And then Jack said about Tiger . . .
Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.
DUBLIN, Ohio – Jack Nicklaus was holding court, tackling myriad topics as usual on the eve of his Memorial Tournament, when someone brought up the state of his own game in the midst of his interesting takes.
Nicklaus is 74 and reluctantly will play in the upcoming Legends of Golf with longtime friend and rival Gary Player. So as a part of getting ready, Nicklaus played Muirfield Village twice last weekend and shot 75-74 from the member tees that measured about 6,500 yards, he said.
“My golf is not exactly fit for public consumption very often,” said the 18-time major champion, who estimates he plays about 15 rounds a year.
Nicklaus cracked that his “95 mph clubhead speed” is such that it’s like hitting shots with the “head cover on the club.”
Among other things he touched on during an annual news conference that always is among the best Q&A sessions on the PGA Tour:
• Weighing in yet again on the possibility of 38-year-old Tiger Woods, who has 14 major titles but none since 2008, breaking his major record: “He’s got a little over 40 tournaments to play the major championships, he’s only got to win five to pass my record. As good a player as he is, I don’t think that should be a big deal. But then again he’s gotta do it. Plus he’s also got to be healthy to be able to do it.”
• Nicklaus understands how Phil Mickelson feels, to a lesser extent anyway. With the U.S. Open at Pinehurst coming up, much is being made about Mickelson being an Open runnerup six times without winning. Well, Nicklaus finished second seven times at the Canadian Open without winning.
“(Wife) Barbara said, 'I’m going to keep sending you back until you get it right,' ” Nicklaus said. “I never did get it right. But maybe Phil will do it right.”
So it becomes a mental thing?
“Sure, absolutely it does,” Nicklaus said. “Particularly when your wife says you’ve got to keep going back.”
• At first he brushed aside Lee Trevino’s contention that an in-prime Nicklaus would drive the ball 400 yards with today’s equipment. But then he gave credence to the notion when he pulled out the money club he still uses. It’s from winning the long-drive contest at the 1963 PGA Championship in Dallas with a drive of 341 yards, 17 inches in hot weather.
The next year, he won the contest again, in Columbus, hitting one 308 yards into a little wind. Again he used a wooden driver (42 3/4 inches long) and a ball that didn’t travel nearly as far as those of today.
As an aside, Nicklaus mentioned that the smaller ball that once was used in the British Open went 50 yards farther than normal. “It was fun to do that,” he said. “But it (such distance) will destroy your golf course.”
• On his favorite spot to watch the Memorial: “In my living room with a television set.”
• Nicklaus also reported that he has an 11-year-old grandson who hits drives 270 yards. Eleven? Maybe he’s using the small British ball.
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Rory McIlroy came to the Memorial fresh off breaking off his engagement with tennis player Caroline Wozniacki and then winning the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. It follows that he was asked to give his side of a Times of London report that he broke up with her during a three-minute telephone conversation and that she initially thought he was kidding.
After a brief pause, McIlroy brushed the inquiry aside with a simple, “I’m here to talk about my golf.”
On the one hand, that answer is understandable. On the other, he had a chance to close the matter for good but didn’t. He could have dismissed it with a more expansive way of saying it’s time to move on.
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Bubba Watson last week posted a remarkable shot he made while competing against friends at an Orlando-area miniature golf course. The putt-putt video went viral and again underscored how professional athletes can shape their images through social media.
This hardly is lost on Watson. He knows social media is a major marketing tool that can reshape perception.
“A lot of people saw me as being mean,” Watson said here. “A lot of people saw me as being angry. A lot of people see me as getting upset on a golf course. … It’s not that I’m mad. … I put my head down just so I can stay focused on the next hole, the next shot. So the social media aspect shows who I am as a person off the course. I’m just a kid. I’m just goofing around, having fun.”
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Annika Sorenstam has played little “competitive” golf since her last tournament before retirement–the 2008 Dubai Ladies Masters. She has played in a few unofficial events, mostly for charity, such as the CVS Charity Classic the past two years and the Callaway Invitational on the Monterey Peninsula.
But now Sorenstam, 43, is practicing again, to the point she says she’s getting calluses, for a return to televised golf. She will join several long-hitting men in the July 18-20 American Century Championship, a 54-hole celebrity event in Lake Tahoe, where she is a part-time resident.
“I’ve noticed that the more you practice, you get better again,” she said Wednesday.
So, Sorenstam was asked, you’re a hit-and-giggle golfer?
“I don’t know what I am,” she said, smiling. “I used to be hit and be angry.”
Not too angry, for she owns 89 international victories and a bust in the World Golf Hall of Fame. She doesn’t figure to get too peeved in the $600,000 Stableford-scoring event that NBC will televise, but she says she’ll bring a game face.
“I’m still a very competitive person,” she said Wednesday, a few hours before the ceremony feting her as this year’s Memorial Tournament honoree. “That doesn’t go away. When I get inside the ropes the adrenaline keeps flowing.”
Asked if she thinks she can win against the likes of Rick Rhoden, Mark Rypien, Steph Curry and numerous other athletes from other sports, she said, “Yes, I always do. I always target to win.”