar line and must have played 20 feet of break, and two-putted for a closing par.

"You need lots of experience out here to win on this golf course," he said. "You've got to play so different to others; the way this golf course plays, you need lots of patience. 

"Sometimes you have to accept that a bogey is a good score, if you hit it in the wrong place. If you try and be a hero, you're going to be no hero -- you're going to make big numbers.

"So, treat it with respect."

Category: Golf
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